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Burkina Faso: An African Crisis in the Making?

Many fear there is a crisis brewing in the West Africa nation of Burkina Faso as the ruling government makes moves to ensure their political survival.

While all focus has been on Mali over the last few months, there is a crisis in the making in the West African nation of Burkina Faso where a proposed Senate has provoked four massive demonstrations in a month with the opposition party making three shows of force on 28 and 29 June and 20 July. President Blaise Compaore's political party responded with a protest from its followers on 6 July.

Photo prise lors de la manifestation du 20 juillet

“No to the curse of nepotism and tyranic authority” – Photo from the protests on 20 July via Twitter user @Bambyam. Used with permission.

Why all of these protests? Nico Ramirez, who writes on the website Diktacratie [fr] explains in his article Burkina Faso: in the land of corrupt man [fr] (The name Burkina Faso means the “land of honest people”):

C’est la mise en place d’un Sénat, la dernière trouvaille du régime pour assurer sa survie, qui a enflammé les esprits. Plus d’élus pour plus de démocratie, un bon gros mensonge pour nourrir des estomacs vides ! À côté des 39 représentants des collectivités territoriales, élus au suffrage indirect, et d’une douzaine de représentants de la société civile, le Sénat comptera également 29 sénateurs nommés par Blaise soi-même, comme ça c’est plus simple.

It is the establishment of a Senate that has angered the public. This is the latest tactic that the regime has unveiled in order to assure its survival. More elected representatives must mean more democracy. A big fat lie for hungry mouths to chew on. Aside from the 39 representatives of the regional authorities, that were elected by indirect suffrage, and the dozen representatives from civil society, the Senate will also have 29 Senators who have been appointed by Blaise himself…its easier to do things that way…

Still, that is not the only cause for frustration as Justin Yarga, an online journalist and blogger for Burkina 24 [fr] explains in an article entitled Burkina Faso: Quand la présidentielle de 2015 se prépare déjà dans la rue (Burkina Faso: the 2015 Presidential Race Already Taking to the Streets) [fr] that was published on the blog Noise From Africa:

Pour le parti au pouvoir, cette chambre de sages participe du renforcement de la démocratie. Mais l’opposition y voit le moyen pour le parti au pouvoir et ses alliés de s’assurer une majorité qualifiée qui lui permette, en l’absence de son allié de poids l’ADF-RDA, de modifier l’article 37 et donner ainsi la possibilité d’un second mandat au président Blaise Compaoré.

In the eyes of the political party in power, this chamber of wise men contributes to the reinforcement of democracy. But the opposition sees it as a means for those in power, and their allies, to guarantee that there will be a qualified majority. This will allow them, in the absence of its strongest ally the ADF-RDA (Rassemblement Democratique Africain /Alliance pour la Democratie et la Federation) to modify Article 37 and thus pave the way for a Blaise Compaoré's second term.

Photo prise le 6 juillet lors de la manifestation de soutien au régime via @babyam avec sa permission

Photo taken on 6 July during protests supporting the current regime. Used with permission from @bambyam

The International Crisis Group (ICG), an NGO that works to prevent and resolve conflicts, wrote in its report, Burkina Faso: With or Without Compaoré, Times of Uncertainty:

Pour la première fois depuis 1987, la question de la succession du président burkinabè est ouvertement posée. La Constitution interdit en effet à Blaise Compaoré, au pouvoir depuis plus d’un quart de siècle, de briguer un nouveau mandat en 2015. Sa marge de manœuvre est très étroite. S’il respecte la loi fondamentale, sa succession risque d’être difficile tant il a dominé la vie politique et fermé les possibilités d’alternance. S’il modifie la Constitution et se porte candidat à un cinquième mandat consécutif, il prend le risque de déclencher un soulèvement populaire comme celui qui a fait vaciller son régime au premier semestre de l’année 2011. Les partenaires internationaux doivent l’inciter à respecter la loi fondamentale et permettre une transition démocratique en douceur.

For the first time since 1987 the issue of the Burkinabè presidential successor has been openly discussed. The constitution does not allow Blaise Compaoré, who has been in power for more than 25 years, to seek out a new term in 2015. He has very little leeway. If he respects the basic laws of the country, it will be difficult to succeed him. He has dominated the political arena so much that the possibility of any other choice is severely limited.  If he changes the Constitution and presents his candidacy for a fifth consecutive term, he risks provoking another popular uprising similar to the one that shook his regime during the first half of 2011 [fr].

The public debate has brought about the emergence of the movement “Le Balai Citoyen” [fr] (The Citizen Sweeper). This project is the initiative of two musicians: Smockey – a rapper, and Sams K Le Jah a reggae artist. On their Facebook [fr] page they describe their movement as follows:

Une Force citoyenne nouvelle résiste et s'organise pour une “VRAIE DÉMOCRATIE”, une “BONNE GOUVERNANCE” et un “MEILLEUR VIVRE-ENSEMBLE” au Faso

A new force of the people is rising up and coming together to create a “REAL DEMOCRACY” a “SOUND GOVERNMENT” and “GREATER COEXISTENCE” among the people of ‘Faso.

The website eburienews reported that the government ignored the protests against the elections and held them anyways:

Malgré la marche de l’opposition, sa puissance de mobilisation, les « non au sénat » n’ont pas troublé outre mesure le déroulement des élections sénatoriales ce 28 juillet. Les manifestants qui ont essayé de les empêcher ont été … « victimes » de la rapidité du scrutin !

Les 29 sénateurs représentants les collectivités territoriales seront donc bientôt connus et installés. … La conclusion qu’on est en droit de tirer est qu’inexorablement, le sénat sera installé.

Le sénat passera donc, à moins d’un revirement spectaculaire du Président du Faso et est bien parti pour participer à l’ouverture de la prochaine session ordinaire du Parlement.

Despite the opposition's protests and the force of its mobilization efforts, the collective “no” against the senate elections did little to prevent them happening on 28 July 28. One can say that those protesters who tried to prevent them from happening became “victims” of “responsive surveillance!”

The 29 senators representing the territorial communities would soon be revealed and sworn in. …The only conclusion that one can rightly draw is that the senate will be established.

It would therefore become little more than a spectacular reestablishment of Burkina Faso's President and it will be poised to participate at the opening of the next regular session of Parliament.

Senegalese blogger Sabine Cessou, who maintains the blog Rues d'Afriques [fr] writes in the article Burkina Faso, the brewing insurrection [fr] that just like his Senegalese counterpart [fr] Abdoulaye Wade:

Blaise Compaoré envisage lui aussi une succession dynastique, en poussant son frère cadet, l’impopulaire François Compaoré. Surnommé « petit président », l’homme est soupçonné d’être impliqué dans le meurtre d’un journaliste, Norbert Zongo, qui enquêtait sur la disparition de son chauffeur.

Blaise Compaoré also has his sights set on establishing a dynasty by promoting his younger brother, the very unpopular Francois Compaoré. Francis is suspected to being involved in the murder of a journalist Norbert Zongo, who was investigating the disappearance of his driver.

Justin Yarga recalls in the aforementioned blog post Burkina Faso: the 2015 Presidential Race Already Taking to the Streets:

Blaise Compaoréa pris le pouvoir en 1987 [par un coup d’état] qui a éteint la plus lumineuse expérience de changement de l’Afrique postcoloniale, celle de Thomas Sankara.

Blaise Compaoré seized power by a coup d’état in 1987 which extinguished the most promising movement for change to take hold in Post-colonial Africa: that of Thomas Sankara. 

In the report mentioned earlier by the ICG, the group describes in further details the possibly disastrous repercussions that a revolution in Burkina Faso would have in the region. 

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