In demonstration of people power, protesters forced former Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore out of office Friday, October 31, after 27 years in power. The protests in Ouagadougou, the capital and other cities, were called by the opposition against an attempt by the former leader to perpetuate his semi-autocratic rule. First, he sought to push through parliament a constitutional amendment that would have allowed him to seek a fifth term tenure. But that failed because protesters burnt down the parliament building, thereby preventing the lawmakers from sitting. Then the President said he would remain in office for one year to oversee the election of his successor. But the opposition would have none of this and continued to urge protesters onto the streets.
According to an Associated Press (AP) report, “Over the course of several dramatic hours, Compaore, 63, went from looking likely to jam through parliament a bill that would let him seek a fifth term to agreeing to step down next year to abandoning office immediately. The quick succession of events took many by surprise, since Compaore had long out manoeuvred his adversaries and has in recent years become an important regional mediator. Burkina Faso hosts French special forces and serves as an important ally of both France and the United States in the fight against Islamic militants in West Africa.”
As it turned out, Compaore resigned on Friday and fled to neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire. He first came to power following the October 1987 coup against then-President Thomas Sankara, Compaore’s longtime friend and political ally who was killed in the power grab. According to AP again, “While he was respected on the international stage, critics noted that, under Compaore’srule, the country of 18 million people remained mired in poverty. The landlocked country’s fortunes rise and fall with gold and cotton prices — and adequate rain in a region plagued by drought”.
Meanwhile, what appeared to be a power tussle between two top army officers to replace Compaore ended on Saturday when the army high command announced Lt.-Col. Yacouba Isaac Zida as interim president to lead Burkina Faso through a “period of transition,” the “form and duration” of which “will be determined later.”
We applaud the courage of the Burkinabes to take matters into their hands and challenge Compaore, who believed in his invincibility, on the streets. This is a warning to other sit-tight leaders like Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, now 90, and in power since 1980. However, we shudder at the open-endedness of the transition and the fact that a soldier will oversee it.
We appreciate the promptness with which the United States has reacted to developments in Burkina Faso. It has urged the Burkinabe military to follow “the constitutionally mandated process for the transfer of power and holding of democratic elections…We condemn any attempts by the military or other parties to take advantage of the situation for unconstitutional gain and call on all parties to respect the people’s support for the democratic process.”
The ECOWAS and AU have not said anything yet, three days after the change of guard in Burkina Faso. This we consider sad. They should mount pressure on the military leadership in Ouagadougou to give a definitive transition period and it should not be more than a year. They should insist that the transition cabinet should be wholly civilian, led by a civilian prime minister with executive powers.