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Picture taken in thecapital Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso 2013. Photo: Diakonia

Recent dramatic events in Burkina Faso

In the beginning of november 2014, a seminar was held in Stockholm about Burkina Faso. The seminar was organized and convened by the Nordic Africa Institute and gives an update on recent events in the country and the role of civil society. Also, Luther Yameogo, Diakonia's country manager in Burkina Faso adds a comment on how Diakonia's partner organizations have played a part in organizing resistance during this chaotic period.


Protestors storm the parliament

In the seminar in Stockholm, professor Sten Hagberg went through recent events in Burkina Faso, highlighting the following:

October 21: The government met and decided to submit a bill for parliament to call for a referendum on removing a two-term limit for the presidency.

October 28: Huge demonstration of perhaps one million people marching against any possibility for incumbent president Blaise Compaoré to extend his 27 year rule. Professor Hagberg underlined the huge symbolic significance and importance of the participation of women bearing wooden spatulas (symbol of defiance and of mothers' power and determination).

October 30: Protesters storm the parliament and other symbolic sites of power. Officially three people were killed that day, but professor Hagberg believes the correct number to be around 30.

October 31: President Blaise Compaoré resigns and flees to Côte d'Ivoire.

November 1: This day had been declared by protesters as a day for cleaning the capital. People swept the streets and took care of their city. They also collected the dead bodies still lying in the streets. Colonel Isaac Zida of the presidential guards (RSP, characterized by Hagberg as "a military within the military") assumed power.

Strong civil society in Burkina Faso

Professor Hagberg underscored that these events were far from sudden but the result of years of people organizing themselves, and also learning from experience in previous uprisings (for instance in 2011, at that time partly influenced by the so called "Arab Spring"). Even the way things unfolded in the recent events shows proof of discipline and organization. Although there was some looting, this was limited to a number of high-level targets that seems to have been carefully selected, the professor said. He added that there was no physical violence directed against senior power-holders. (The lethal violence mentioned above was directed against protesters).

Civil society in Burkina Faso is strong and has been strengthened and rejuvenated in recent years. Some of the organizing of resistance has taken place through Le Balai Citoyen on Facebook, and one of the most prominent well-known faces of the resistance is that of Smokey (musician and rapper).

The fact that the demonstration on October 28 drew very large crowds suggests that people came in from the countryside, so that there was support from larger groups than only city dwellers.

Comparision with the DRC

Jesper Bjarnesen, also from the Nordic Africa Institute, then talked about the regional response. Although many people have asked where AU and ECOWAS were during the time when president Compaoré tried to change the constitution, the response from these African institutions to the recent crisis was swift.

Despite Compaoré's quite significant diplomatic prestige in the region, his resignation was immediately accepted and both AU and ECOWAS have demanded a swift transition to civilian leadership in Burkina Faso. The AU has given colonel Zida a two week deadline to hand over power to civilians.

France has continued to show a degree of loyalty toward its ally, former president Blaise Compaoré, although France too has issued some critical statements as well. (It was France who helped the president to flee. French military is stationed in Burkina as part of a larger Western African anti-terrorism force).

Bjarnesen also said that presidents are known to have taken initiatives to change the constitution in a number of African countries, including the DRC, Congo Brazzaville, Benin and Burundi. He thought the example of Burkina Faso will serve as a warning to presidents in those countries. He also said that if people were to take to the streets in DRC the way people have done in Burkina, it would undoubtedly result in many more deaths than what was the case in Burkina.

The military will hand over the power

Professor Hagberg, finally, is absolutely certain that the power  in Burkina Faso will be handed over to civilian hands within short. People are all too aware of what happened in Mali, where the people behind the military coup underestimated the resistance from the international community to military rule. Also, no one in Burkina is going to want to follow the example of Sanogo, who led the military coup in Mali in 2012 and who is now languishing in jail in Bamako.

According to the professor, the leader during a transitional period will undoubtedly come from civil society, before presidential elections which will be held next year in Burkina Faso. (He even mentioned two possible names: Augustin Loada, former head of Centre pour la gouvernance démocratique, and professor Ibriga).

Answering a question on the organizing of people's resistance and response to the unfolding events, professor Hagberg made a brief mention and acknowledgement of the contribution of Diakonia and Diakonia's partners – together with other civil society actors.

Additional comments from Diakonia in Burkina Faso

So far this is the report from the seminar in Stockholm. Diakonias' Country Officer Luther Yameogo, in Burkina Faso has made the following comment:

Le Balai Citoyen is also supported by the CNPNZ, which is a partner of Diakonia. Together with the "Balai Citoyen" that organized youth for facing the army, the key role was played by the "Front de Résistance Citoyenne" led by professor Luc Marius Ibriga. It's a coalition of 40 civil society organizations among them all the Diakonia partners and organized with the support of Diakonia's partners' "Alert Mechanism". This Professor Ibriga is currently the "voice" of the CSOs in the current dialogue with the transition stakeholders. The CSOs have issued their contributions to a charter which will guide the transition in the framework of the constitution.

Seven partner organizations of Diakonia are part of the civil society task force for the dialogue: CNPNZ, CGD, ADEP, CDCAP, MBDHP, RENLAC and MBDC.