Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Ouagadougou from 1987 to 1989, Zéphirin Diabré joined the private sector as Director of Human Relations for the Société burkinabé de brasseries du Burkina (Sobbra) within the French group Castel from 1989 to 1992. He was elected deputy that year to the National Assembly under the label of the Organisation for Popular Democracy/Labour Movement (ODP/MT), the party of President Blaise Compaoré.
A month later, he was appointed Minister of Industry, Trade and Mines in the government of Prime Minister Youssouf Ouédraogo.
In 1997, he joined Harvard University and worked as a professor-researcher with Jeffrey Sachs, mainly on the future of African economies. On January 15, 1999, he was appointed Deputy Director-General of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) by Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations.
In February 2006, Zéphirin Diabré joined the AREVA group as President, Africa and the Middle East, and advisor for international affairs to the President, Anne Lauvergeon. He also chairs a think tank on raw materials within the Medef. In 2011, he leaves the group to set up as an international consultant in the field of mining finance.
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