Article written

  • on 31.10.2014
  • at 10:30 AM
  • by Kevin Hind

Test of African democracy – Burkina and beyond 0

Washington, DC — On Thursday the former soldier who seized power in Burkina Faso 27 years ago agreed to negotiate with opponents. The announcement was a response to massive popular demonstrations against President Blaise Compaore’s intention to extend his rule for another term.

While most protesters were peaceful, violence left Parliament and other buildings in flames. Amid reports in the evening that the military had taken over in what amounted to another coup, social media celebrated that some soldiers had joined the protestors in the streets. Ambassador Johnnie Carson argues that the international community should press for democracy in this volatile period.

Democracy is on the line in Burkina Faso, a poor landlocked country on the edge of the Sahel, and what happens there may be felt across the continent. The stakes are high.

The outcome in Burkina Faso over the next weeks and months could influence whether democracy continues a positive trajectory across sub-Saharan Africa or whether it stalls or – worse – begins to unravel and collapse. Nations that follow democratic norms need to speak out clearly against African leaders who seek to change their government structures in order to retain power indefinitely.

For the past week, tens of thousands of people in Burkina Faso have taken to the streets of their hot and dusty capital, Ouagadougou, to protest a planned Parliamentary vote. Supporters of long-time President Blaise Compaore want to alter the country’s constitution to allow him another term in office.

Compaore, a former solider, came to power in a 1987 military coup d’état. Since abandoning his uniform and opening the door to multiparty politics and constitutional rule, Compaore has been elected five times as the country’s president. Until recently, he said that he would abide by the country’s new constitution and step down at the end of his current term which ends in 2015.

However, with elections fast approaching and his thirst for power still strong, Compaore has changed his mind and decided to “modify” the constitution to run for at least one more term. Parliament, dominated by Compaore stalwarts, must approve the constitutional change by a two-thirds vote, or the issue will go to a public referendum. Either way, Compaore seemed determined to get his way despite the massive protests.

One power grab begets another

The Burkina president’s attempted power grab may appear without implications beyond the small nation of 17 million people, bordered by six countries. However, if Compaore succeeds in manipulating and subverting the constitution, there are perhaps half dozen African leaders waiting in the wings who will try to do the same.

Leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville and Benin all face strict two-term constitutional limitations. It is believed that DRC President Joseph has already signaled his desire to alter his country’s constitution before presidential elections next year. There are reports that President Denis Sassou Nguesso in neighboring Congo-Brazzaville may do the same, and Rwandan opposition leaders have speculated that President Paul Kagame in Kigali may attempt the same ploy.

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By Johnnie Carson – allAfrica

Photo credit: Pan African Visions

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi