Burkina Faso: Apollinaire Kyélem de Tambèla, Captain Traoré’s surprise prime minister

By Anna Sylvestre-Treiner, Michel Wendpouiré Nana

Posted on Tuesday, 25 October 2022 11:42
Captain Ibrahim Traore, the new president of Burkina Faso, attends the ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of Thomas Sankara’s assassination, in Ouagadougou, on 15 October 2022. © OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT/AFP

A popular polemicist and convinced Sankarist without claiming it, Apollinaire Kyélem de Tambèla is known for his outspokenness and iconoclastic positions. On 21 October, he was appointed to lead Burkina Faso’s future transitional government.

A few days ago, one of his colleagues jokingly advised him to prepare to join the government. Apollinaire Joachim Kyélem de Tambèla did not respond, smiling as he plunged into his notes. No one, not even him, could have imagined that he would reach such a position. Just a few days previously, he had publicly expressed hope “that there would be no prime minister” in Burkina Faso.

But on the evening of 21 October, a few hours after being sworn in, Ibrahim Traoré, the new president of Burkina Faso’s transitional government, thwarted all predictions. He appointed this civilian, a lawyer, teacher, polemicist but political novice, as head of the future government.

Popular polemicist

The young Captain Traoré’s decision was centred first and foremost around popularity. In Burkina, it is impossible not to have heard of Tambèla. Although he writes under a pseudonym for one of the country’s biggest daily newspapers, he has been making a name for himself in the audiovisual media for several years. Listeners of Radio Liberté, Savane FM and Horizon FM all know the voice of this man who used to host programmes there. On television, he has been at the helm of Press Echos and 7 Infos on BFI TV, not to mention all the debates in which he agrees to participate.

The media sees Tambèla as ‘a good customer,’ as he rarely refuses an invitation, is not afraid to take a stand and defends often iconoclastic ideas. Some of his students at the École Nationale de l’Administration et de la Magistrature (ENAM) call him ‘crazy’, as he is not afraid to make waves.


Nourished by revolutionary ideas, he is described as a Sankarist at heart. However, when President Sankara called him in the 1980s asking him to join his cabinet, Tambèla refused. The young man wanted to devote himself to his studies and decided to move away from Burkina Faso to France, where he settled for several years, before moving to Canada.

From afar, he nevertheless continued to actively support the revolution. He created the Comité de Défense de la Révolution (CDR) Nice Côte-d’Azur, which provided financial support to the regime. In France, he became involved in left-wing student unions and joined the Union Nationale des Etudiants de France (UNEF) and the Union des Etudiants Communistes (UEC).

In 1988, he published Thomas Sankara et la Révolution au Burkina Faso, une Expérience de Développement Autocentré (Thomas Sankara and the Revolution in Burkina Faso, an Experiment in Self-Centred Development), of which Bruno Jaffré, a specialist in Burkina Faso’s history, said that “if it were not for the difficulties in distributing it, this book would have had everything it takes to become the reference book on the Burkinabe revolution”. That same year, he also published Coopération et Développement Autocentré, which retraces “the long path of diplomatic relations and state sovereignty in the world”. In 2007, he published Relations Diplomatiques et Souveraineté with L’Harmattan.

Critical and firm

In his books, just like in his public statements, the transitional government’s new prime minister has always been very critical of governance in Burkina Faso, which he considers to be marked by corruption and nepotism. He did not hold back when discussing the regimes of Blaise Compaoré, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and, in recent weeks, Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba. He was heard denouncing unpopular decisions made by the putschist recently, such as increasing the salaries of government ministers.

Tambèla knew the former president well, who, after leading a putsch in January, was himself overthrown by Traoré on 2 October, not least because they were originally from the same province, Kourritenga, in the central-eastern part of the country. But when he was repeatedly offered official functions in the Damiba-led transitional government, he systematically declined.

Traoré was able to convince him. The announcement that this man, who belongs neither to the upper nor the middle classes, had been appointed was rather well received. Many Burkinabè see this as the perfect opportunity for him to implement his “revolutionary” ideas.

Which partners?

Even though he has never held office, 64-year-old Tambèla is more experienced than 34-year-old Traoré.

The positions taken by this lawyer, who is known for his constancy and firmness, will be particularly scrutinised, especially the partnerships that Burkina Faso plans to strengthen or establish. In his speeches, he has so far defended the idea of increasing the country’s number of partners and not cutting himself off from any of them, neither France nor Russia, by using them for what they can bring to Burkina Faso.

After stirring up anti-French sentiment and relying on pro-Russian networks during his putsch, Traoré advocated for the country to undergo an “endogenous development” in his swearing-in speech. “We can only rely on ourselves, by trying to rethink our agriculture, our breeding, our technology…”, he said. His new prime minister could not have said it better.

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