What does fall of Compaoré mean for Burkina Faso?

What does fall of Compaoré mean for Burkina Faso?

Burkina Faso’s president Blaise Compaoré was ousted in a coup d’etat after 27 years in office. Still, the next elected head of state faces significant economic hurdles to regaining social stability.

On October 31st one of Africa’s longest serving presidents, Blaise Compaoré, became yet another president forced out of power. He left the same way he entered 27 years ago, in a coup d’etat.

The tipping point was his attempt to revise the constitution by lifting term limits so he could run for president in 2015 again. In response, political opposition leaders called for civil unrest. Government buildings such as the National Assembly were destroyed and the ruling party’s office was set ablaze, while Compaoré was swiftly escorted to safety by French Special Forces in neighboring Ivory Coast.

Burkina Faso under Compaoré has been regarded as one of the more politically stable countries in the region, especially when compared to recent conflicts in Ivory Coast in 2011 and Mali in 2012. But this projection of stability has come at a price that Burkinabes have had to endure in the form of a high cost of living, youth unemployment, endemic corruption and cronyism.

Since Compaoré’s departure, the military has been in control with Lieutenant Colonel Issac Zida acting as head of state, which evoked serious concerns from a broad spectrum of citizens, civil society as well the international community.

burkina faso

Mass protests in Burkina Faso, 2014.

The events leading up to and the removal of President Compaoré saw the use of an ‘African/Black spring’ hashtag (a nod to the Arab Spring of 2011) or #Iwili due to the nature and velocity of the demonstrations and protest.

The pressure for Compaoré to concede power was even greater after he withdrew the controversial amendment, but social unrest alone was not enough to dissolve his regime. There were likely cracks within the ranks of the Compaoré regime, and public opinion helped substantiate the decision to remove him from power.

Any semblance of democracy in Burkina Faso has been anchored by the military, not a robust civil society. As a result, Compaoré has used repression to maintain order. Burkina Faso’s military is known for its heavy-handed approach in managing civil unrest.

The president’s ouster, however, sends warning shots to long-serving heads of states in the region that repression may not achieve the same results that it used to, and it sparks the imagination of the citizenry that regime change by these means are possible.

Burkina Faso’s military, opposition parties, religious leaders and civil organisations have created a roadmap to civilian rule under pressure from a joint UN, AU and ECOWAS mediation team. As of November 15th a transition charter has been unanimously agreed upon, which will be civilian-led and should reflect power sharing among all key stakeholders.

In the midst of the turmoil, Burkina Faso’s next elected head of state will have to contend with a 77% unemployment rate, a burgeoning youth population in which approximately 65% are under age 30 and a rate of 46% of the population living below the poverty line. It will also face a legacy of corruption that has arrested development. Improving upon the 2004 revision of its investment code to attract more foreign investment along with an increase in gold production could generate much need government revenue.

About Author

Adolphus Washington

Adolphus Washington is a political researcher and writer with specific expertise in sub-Saharan African Affairs. Previously he has worked with GIABA, International Alert and a number of other international organizations. He holds an MSc in African Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies.