News / Africa

Protests Highlight Tense Political Season in Burkina Faso

People march during an opposition protest in Ouagadougou on July 28, 2013 against the creation of a Senate which they say will enable the President to extend his 26-year rule.
People march during an opposition protest in Ouagadougou on July 28, 2013 against the creation of a Senate which they say will enable the President to extend his 26-year rule.
— The West African nation of Burkina Faso has seen a resumption of large-scale protests this month over high living costs and the controversial creation of a new Senate. Analysts say the protests point to a tense political environment in the run-up to elections in 2015, regardless of who is on the ballot. 

Thousands of opposition supporters gathered this past weekend for a march and rally in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, to protest the selection of senators.

The new Senate, approved by lawmakers in May, has been derided by the opposition as a tool for President Blaise Compaore to extend his hold on power.

Compaore has been president for 26 years, but a rule on term limits would prohibit him from running again in 2015. By creating a Senate staffed mostly by his supporters, President Compaore could engineer a revision of the constitution without going through the process of a popular referendum.

Opposition lawmaker Saran Sereme said such a move would violate the wishes of voters.

She said, “Today the strong mobilization of demonstrators sends a clear message. We want a peaceful Burkina Faso, but we also want a country where the people are listened to.” She says “When the people are not listened to, then you have a problem.”

Uncertainties

Compaore has not stated clearly whether he will try to stay on as president or step down.  In a report released last week, the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank warned that either way, the nation of 16 million is entering an uncertain and possibly perilous period.

Rinaldo Depagne, senior West Africa analyst for ICG, said the opposition appeared to have united around its rejection of any plans to alter Article 37 of the Constitution, which limits presidents to two terms of five years.

“The opposition used to be very divided. But now with this anti-Senate and this anti-Article 37 thing, they’ve found the kind of glue to stick together,” he said.

But he also said President Compaore retained strong support, and that even if he decided not to run in the 2015 elections, his political party would remain a formidable political force.

“The question is, will this opposition accept the vote even if they lose? Because there is no guarantee that the opposition will win an election against somebody other than Compaore. Compaore’s party is still strong. They still have resources, human resources, financial resources,” he said.

Regional consequences

A period of instability in Burkina Faso could prove disastrous for other countries in the region, especially neighboring Ivory Coast, which is due to have elections around the same time.  Ivory Coast already has a substantial Burkinabe population, and their presence is resented by a large section of Ivorians.  If more Burkinabe immigrants tried to enter the country, it could prove politically toxic, Depagne said.

The ICG says Compaore’s regional mediation skills have also proved valuable in recent years. Just last month, he was influential in orchestrating a deal that allowed for elections to be held in northern Mali.  Depagne said it would be unfortunate for the region to lose the diplomatic apparatus President Compaore has built up over the years, though that does not mean he needs to stay in office.

Compaore’s government has not responded in depth to the recent protests. After a rally against high living costs two weeks ago, Prime Minister Luc Adolphe Tiao vowed to hold talks with trade unions, though no action has been taken up to now.

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