Blaise Compaore came to power in a bloody coup in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in 1987 that resulted in the death of President Thomas Sankara. Compaore and Sankara were childhood friends and comrades in the then Upper Volta army and had together in 1983 overthrown the government of Major Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo in an internal power struggle.
Capt Sankara was a darling of the Burkinabe and his leftist learning brought him close to like-minded leaders in Africa and beyond. Compaore probably ordered Sankara’s killing and quick burial since there was no way he could rule the country with Sankara alive somewhere given Sankara’s popularity at home. In his four-year rule, Sankara lived a simple and frugal life and detested corruption.
Compaore ruled the poor Sahelian country from 1987 until he was forced out last week by a peaceful uprising by the opposition and the youth, opposed to his attempt to amend the constitution and remove term limits. The youth, 70 per cent of whom are unemployed, set Parliament ablaze and burnt down City Hall, television station and other government buildings, let alone several MPs’ houses.
Compaore’s withdrawal of the Bill was too little too late. The demonstrators wanted nothing short of his exit from power there and then. This ended the reign of another African strongman who had overstayed his welcome.
The study of Compaore’s rise and fall from power is typical of African dictators. They come as liberators and end up as despots with insatiable appetites for power. Many of them, with an eye on prolonging their grip onto power, have resorted to constitutional amendments, scrapping term limits and thus enabling the rulers stay put until they drop dead. These leaders are not scared of elections, most of which are actually won long before they are held.
The opposition in these countries have been rendered politically impotent and the electoral commissions are often part and parcel of the ruling parties. One has to congratulate the Burkina Faso Opposition parties, the youth and the Burkinabe for standing firm, forcing the dictator to flee.
The armed forces of Burkina Faso must be similarly congratulated for choosing country over an individual. The army must, however, desist from hijacking and managing the transition.
It is time for other countries on the continent to be liberated too. Members of Parliament, especially of ruling parties, should stop putting the party before the country. Party caucuses must not be made into de facto parliaments where all important decisions are made and only sent to the legislature for rubber stamping. It is both sad and annoying to hear MPs moaning decisions they took part in only after falling out with the ruling party. How many times have we heard NRM politicians regretting the lifting of the presidential term limits in 2005? Must a politician fall out of favour before he sees wrong from right?
Events in Burkina Faso, like earlier ones in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in the so-called Arab Spring, provide ample prove that the people have the power to depose dictators. All they need is strength, leadership and determination. In all those countries, the armed forces abandoned the dictators when it became clear the people were determined to achieve their objectives peacefully. Soldiers, it should be remembered, are part of the people and they desire the same things as the masses. Let this be a lesson to other ‘dinosaurs’ in Africa.
The Burkinabe still have a long way to go, given that the military is still in charge of the country. Its promise of holding elections in 90 days is just that – a promise. It is scary that the man in charge of the country now, Lt Col Isaac Zida, was the deputy head of Compaore’s security.
Mr Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor