The Burkinabe Revolt against Tenure Elongation, By Jibrin Ibrahim
This week, I write from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, where I am attending a series of meetings around the report by the Centre for Democracy and Development on political governance and conflicts, It’s a perspective study looking into the crystal ball to understand peace and conflict issues from 2014 through to 2017. The study covers seven West African countries – Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Niger. Professor Augustin Loada of the university of Ouagadougou carried out the Burkina study. He is also an active pro-democracy activist who was on the barricades protesting against the attempt by Blaise Compaore to extend his 27-year rule and is currently the Minister of Labour and Public Service.
When he presented his draft report in Niamey, which was well before the popular revolt, he had insisted that the future would be determined by the youth who have been suffering from poverty and marginalization and were getting used to street protests as the only means of inducing change. From annoying accidents on their streets to judicial decisions they don’t like, the youth will set up street barricades and burn tires. The future, he explained would be determined by the then President Blaise Compaore’s determination to remove Article 37 of the Constitution, which limits tenure to two terms. He proposed the following scenarios. President succeeds in spite of protests in taking the referendum and loses the vote forcing him out of office in disgrace. The president listens to voices of reason and accepts to step aside at the end of his legitimate mandate in November 2015. He succeeds in the referendum opening the country to massive street protests and the possibility of military takeover.
Blaise Compaore of course rejected the option of stepping aside and in spite of massive protests, goes ahead and submits a bill to the National Assembly to remove Article 37. The vote was fixed for 30th October. To stop him, a massive 500,000 people demonstrated at the place the people renamed “Revolution Square” on the 28th of October but would not budge At that point, the people decided that they would stop the sitting of the National Assembly paving way for the fascinating events of 30th October. The people were determined to stop legislators going to the National Assembly to vote for tenure elongation and they mapped out the houses of legislators and planned to prevent them leaving their houses. This was what the Senegalese people did to stop President Wade getting tenure elongation legislation passed. The people of Dakar simply blocked legislators from leaving their houses to go and vote. The Compaore regime found out the plan and immediately moved all their legislators to the Independence Hotel the evening before. The hotel, shares the same wall with the National Assembly. The army then cordoned off the hotel and the National Assembly. Blaise Compaore was happy, he appeared to have developed a full proof plan. By six a.m. however, over one million people turned up and were marching towards the National Assembly. The army had the choice of killing one million people or letting them through, they let them through because their cordon was simply overwhelmed. The legislators scaled the fence of Independence Hotel to escape and save their lives. People’s power is real power said the Burkinabe people as they burnt down the National Assembly. They went ahead to burn down all the houses of the Compaore family and business associates they knew.
What then has happened to people’s power since the end of October? It appears to be holding ground. Indeed, the day of our arrival, the Minister of Transport, Moumouni Guiguemdé was forced to resign due to protests against his being part of the transitional government. The people discovered he had a criminal past in the United States and was suspected of being corrupt. He was the second minister to be forced out of office. Currently, there is a lot of agitation against the transitional parliament, which is being accused of receiving scandalously high salaries of about $3600 monthly. The civil society members are receiving daily insults for accepting such huge salaries.
Burkina Faso it should be recalled has a radical history. In 1983, Captain Thomas Sankara took over power and set a radical political and economic agenda for the country renamed Burkina Faso People with Integrity. His comrade, Blaise Compaore however assassinated him, took over power and ran a regime of corruption and impunity for 27 years and tried in October 2014 to change the Constitution so that he could rule forever. The Burkinabe people never came to terms with the assassination of Sankara. Their frustration was worsened by the realization that democratic change was impossible under Compaore’s manipulation of the political system. In 19998, the popular journalist Norbert Zongo was murdered and that has been a huge issue about impunity in the country.
The best way to understand the issue is to visit the “democracy museum”, so named by the people. It is the completely destroyed house of Francois Compaore, junior brother to Blaise. He was known as the “little president”, and was the regime’s political strongman and potential successor to his brother who has no male children. He came into infamy 16 years ago over the murders of his own driver, David Ouedraogo and that of the famous journalist Norbert Zongo. David was said to have witnessed sacrificial killings in the house of his boss and was trying to leak the story to the journalist. The charred bodies of Norbert Zongo and three companions were found in a car, in an incident that triggered street protests by outraged pro-democracy advocates. Francois Compaore was charged with “murder and harbouring the stolen body” of his driver David Ouedraogo, but the charges were later dropped and members of the presidential guard convicted for the journalist’s murder.
Visiting the house this Saturday was eerie because there was still blood on the walls of the dungeon where albinos and others were murdered in cold blood in sacrificial orgies aimed at maintaining them in power forever. Above the dungeon was a swimming pool where the family relaxed while ritual murders were going on above. After burning down Parliament, the crowd went straight to Francois’s house. He saw them coming from the numerous cameras placed on street lamps around the house and fled using a secret tunnel. The first shock the crowd had when they broke into the house was to see the doghouse for the Alsatian dogs, which had two air conditioners to make sure the dogs were not two hot. Inside the house were remains of human beings and all sorts of charms to apparently to ensure tenure elongation and protection against the people’s anger.
The story of the Blaise Compaore regime is the blindness of dictators to the fact that the people may be provoked to act. His core political allies had advised him to step down and nominate one of them to continue so that they could preserve their collective interests and he refused. Most of his close associates therefore resigned from his government and joined the opposition in January 2014. He was comforted by the fact that he had the resources to bribe legislators and get their support. It was difficult for him to understand mass anger and poverty as even his dogs lived in comfortable air-conditioned houses. For all incumbents, go to the “democracy museum” in Ouagadougou and remind yourself that your power is nothing compared to the people’s anger.