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Burkina Faso: A Clear Warning to Other Long-Ruling African Leaders

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On Friday, Burkina Faso’s long-ruling president Blaise Compaore resigned after four days of violent protests. Last week, Burkinabe citizens took to the streets in the capital city Ouagadougou and in Bobo Dioulasso, protesting a bid by lawmakers to amend the constitution that would allow 63-year-old Compaore to stand for re-election next year. Compaore’s resignation opened a power vacuum and resulted in a tussle within the country’s armed forces. Although initially announcing that General Honore Traore, head of the armed forces, would take power and form a transitional government that would prepare for national elections, by Saturday, Lt. Col. Isaac Zida, a deputy in Compaore’s presidential guard, had also claimed to be in charge – move that resulted in massive protests across Ouagadougou.

Over the past few days the international community has placed increasing pressure on Lt Col. Zida to hand power over to a civilian ruler. Sunday’s protests, organized by the Opposition, demonstrated that Burkinabe’s are not willing to settle for an interim military ruler. On Monday, the African Union (AU) announced that Burkina Faso’s army had acted unconstitutionally when it took over. AU officials have also given the interim leader a two-week deadline to hand over power. Lt Col. Zida has promised to comply with this order. A delegation composed of the presidents of Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal is expected to arrive in Ouagadougou Wednesday, with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan disclosing that the visit is aimed at facilitating “…the rapid resolution of the current political crisis in Burkina Faso.”

The events in the West African country over the past week not only demonstrated the frustration felt by Burkinabe citizens, with the majority of the country’s population only knowing one president, they also sent a warning to other African leaders who may have desires to alter their country’s constitution in a bid to hold onto power.

Mr Compaore is not the sole leader who has altered the rules in a bid to prolong his incumbency. Chadian President Idriss Deby and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in office for 24 years and 28 years respectively, have both abolished term limits from their country’s constitution. It is likely that both will seek another term in office. Although the AU sanctions those who make constitutional changes for the purpose of staying in power, such threats have had minimal impact. Last week’s events however were a strong sign from Burkinabe citizens and may serve as a much needed wake-up call for those leaders considering staying in power for longer than what is set out in the constitution.

Presidents Considering Altering Constitution to Remain in Power

Angola – President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has ruled the country since 1979. In a bid to ensure that term limits would never impact him seeking re-election, in 2012, Angola’s legislators approved a new constitution under which the leader of the party that has won the most seats in parliament automatically becomes president.

CameroonIn power since 1982, President Paul Biya was initially barred from seeking re-election in 2011, due to the country’s two-term limit. However in 2008, despite nationwide protests, legislators removed all term limits from the constitution.

Chad– President Idriss Deby has been in power since 1990. In 2005, a referendum eliminated constitutional term limits.

Democratic Republic of Congo – Although President Joseph Kabila is expected to step down ahead of the 2016 presidential elections, there is currently a campaign aimed at changing the constitution’s presidential limits.

Equatorial Guinea– Also in power since 1979 President Teodoro Obian Nguema pushed through a referendum to change the country’s constitution in 2011. The new changes effectively enable him to stand for re-election past the age of 75 and will allow him to handpick his successor.

Rwanda –A campaign for President Paul Kagame to seek a third term in office is currently under way, with the president’s allies suggesting a constitutional change that would allow him to stand for re-election in 2017. Under the current constitution, President Kagame, who was elected in 2003 and 2010, is ineligible to stand for a third term in office.

Uganda– Despite once declaring that “no African head of state should be in power for more than 10 years, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has governed since 1986. In 2005, he succeeded in having the constitution changed, with lawmakers removing all term limits.

Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe, 90, has been in power since 1980. While in 2013, constitutional changes limited a president to two five-year terms; the changes are not applied retroactively. Consequently President Mugabe will be able to run for another term in office that could keep him in power until he is 97.

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