Violent Protests in Burkina Faso as Nationals Oppose Third-Term Presidential BidOctober 29, 2014 in Burkina Faso
Following a day of protests, that saw hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Burkina Faso’s capital city, trade unions on Wednesday called on a general strike just one day ahead of a Parliamentary assembly, which will consider a constitutional amendment aimed at extending the President Blaise Compaore’s 27-year rule.
Marching through the capital city, with banners reading “Blaise Get Out!” and “Don’t Touch Article 37,” which is in reference to the constitutional term limit that the president’s allies want to alter, Tuesday’s demonstration was one of the largest protests demanding that President Blaise Compaore step down when presidential elections take place next year. Since a vote on the amendment was proposed 21 October, hundreds of protesters across the capital city have assembled barricades and burned tyres. On Friday, secondary school children deserted class in order to join the protests, creating major disruptions across the capital city while on Monday, schools and universities across the country announced a week closure as opposition members vowed to carry out protests to fight the proposed amendment. The rising tension comes ahead of Thursday’s meeting where the country’s Parliament will consider a constitutional amendment that would effectively allow the president to run for at least another five years.
Protests Across Ouagadougou
Tensions across the capital city were high on Tuesday as pre-dawn violence broke out in several areas of the city. Gendarmes firing tear gas dispersed dozens of youths, who barricaded the country’s main highway in the early morning hours. Hundreds of thousands of people later set off from the capital’s main Place de la Nation square to participate in one of the largest demonstrations against the proposed amendment, with violence erupting near the end of the march and lasting for several hours. According to on the ground sources, security forces fired tear gas in a bid to disperse the protesters, many of whom were clutching iron bars, throwing stones and burning tyres. Makeshift barricades set up by protesters across the city blocked traffic and access to the city’s key areas for several hours. Security forces also charged demonstrators after they apparently got too close to the country’s parliamentary building.
In a bid to keep up the pressure against President Compaore, trade unions and civil society groups have called a general strike for Wednesday, while the opposition has called for a blockade of Parliament in order to prevent the review from taking place.
On Thursday, Burkina Faso’s National Assembly will study the proposed constitutional amendment that would effectively extend the maximum term limit from two to three and allow the president to run for re-election for another five-year term. The country’s opposition however has called for a campaign of civil disobedience to force the president to quit once his term is completed next year. They have described the government’s attempts at extending the terms as a constitutional coup. Civil society groups have also requested that the move be discarded, indicating that the country risked being paralyzed if the amendment went through. Fears of what such a vote may bring have also resonated across the West African region and globally, with the United States disclosing Wednesday that it was “concerned by the spirit and intent” behind the draft bill to scrap the presidential term limits. A statement released by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki indicated that the US is urging “…all involved, including Burkina Faso’s security forces, to adhere to non-violence and to debate this issue in a peaceful and inclusive manner.”
His bid to stay in power however has also angered the public, including many young people in a country where 60 percent of the population are under the age of 25, and effectively have only known one president. The recent demonstrations and protests indicate that a large majority of the population is no longer willing to know the rule and power of one president and are instead opting for democratic change that will see progress.
In power since 1987, when he seized control in an October 1987 coup in which his former friend, Thomas Sankara, was ousted and assassinated, President Compaore has been re-elected president four time since 1991 – to two seven-year terms and two-five year terms. The opposition now fears that if the amendment to the constitution, which is not expected to take previous terms into account, is passed, then this will enable President Compaore to seek re-election three more times, effectively enabling him to stay in power for another fifteen years. Fears that the amendment would pass increased over the weekend when the country’s third largest party in parliament announced that it would back the amendment, giving the ruling party the two-thirds majority it require to make the change without resorting to a referendum as was initially promised.