OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Burkina Faso took a step toward strengthening its democracy with the election on Tuesday of Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who will become the West African country's second elected civilian president since it became independent from France in 1960.
Hundreds of Kabore's supporters chanted "Presi, Presi" after preliminary results released Tuesday gave him an outright win with more than 53 percent of the vote. They cheered inside the Movement of the People for Progress party's headquarters, where celebrations continued Tuesday, as streets remained calm with a thick layer of dust because of West Africa's harmattan winds.
The election of Kabore, a former prime minister, is significant for Burkina Faso, because the country has been wracked by coups and nearly 30 years under a military ruler. It also marks a step forward in Africa's sputtering drive toward democracy.
Kabore, who will replace a transitional government, dedicated his victory to those who died in the popular uprising that overthrew President Blaise Compaore last year and during resistance to a failed military coup in September.
"To all the victims of the tumultuous history of our country, the nation is grateful," Kabore said.
More than 30 people were killed in the 2014 uprisings that led to a transitional government and more than 14 died resisting the week-long coup in September by Compaore's former presidential guard.
"We owe to their sacrifice the opportunity to restore the constitutional order ... for the promotion of democracy, national reconciliation, social cohesion, freedom, and justice for all," he said.
Kabore, 58, was the prime minister and speaker of parliament under Compaore. In January 2014, Kabore and others broke with Compaore, who had taken power in a bloody coup in 1987, to oppose his effort to extend his rule.
The campaign was marked with the theme "change" by nearly all 14 candidates. A new electoral code barred Compaore's party candidate from running, however the party could still also take many legislative seats.
"The Burkina Faso people have assumed its responsibility and have held elections they are proud of," said Guy Herve Kam, leader of the civil society organization Balai Citoyen, which spearheaded the insurrection that ousted Compaore.
Six coups have highlighted the military's dominance of Burkina Faso's politics.
Sunday's election is considered by many experts to be the most free because there was no incumbent candidate or ruling party to unfairly influence the results. Sixty percent of 5.5 million registered voters cast ballots, the electoral commission said.
"This election is a massive victory for all of those people who were involved in this much longer and wider struggle for change, and it could be seen as massively successful," said Maggie Dwyer, a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh's Center for African Studies. She said that these elections are the result of a much longer struggle by the people.
The West African nation's civil society, active for decades, has played an important role in politics, she said.
Burkina Faso's people have shown great maturity in the face of crisis, standing up against the change of a constitution, a coup d'etat and not letting ethnic or religious differences get in the way, said Philippe Hugon, Africa analyst for the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.
"It's an example to follow, but hasn't exactly been followed," he said. Countries like Burundi, Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Congo all have leaders who have tried to make changes to their constitutions, or are planning to do so, to extend their time in power.
Kabore has the experience needed to lead Burkina Faso, said Hugon.
"He's capable of finding a political equilibrium," if he guides the country toward reconciliation and not exclusion, Hugon said.
"The question of the economy is very important for Kabore since Burkina Faso is a very poor country," Hugon said, adding that finding employment opportunities for the youth will be vital.
Youths make up 60 percent of the 17 million citizens and have among the lowest literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank.
The government must also work on guaranteeing the security of their citizens by fighting a growing extremist movement that is pushing across its borders, Hugon said.
Burkina Faso has faced recent attacks at its border with Mali and has beefed up security following intelligence that jihadists are seeking refuge in the country after being tracked down in Mali and Niger.