Blaise Compaoré, the President of Burkina Faso, has been told by his people that his time is up. After 27 years in power and a bid to run for re-election yet again – a move that contravenes the nation’s constitution – Compaoré has outstayed his welcome. Protests turned into near revolution as angry mobs set the parliament building ablaze and have reportedly burned down the houses of some members of parliament, or National Assembly. The army has now dissolved the parliament and will instate a transitional government, according to General Honore Traore.
Burkina Faso, in west Africa, has seen its share of strife and revolution over the years. Formerly the French colony known as Upper Volta, the country has witnessed no less than five military coups between 1966 and 1987. In 1984, Upper Volta was renamed Burkina Faso, meaning “Land of Incorruptible People” or “Land of Honest People.” At that time, the presidency was held by Thomas Sankara, an army captain who, himself, had gained power following a popular coup. It was another coup, in 1987, that claimed Sankara’s life; Blaise Compaoré led that coup and took over as President. Since then, Compaoré and his party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), has remained in power by winning four elections – each of them a landslide victory and each of them widely considered to be fraudulent.
In the year 2000, Article 37 was added to the constitution of Burkina Faso; it limited the President to just two terms in office. Additionally, the length of those terms – previously seven years – was reduced to five years. Having served two terms since that time, President Compaoré’s time in office was supposed to be up in 2015; the next presidential election. Earlier this year, however, the ruling party called for a referendum on Article 37, hoping to alter it to allow Compaoré to run again. Popular protests against the referendum erupted and now Burkina Faso faces both a constitutional crisis and a, at least temporary, power vacuum.
Zephirin Diabre, a prominent opposition leader, is demanding the President’s resignation. Diabre is also calling for the army to back up the popular revolt. Witnesses on the ground have reported that some soldiers have joined the protesters. General Traore, who held a press conference a short time ago, has indicated that the army will not itself hold onto power. He announced plans for a transitional government and added that a “return to the constitutional order is expected in no more than 12 months.”
Thomas Sankara has been elevated to an almost cult hero-like status since his murder, which is still the subject of much speculation. For many in Burkina Faso – particularly the youth – Sankara’s name has practically become synonymous with freedom, self-determination and government without corruption. Sankara attempted to devolve much of the central government’s power to local committees and his government was, by African standards – and, perhaps, by western standards also – remarkably transparent. Blaise Compaoré did not continue these practices and his time in office has been marred with sporadic protests, riots and at least one reported assassination attempt. Even if Compaoré remains in power for the immediate future, the people of Burkina Faso appear to have made it clear that his time is up. The conclusion to the current upheaval has yet to play out.
Graham J Noble