Compaore ousted, general takes over - should DR Congo, Burundi, Benin leaders be running scared now?

The protests in Ouagadougou prove that the Arab Spring is capable of crossing the Sahara Desert and heading south.

BURKINA Faso’s President Blaise Compaore has resigned, following violent protests at his attempt to change the constitution and extend his 27-year rule. 

Compaore issued a statement saying the presidency was now vacant and urging elections within 90 days. 

Military chief Gen Honore Traore says he has taken over as head of state.

An army official had said earlier on Friday that Compaore had been ousted, prompting an outburst of cheers from protesters who had gathered for a third day demanding his resignation.

“As of today, Compaore is no longer in power,” Colonel Boureima Farta told tens of thousands of protesters who had gathered in front of the army headquarters. 

Farta spoke to the crowd shortly after noon, hoisted on the shoulders of other officers. Compaore, who has been in power for 27 years, on Thursday had rejected calls to step down following angry demonstrations over plans to amend the constitution to allow him to extend his rule. 

He said he would no longer seek another term but would stay in power through 2015 under a transitional government.

Reports said opposition figures used social media overnight to call for new protests.

They were angry at Compaore, who responded to a day of violence on Thursday by saying he would stay in power for a year under a transitional government.

Angry protestors Thursday stormed parliament and other public buildings including the national television headquarters in the capital Ouagadougou, ransacking offices and setting fire to cars despite a heavy police and army presence.

Opposition figures said around 30 people had been killed and 100 injured as tens of thousands took to the streets in protest against plans to allow Compaore to extend his long reign.

Big Man wobbles

It was clear by the end of a dramatic Thursday that, for all his bravado, Compaore’s grip was slipping.

He initially imposed a state of emergency, but appeared on television just a few hours later to say it had been called off.

The creation of a transitional government was announced by army chief General Honore Traore, who said it would “be put in place in consultation with all parties”.

He also declared the dissolution of parliament.

It remained unclear for many hours who was in charge of the country Thursday after the announcement by the army.

A leading opposition member, Benewende Sankara, described the army’s move as a “coup” and said protesters would accept nothing less than the president’s immediate resignation.

Compaore “is again in the process of duping the people,” he said. “We have been saying for a long time that he must hand in his resignation. His departure is non-negotiable,” thus setting up the stage for further clashes.

Many of the tens of thousands massed on the streets of the capital Thursday called for a retired general and former defence minister, Kouame Lougue, to take control, shouting “Lougue in power!”

There were reports that army chief Traore had met with Lougue earlier in the day to discuss the crisis.

Trapped between three forces
It seems the reason Compaore didn’t cut his losses and run was that he caught between three forces; his own supporters who wanted him to soldier on; a military that was seeking to preserve itself by playing mediator; and an opposition emboldened by successes on Day 1 of their main protest, and the fact that sections of the military joined them.

Compaore’s refusal to quit, mirrored the actions of both Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who were bundled out by the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011. In a perplexing and memorable appearance, when it seemed that all Mubarak’s options had run out and the military had abandoned him, he appeared to make a much-anticipated address to the nation in which everyone thought he would announce his resignation. He didn’t. A few hours later he was out of a job, and shortly after on the way to prison.

Commentators and media have also argued that  Compaore’s troubles must be unsettling other African leaders who are working to change their constitutions to allow them run for more terms, specifically referring to Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi, Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Yayi Boni in Benin.

Like Burkina Faso, Burundi, Benin and DRC are among the poorest countries on the continent. But poverty has not always led to revolt in Africa.

Arab Spring spreads wings
Compaore ascended to power in 1987, and has therefore been in office 14 years longer than Kabila who came in in 2001; 18 years longer than Nkurunziza who took office in 2005; and 19 more than Boni, who came to office in 2006.

To the extent that longevity determines the resentment that an opposition mounts against a leader, the risk to the other three leaders seems much lower than it is for Compaore.

However, since the 2011 Arab Spring, a popular view had emerged that the uprisings would never cross the Sahara desert and move southwards, because ethnic division and rivalry prevents mass unity, and the fact that people in the region are less dependent on the state for subsidised food imports because they don’t live in the desert and are better able to farm themselves, therefore they are less likely to blame the government if they go hungry.

However, as Emile Pargui Pare, an official from the Movement of People for Progress (MPP) - a young and influential opposition party in Burkina Faso – told AFP news agency, “October 30 is Burkina Faso’s Black Spring, like the Arab Spring.”

The Arab Spring, now it seems, can actually cross the desert. Many of the bets made in 2011 and 2012 now have to be off.

Like the Arab Spring revolutionaries, a lot has been made of the fact that “60% of Burkina Faso’s population of almost 17 million is under 25”, so though Compaore is the only president all of them have known, the lack of opportunity and corruption was too much for them to bear.

However, the percentage of people 25 and younger in Burkina Faso is actually 65.7%.

In the DRC, it’s 65%. In Burundi it’s 65.2%, and Benin 63.3%. In that sense, they are all walking the same demographic land mine field like Burkina Faso. It seems though that in Burkina Faso, as in Egypt, eventually it is the army will reap the fruits of protest.


Additional reporting by AFP.

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