Candidates in Burkina Faso have begun campaigning for the presidential election scheduled for next month. Incumbent President and former coup leader Blaise Compaore kicked off his well-funded bid in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso, in the country's west.
Thousands packed into Bobo-Dioulasso's main stadium for what promised to be one of the spectacles of this year's campaign for the presidency of Burkina Faso.
Youths in yellow or white T-shirts bearing the image of incumbent Blaise Compaore gazed at the hot-air balloons hovering above them, as they waited for the president's arrival.
Mr. Compaore, who has ruled the country since seizing power 18 years ago, is expected to win the November 13 poll. After arriving at the stadium in the back of an open convertible, supporters chimed in with chants of victory for Blaise Compaore.
Speaking to VOA, Mr. Compaore explained why he chose Bobo-Dioulasso for his first campaign stop.
"Bobo-Dioulasso is very important for Burkina Faso, historically, economically, and politically, because, in the past, many leaders, Burkina Faso political leaders, in this area [were] fighting against colonialism for independence," he said.
This will be the first presidential election in which Mr. Compaore will face opposition candidates. He won landslide victories in both 1991 and 1998, but opposition leaders boycotted the polls.
This year, his opponents say, the president should not even be allowed to run. Five challengers attempted to block his candidacy, arguing he was breaking a constitutional limit of two terms in office. But a court in the capital, Ouagadougou, gave Mr. Compaore the go ahead.
Some opposition candidates had also argued that they were at an economic disadvantage, due to the late release of state campaign funding.
While President Compaore tours the country in a helicopter, his opponents have been traveling by road.
At the rally in Bobo-Dioulasso, one man, struggling to make himself heard above the crowd, says elections in Burkina Faso are still more about entertainment than ideas.
"Democracy, it is maybe arriving in Burkina Faso, but it is not yet in Burkina Faso, because you can't express yourself like you want. But, now, in 2005, it is a very expensive word," he commented.
Election commission officials say more than four million Burkinabes are eligible to vote.
The country is impoverished and dependent on cotton exports, which are hurt by subsidies to producers outside Africa, but still has been improving infrastructure.
Burkina Faso was recently added to the U.S. list of African countries eligible for preferential trade, while also getting a $13 million grant to improve the education of girls from the U.S Millennium Challenge Account.