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June 22, 2024

Burkina Faso needs peaceful transition to civil government

By EMELINE ARMITAGE | November 6, 2014

On Oct. 30, in a blaze of metaphorical glory, protesters in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, set fire to the parliament in response to a constitutional amendment proposed by President Blaise Compaoré. The amendment would have removed presidential term limits, allowing Compaoré to continue the 27 years he had been in power. Twenty-seven years is already longer than the majority of Burkina Faso’s population has been alive — the median age is 17. Compaoré resigned on Oct. 31, reportedly fleeing to either Ghana or Cote d’Ivoire.

The military currently has control over the country — or, at least, as much control as it can muster. The general of the armed forces, Honoré Traoré, claimed that he holds temporary power. However, soon after, Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida stated that he was in charge, refuting Traoré’s claim. Other reports state that former defense minister Kwamé Lougué has taken control. Either way, it is clear that some faction of the military has filled the power vacuum left by Compaoré and will likely maintain control for the foreseeable future. This situation is not agreeable to much of the public, which is protesting against military rule even though elections have been promised by late 2015 in order to create a unified government.

At this point the Burkinabe leaders have two options: transition into a civil government as soon as possible or remain a military-led country. Burkina Faso could go down the undemocratic path if its new leaders are blinded by greed; under Compaoré, the government controlled many lucrative gold and iron mines that are now up for grabs.

Hopefully, the Burkinabe leaders will opt for an alternative path — one of elections, economic empowerment and increased human rights. The United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) have already issued statements concerning the military control and have expressed a desire for elections to take place as soon as possible. The AU has given the military two weeks to turn over power to a civil government or face sanctions. The United States has threatened to freeze military cooperation with Burkina Faso if a military coup is determined to have taken place. These actions might be enough to steer the Burkinabe military in a direction that would benefit both Burkina Faso and the United States.

Although Burkina Faso does not usually come to mind as one of America’s great allies, it does play an important, if small, role in U.S. foreign policy. Burkina Faso helps maintain stability in a region where terrorist groups are growing, such as Nigeria’s militant group, which sparked international outrage when it kidnapped more than 250 schoolgirls in April. Burkina Faso has joined international efforts to fight against the terrorist group al-Qaeda, has partnered with the United States on a number of police anti-terrorism training efforts, is a member of several anti-terrorist funding groups and is a Muslim-majority country with a high level of religious tolerance. A military government that perpetually fears protests and whose operations only reflect leaders’ selfish interests will not be able to effectively maintain these qualities. A peaceful transition into a more democratically-decided Burkinabe government will allow the country to maintain its current relationship with the United States that offers such crucial regional stability. The U.S. should encourage this transition by working with the UN and AU to enforce sanctions if the military government does not relinquish power and should increase aid when the transition takes place to help maintain stability.

The United States also has an economic incentive to push Burkina Faso away from military rule. The common image of Africa as a monolithic, desolate and severely impoverished desert was never true in the first place and is only growing more outdated and misguided. According to the International Monetary Fund, 10 out the 20 fastest growing economies in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa, and two out of the 10 — Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana — border Burkina Faso. Although part of the reason for this growth is that they initially had low gross domestic products, West African economies are a growing force. While no West African country is an economic powerhouse yet, the region is growing quickly, and early investment is key to helping these economies grow and establish trade relationships, which will become increasingly beneficial to the U.S. in the future. Regional stability is essential to sustained economic growth, and the U.S., along with the UN and AU, should encourage, through the use of sanctions, aid and the transition into a civil government.

Through the flames engulfing the parliament, the Burkinabe people achieved a step toward an open, democratic and promising future. There are many more steps to take — hopefully not achieved through fiery or violent means — until Burkina Faso reaches its goal. But until it does, the United States should continue to promote a peaceful transition into a civil government for the sake of both Burkinabe and American interests.

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