Poverty Burkina Faso looks to wage 'insurrection against poverty'

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Burkina Faso Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba's civilian-led government was formed following a rare victory of people power two years ago play

Burkina Faso Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba's civilian-led government was formed following a rare victory of people power two years ago


Desperately poor Burkina Faso has known much turmoil over a half-century of independence, and is once again poised for battle, but this time its ambitious prime minister pledges it will be an "insurrection against poverty".

"We are at a critical moment in our history. This is a programme of truth, a programme of rupture", Paul Kaba Thieba told AFP.

Thieba, who cut his teeth in west African policy as an economist and central banker, is one of the architects of that rupture from Burkina's strongman past.

His civilian-led government was formed following a rare victory of people power two years ago, as former leader Blaise Compaore was run out after trying to extend his 27-year rule.

Now Burkina Faso is looking ahead with a 23.5 billion euro (dollar), five-year development plan to rid itself of its unwelcome distinction as one of the world's poorest countries.

"We succeeded with the popular insurrection (against Compaore). We were victorious in resisting the coup d'etat", Thieba said in an interview, referring to a September 2015 coup attempt by Compaore loyalists.

"There is one insurrection left to win, and that is the insurrection against poverty".

Burkina President Roch Marc Christian Kabore will lead a delegation to a donors conference in Paris next Wednesday and Thursday aiming to raise 8.6 billion euros in loans.

No handouts

Thieba says the state will finance 15 billion euros of its development plan with "our own resources" -- a heady claim for a nation whose annual budget in 2016 weighed in at 2.8 billion euros and whose top exports include cotton and sesame seeds.

The goal, he said, was to bring the numbers of Burkinabe who live in poverty from today's staggering rate of 40 percent down to 35 percent in 2020, to create 50,000 new jobs and enact needed structural reforms.

"We aren't going to Paris to ask for handouts but to build partnerships... If you just take the handouts... and don't make the structural reforms needed to allow those investments to take hold, then the whole thing serves no purpose," he said.

President Kabore, who like Thieba also trained in economics and worked in banking before turning to politics, has laid out a progressive platform to modernise the nation of 17.4 million, ranked 183rd out of 188 on the UNDP human development index.

Thieba said their plan included a focus on girls' education and family planning in a bid to lower the birth rate.

"The rate of demographic growth is 3.1 percent per year. With economic growth at six percent, it is difficult to imagine reducing poverty", he said.

He also said they hoped to harness new technologies to help the 80 percent of Burkinabe who eke out a scrappy existence on subsistence agriculture.

"Fertile land throughout Burkina Faso is going unused, or is underutilised... The production techniques we employ produce weak yields," he said, citing average national yields of grain of 1.5 to two tonnes per hectare (0.41 to 0.61 tonnes per acre), compared with 10 to 12 tonnes in other states.

"The Burkinabe people have to understand that financing the PNDES (development plan) is a patriotic act," he said. "The goal is to take control over our own destiny."

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