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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Lessons from Burkina Faso

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AFP could confirm only four deaths. As images of tens of thousands of jubilant Burkinabe were seen from Harare to Banjul, Twitter and other social media sites saw citizens pointing the finger at their own long-serving leaders.

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«Let this be a warning to all African leaders who wish to cling on to power at all cost. Viva Burkinabe!» wrote Kwesi Asante in Accra, Ghana.  Some, like @lennoxin in Johannesburg, offered messages of support: «Super proud of the people of Burkina Faso, dictators have no place in the future of Africa, aluta continua!» (the fight continues).

 

Others sought to send a message that the days of life terms in office are coming to an end. A total of nine African leaders have held power for more than 20 years. «A warning to all African Leaders, ‘Hold power loosely, serve people wisely’. Things are changing. Getting rid of you is not as hard,» wrote Frank Ondere in Kenya.

 

Others looked to draw more local lessons from events half a continent away in Ouagadougou. Presidents in Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere came under direct fire from their citizens. «If Burkina Faso can do it, Why not UGANDA?» asked one Twitter user in Kampala, another in Zimbabwe said, «Mugabe to be next!»

 

But not everyone was convinced that events in Ouagadougou heralded the beginning of an «African Spring». «Burkina Faso should be a wake-up call for the Obiangs, al-Bashirs. Musevenis, Dos Santos & other African leaders for life, but probably not,» wrote Namibian former newspaper editor @Gwenlister1.

The UN is calling for a quick return to civilian rule in Burkina Faso and has threatened sanctions if the military holds on to power. “We hope there will be a transition led by a civilian and in keeping with the constitutional order,” the UN envoy for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, told a news conference. “If not, the consequences are pretty clear. We want to avoid having to impose sanctions on Burkina Faso.”

 

The military named a high-ranking officer, Isaac Zida, to lead the country’s transition. Chambas was speaking on behalf of a tripartite group of mediators that included representatives of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, after they met with 49-year-old Zida and top military brass. They “assured us that they had well understood the message,” Chambas said.

 

The former French colony prepared for more mass protests as opposition and civil society leaders challenged moves by the military to step into the power vacuum left by Compaore’s ouster. The developments are being closely watched across a continent where several other veteran heads of state are also trying to cling to power.

Zida, who beat out a rival claim by the landlocked nation’s army chief to lead the transitional government, vowed to work closely with civil society. Under the constitution, the speaker of parliament should serve as transitional leader. Opposition and activist leaders swiftly issued a statement warning the military against a power grab, demanding instead a “democratic and civilian transition”.

 

«The victory born from this popular uprising belongs to the people, and the task of managing the transition falls by right to the people. In no case can it be confiscated by the army,” they said in a statement. They called a new mass rally in the capital Ouagadougou on Sunday at the site now nicknamed “Revolution Square”.

 

Zida, the second-in-command of the presidential guard, said he had assumed “the responsibilities of head of the transition and of head of state” to ensure a “smooth democratic transition”.

The transition will be carried out “together with the other components of national life,” he said, referring to the political opposition and civil leaders. The army’s endorsement was signed by General Nabere Honore Traore, who initially said he would himself assume power, a claim Zida had dismissed as “obsolete”.

“The aspirations for democratic change» of the Burkina youth «will be neither betrayed, nor disappointed”, Zida said. Speaking on television, the military officer also said the ousted president was “in a safe place” and his “safety and well-being are assured”.

In neighbouring Ivory Coast the presidency confirmed reports that Compaore, who fled Ouagadougou on October 31, was in the country.

 

Compaore was only 36 when he seized power in a 1987 coup in which his former friend Thomas Sankara was ousted and assassinated. His bid to hold on to power particularly angered young people in a country where 60 percent of the population of almost 17 million is under 25.

 

Many have grown up under the leadership of one man and are disillusioned by the establishment that has led a country which is languishing at 181st out of 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index. Known in colonial times as Upper Volta, the country won independence from France in 1960 and its name was changed to Burkina Faso “The Land of Upright Men” in 1984.

In the Burkinabe uprising are lessons galore for anyone who cares to see.

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