Relations between Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso have begun to normalize in recent weeks, nearly two years after they were damaged in the aftermath of the fall of Burkina Faso's longtime president, Blaise Compaore. On July 28, the current Burkinabe president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, met with his Ivorian counterpart, Alassane Ouattara, to sign 13 bilateral agreements, including ones proposing infrastructure development and tighter border security to combat terrorism.
The meeting marked the first high-level summit between the neighbors since 2014, when the uprising that drove Compaore out of Burkina Faso destabilized ties between the two West African countries. Compaore, who had ruled his country for 27 years and had recently moved to abolish presidential term limits, lost control over key factions of the government that had helped him maintain power. Faced with the collapse of his rule, Compaore announced his decision to quit the presidency on Oct. 31, 2014, and fled to Ivory Coast. His exile in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's economic capital, eventually started a standoff between the new government in Burkina Faso, which demanded his extradition to face murder charges, and Ouattara's administration.
The rapid downturn in Ivorian-Burkinabe relations after Compaore's ouster highlights the potential pitfalls of the close relationship between the two countries. But their geographic proximity and cultural and familial bonds ensure closeness in informal and formal relations. As a landlocked country, Burkina Faso depends on its neighbors for supply chain connectivity to ports and overseas markets. But two of its neighbors, Mali and Niger, are themselves landlocked, leaving Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin as Burkina Faso's only efficient access points. Since Ghana was a British colony, infrastructure linking it with Burkina Faso remains relatively modest. Burkina Faso relies instead on the other French-speaking countries once grouped together under the French West Africa political federation.
Because Ivory Coast has long been the economic and political heavyweight of French-speaking West Africa — during and after colonial rule — it is Burkina Faso's most natural gateway to supply chain connectivity. Benin and Togo, by comparison, are limited by their size and infrastructure development. Furthermore, only Ivory Coast is connected to Burkina Faso by rail. The 1,260-kilometer (780-mile) Sitarail and a parallel highway connect the Ivorian port of Abidjan — a major trade hub in West Africa — directly to the Burkinabe capital of Ouagadougou, ensuring reliable transport of goods and people. With so many historical ties and shared interests joining them, restoring relations is an imperative for Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast alike. And even though Burkina Faso's political grievances with its neighbor remain unresolved, its relationship with Ivory Coast is too important to give up.