Burkina Faso Regime Change

REGIME CHANGE IN BURKINA FASO:  State Department: Please do not designate the change as a “military coup”.

Massive demonstrations in Ouagadougou, the capital city of the West African Republic of Burkina Faso on October 30, 2014, resulted in the resignation of President Blaise Compaore.  As of November 1, Compaore was in Côte d’Ivoire where he has been granted asylum.

Simultaneously with Compaore’s resignation and flight, the Burkinabe Army announced that it was taking power for a transitional period, with the promise that they will relinquish power after a democratic election for a new head of state.

In the past, the US Department of State has had a tendency to designate all military takeovers in Africa as “illegal coups”, especially when the regime that has been overthrown came to power through democratic elections. This follows the African Union rule that democracies should not be overthrown through military coups.  When such a “coup” happens, the military regime will be ostracized until such time as a free and fair democratic election takes place. For its part, the US refuses to maintain normal relations with such military regimes until there is a return to civilian rule through democratic elections.

In the case of Burkina Faso, I contend that what took place was not a military coup against a democratically elected government.  It was a popular uprising that was fed up with a head of state who had done nothing to improve living standards for his people.

Former President Blaise Compaore had been in power for 27 years. The constitution limits heads of state to two terms. On October 30, Compaore introduced a bill in Parliament revising the two-term limit to three terms.  This proposal was the last straw for the long- suffering Burkinabe population.  Compaore had spent most of his 27 years as President interfering in the internal affairs of neighboring countries. His destabilization activities had plunged both Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire into destructive civil wars that lasted for ten years in each country.

Because Compaore devoted so much of his regime’s time and scarce resources to the support of his surrogates in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, his own people in Burkina Faso made no economic gains during his tenure in office. They were just as poor in 2014 as they were in 1987 when Compaore overthrew his predecessor in a coup.

I repeat my message to the State Department. What happened in Ouagadougou on Thursday, October 30 did not constitute a military coup against an elected democracy.  The event was a popular uprising against an unpopular president who wanted to prolong his presidency illegitimately.  Please do not make the same mistake that you made in Guinea (Conakry) when the military took power in a transitional government after the death of President Lansana Conté in December 2008.  The US had no diplomatic dialogue with the ruling military group for a full year, and therefore was unable to influence the unfolding of the political process as it made its chaotic way toward a democratic election in 2010.