Burkina Faso Is Taking Steps Toward Democracy (and Africans Are Taking Note)

Acting president of Burkina Faso CC-BY 20

Acting President of Burkina Faso, Michel Kafando. CC-BY 20

Former diplomat Michel Kafando has been appointed to fill the leadership void left behind by deposed Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré until the next elections, further heartening others throughout Africa that a popular uprising might just work in their country too.

Compaoré, 63, who gained power through a military coup 27 years ago, was forced to abdicate his post and hastily flee his country on October 31 due to civil unrest in the streets of Burkina Faso. Thousands of Burkinabés took to the streets of Ouagadougou, the capital of this West African country, as well as other cities in the interior, to denounce him and his supporting oligarchy's campaign to revise the constitution. 

The following video in French describes the events that led to President Comparoé's downfall:  


Following Compaoré's departure, the position of head of state was temporarily filled by Lieutenant Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida, as a means of securing the continuity of power. Still, the public at large maintained its stance that a civilian should take up leadership during the transitional period until the next elections. In a very powerful speech, Lieutenant Colonel Zida announced the charter for the transition and the imminent arrival of a civilian transitional leader

Depuis le 30 octobre 2014, le peuple burkinabè s’est réconcilié avec lui-même et avec son histoire. [..] En ce jour, je voudrais à l’occasion de cette cérémonie consacrant la signature de la Charte de la transition, pour rendre un vibrant hommage à notre peuple, dont la grandeur s’est illustrée à bien d’égards, forçant respect et admiration de tous les peuples épris de démocratie, de liberté et de progrès.Ainsi, concitoyennes et concitoyens comme vous l’avez voulu, le processus pré-transitionnel engagé depuis le 31 octobre 2014 est conduit par les Forces armées nationales qui se sont engagées à remettre le pouvoir aux civils.

Since 30 October 2014, Burkinabes have come to terms with their history. […] Today, as we sign this Charter of Transition, I would like to pay my most profound respects to our people, who have embodied greatness in so many ways, and in so doing, have earned the respect and admiration of those who are committed to democracy, freedom, and progress the world over. And so, my citizens, as you have wished, the pre-transition process that had begun since 31 October 2014 is being led by the National Armed Forces, which have undertaken the task of returning power to the people. 

Kafando was subsequently appointed to steward the transitional period until the next elections. 

Lieutenant Colonel Zida - domaine public

Lieutenant Colonel Zida – public domain

Still, the fight for democracy was a difficult one. In fact, Compaoré had in fact managed to carve out a path that would allow for his re-election. He intended to bring forward a reform to article 37 of the constitution, which had been ratified in June of 1991, and which stipulates that the President of Burkina Faso cannot be re-elected more than once. Mr. Blaise Compaoré who had already been re-elected wished to change this position by putting the question to vote in the National Assembly, which was controlled by his party and his allies.

Alain Doh Bi explains how events unfolded in a bulletin published on his blog:

L’ex-Président Blaise Compaoré s’est entêté à vouloir modifier l’article 37 de la Constitution du Burkina Faso en vue de briguer un nouveau mandat, après 27 années de règne sans partage. Le peuple Burkinabé s’est levé comme un seul homme, depuis le 28 octobre 2014. Après 48 heures de manifestations populaires, Blaise Compaoré, Assassin de Thomas Sankara, est tombé […]

Des hauts gradés de la Gendarmerie et de l’Armée Burkinabé ont décidé de se rallier au peuple. Une concertation spontanée entre les leaders de la manifestation et les hauts gradés de l’armée a permis de convenir d’une transition militaro-civile. 

Former President Blaise Compaoré insisted on wanting to modify Article 37 of the Constitution of Burkina Faso with the intention of bringing a new mandate after 27 years of undisputed power. The people of Burkina Faso have united in protest since 28 October 2014. After 48 hours of protests, Blaise Compaoré, murderer of Thomas Sankara,(ed. note: Sankara, was the president of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987)   was ousted […]

Some high-ranking officials of the Burkinabe police force and army decided to align themselves with the cause of the people. An improvised dialogue between protest leaders and said army officials made way for a transition from military to civilian power. 

Young people mobilized throughout the country to demand officials to vote against the constitutional changes; they also turned to social media. 

One such group, Le Balai citoyen (the Citizen Broom), opened a Facebook page that garnered more than 20,000 followers and was very active in organizing protests. The group positions itself as follows: 

A propos du symbole: … « On a modestement appelé ça le balai citoyen, et c’est tout un symbole. Le Burkina Faso a besoin d’un sacré nettoyage. Depuis presque trente ans on subit, on subit et on réagit pas. Il y a une part infime de la population qui a commencé à s’enrichir impunément pendant que le reste dégraisse. Je crois qu’il grand temps de foutre un bon coup de balai à tout ça pour crier notre ras-le-bol. » …

Voila ce qu'est ce mouvement ‘le balai citoyen” pour les initiateurs.

A word on our symbol: … “we humbly called ourselves ‘le Balai citoyen’, and it is quite the symbol. Burkina Faso needs a profound cleansing. For almost 30 years we have suffered; we suffer and we do not fight back. There is a tiny segment of the population that began to get richer by skimming the fat off of the rest of us without impunity. I think that it is high time to clean out all of that in with one fell swoop and say enough is enough”

This is what the “le Balai citoyen” movement represents for its founders.

Across social networks and online media, dictators in other African countries have come under heavy scrutiny and been warned. 

“Citizen Broom Movement – The struggle lives on” A poster created by the Citizen Groom Movement via their Facebook Page (with their permission)

Bruno E. LOMA recalls the circumstances that led up to the social crisis in a post entitled “In Africa Toying with the Constitution Is the Price We Pay” that was published on maliactu.net on 4 November 2014:

Tous les moyens sont bons pour modifier la Constitution du pays pour se maintenir au pouvoir. Ils s’y accrochent pour tenter de prolonger leur mandat au-delà des délais légaux. La recette est toute trouvée, réviser la constitution par un vote des élus à l’Assemblée. Ce qui n’est pas toujours acquis car certains élus, même de la majorité présidentielle, par patriotisme ou par respect pour ceux qui ont voté pour eux, s’y opposent. Par peur de ne pas avoir le maximum d’élus en leur faveur, nos chers présidents trouvent d’autres parades comme l’imposition par voie référendaire de cette révision de la constitution.

When it comes to modifying the country's constitution in order to remain in power, anything goes. They cling to it in an attempt to extend their mandate well beyond the legal limits. They have discovered the formula: revise the constitution by putting it to vote with the elected officials of the Assembly. It doesn't necessarily work because some representatives are against this — even when they support the presidential majority. This is out of a sense of patriotism or respect for those who put them in power. For fear of not having the majority in their corner our dear presidents find other means of curtailing resistance, such as calling a referendum for constitutional reform.

In a series of columns on afrikaexpress.inf, Régis Marzin paints a complete portrait of the elections scheduled to take place in several African countries during the 2015-2016 electoral cycle. He analyzes the issues and potential obstacles to maintaining social order:

Au début des années 90, les revendications ont abouti à des conférences nationales et à des révisions des constitutions pour encadrer les mandats présidentiels, et une limitation du nombre de mandats à 2 a été ajoutée partout, sur le modèle américain … 

Pour les 8 dictatures stables du système néocolonial français, dans 6 pays, au Tchad, au Cameroun, à Djibouti, au Togo et au Gabon, les limitations à 2 mandats ont été supprimées– elle a été aussi supprimée en Algérie -, alors qu’elles sont toujours là dans 3 pays en Mauritanie, au Congo Brazzaville et au Burkina Faso. Au Burkina Faso, la limitation a été enlevée en 1997 puis remise sous la pression des revendications de la rue en 2000. La stratégie des opposants s’y refocalise maintenant d’autant plus sur ce point.

… En Guinée Equatoriale et en Angola, où il n’y a aucune limitation dans les constitutions, Téodoro Obiang et José Eduardo Dos Santos sont au pouvoir depuis 1979, depuis 35 ans. Téodoro Obiang était déjà proche de la tête; du régime avant. Réélu en 2009 pour 7 ans il aura 74 ans en 2016, alors que la constitution lui interdit de se représenter après ses 75 ans. Il rejoint dans les records Paul Biya, 81 ans, dont 32 ans au pouvoir, qui aura 85 ans à la fin de son mandat en 2018, alors qu’aucune transition démocratique n’est amorcée. Au Tchad, le 5emandat d’Idriss Déby prévisible en 2016 sera contesté en fonction de la répression et de la mobilisation dans le reste de l’Afrique.

Outcry in the early 90s led to national conferences and constitutional revisions to rein in presidential mandates, and a limit of two terms, based on the American model, was applied across the board. […]

Of the eight stable dictatorships within the French neo-colonial system, six [sic] countriesChad, Cameroon, Djibouti, Togo, and Gabon [and Algeria] have removed these two-term limits. Term limits have also been removed in Algeria, however, they still remain in three countries: Mauritania, Congo Brazzaville and Burkina Faso. In Burkina Faso, the two-term limit was removed in 1997 but then reinstated in 2000 under the pressure of street protests. Opponents are refocusing their efforts in this regard.

[…] In Equatorial Guinea and Angola, where there are no limits written into the constitution, Téodoro Obiang and José Eduardo Dos Santos have been in power since 1979 — some 35 years. Téodoro Obiang also previously held a position of high office. Re-elected in 2009 for seven years, he will be 74 in 2016; however, the constitution prohibits him from holding office after he turns 75. His tenure is almost matched by Paul Biya, 81, who has held office for 32 years and who will be 85 at the end of his term in 2018. In spite of this, no transition to democracy has been initiated. In Chad, Idriss Déby's fifth term, which he is facing in 2016, will be contested as a result of the protests taking place in the rest of Africa.

Members of the opposition in Gabon, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, and the Central African Republic met in Paris on 14 November 2014 to adopt a common declaration demanding that constitutions be respected, and insisting that:

L’expérience burkinabé constitue désormais un exemple pour l’Afrique entière.

Henceforth, the experience of Burkina Faso should be held up as an example for all of Africa.

Though few African countries will achieve more than one of the Millennium Development Objectives many are led by dictators who have held power for decades. They have built up oligarchies around them that exploit their country's wealth; enjoying a level of luxury on par with that of Hollywood celebrities while their people are entrenched in the darkest poverty. They consider themselves to be above the law, and they have superimposed their will on that of the people.

On Facebook and Twitter, there are many messages supporting the change:

Hadja Madina Kouyate Barry: Si j'ai un conseil à donner aux africains, c'est de chasser tous les dictateurs changeurs de constitutions. Surtout pas de déchirement entre nous après leur départ car la France est toujours prête à aider les dictateurs à s'enfuir. 

Quand j'ai vu sur France 24 une déclaration de Hollande sur l'évacuation de Blaise Compaoré franchement j'étais malade. Pourquoi les occidentaux ne sont jamais du côté du peuple ?

Hadja Madina Kouyate Barry: If I have any advice for Africans it is to get rid of all dictators who meddle with the constitutions. Most importantly, let us not tear each other apart when they are gone, because France is always ready to help those dictators flee.

Frankly, when I saw on [news organization] France 24 that there was an announcement from [French President] Hollande on Blaise Compaoré evacuation, I felt sick to my stomach. Why do these westerners never side with the people?

Alli Konseiga: rappelez vous que l'Afrique entière a les yeux sur nous Cibals. D'autres jeunes dans des pays où les dirigeants sont comme notre ex presidents voudront s'inspirer de vous. Si notre travail est fini, on s'en va. Rappelons nous, assainir sans se salir. Merci Cibals

Alli Konseiga: remember that all of Africa is watching our Cibals [the name given to supporters of le Balai citoyen]. Young people in countries with leaders who act like our former presidents will be inspired by us. If our work is done, we will go. Remember: we must not get our hands dirty as we clean up. Thank you Cibals.

Fatou Baldé Yansane: … Je crois que les populations africaines sont en train de gagner du terrain. Les fantaisies de changements de constitutions et les élections tripatouillées seront difficiles à consommer dans les prochaines années.
La nouvelle génération doit se positionner à défendre ces valeurs pour éviter d'être engloutie dans le ravin des présidents suicidaires.

Fatou Baldé Yansane: … I believe that African people are gaining ground. Changing the constitution on a whim and tampering elections will become difficult in the next few years.
The new generation must position itself to defend its values in order to avoid being swallowed up by the abyss of disastrous presidents.

Africa: After the uprisings in #Burkina, #Gabon & #Chad. That is what's in store for Djibouti's regime in [the absence of democracy]

1 comment

  • grasspress

    this is indeed good news if it plays out successfully. it’s not hard to understand why africans have had it with their dictatorial rulers. these despots have created a protective barrier of oligarchs around them and, as the article explains, ‘skimmed the fat’ from western investments and loans and have denied their people basic care and decency. i’m sure africans have had enough of dirt roads, latrines, dying from preventable diseases, run-down or non-existent infrastructure, and living in ignorance. i applaud this effort and truly hope it’s successful.

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