EXPLAINER: Why was ousted Burkina leader Compaore given Ivory Coast citizenship?

President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, pictured on November 27, 2004, is granted Ivorian nationality by decree

IN a piece of detail passed in November but only uncovered this week, ousted Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaore, who fled to Ivory Coast after his October 2014 ouster, has been granted Ivorian citizenship there on his request.

Both Compaore and a younger brother named Francois, who he was seen as grooming to be his successor, were granted Ivorian nationality by decree.

Their new citizenship was published in the country’s official journal January 18, but reported only Tuesday in the media, though influential publication Jeune Afrique had alluded to the deal a week ago.

The journal shows the decree was signed by Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara on November 17, 2014, less than a month after Compaore fled into exile when a popular revolt ended his 27-year-rule.

Compaore is wanted in Burkina Faso for threatening state security and an international warrant for his arrest was issued there in December for his alleged role in the mysterious 1987 killing of his comrade, ex-president Thomas Sankara.

But the two countries share deep historical ties, pragmatically anchored by the economy of Ivory Coast, the biggest in French-speaking Africa.

The West African country derives a significant part of its wealth from cocoa, its “brown gold”, of which it is the world’s largest cocoa producer.

 The beans account for 22% of its GDP, more than half of its exports, and two-thirds of people’s jobs and incomes, according to the World Bank.

Tending the cash crop is labour intensive—and the jobs are held mainly by immigrants from Burkina Faso, who by some estimates make up to 10% of the country’s 20 million-strong population, and who have been in the country for generations.

Burkina in Ivory Coast

An estimated 50% of all immigrants in Ivory Coast are Burkinabe—a migration corridor that rivals that of Zimbabwe-South Africa and of an economic importance similar to that between the US and Mexico. The money they send back supports a third of Burkinabe households.

Understanding the importance, the hugely popular Ivorian independence president Félix Houphouët-Boigny granted the economic migrants voting rights, but not citizenship, ensuring they remained happy but did not destabilise the political balance—they continuously voted for him almost to a man.

President Alassane Outtara

To retain Burkina Faso’s vital stability and this source of labour, Houphouët-Boigny ensured he had an influential hand in who ruled the country, including sponsoring both Sankara and Compaore to power.

There have been bumps in relations, especially during the battle for the post-Houphouët-Boigny order, but it is an intricate bilateral relationship bound both by diplomatic intrigue and economic reality.

Ouattara, like Houphouët-Boigny before him, would have calculated that a stable Burkina Faso is of more strategic importance to its interests than extraditing Compaore.

A rebuilding Burkina Faso would also be keener to avoid the possibility of additional internal instability, and to keep crucial remittances flowing, more than with scoring political points by seeking Compaore at all costs.

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