Burkina Faso: How Long Must This Go On?

BY JUSTIN HUNTER – On October 30, 2014, protestors in the small West African nation of Burkina Faso stormed and torched the parliament building.[1] The capital city of Ouagadougou had faced unrest in the past days because President Blaise Compaore’s attempt to extend his 27 years of rule through the legislature.[2] During the protests, the president fled and military assumed control of the government[3] with the president resigning from power only one day later.[4]

However, on November 2, only four days after the military takeover, demonstrators returned to the streets in protest against the military government.[5] The country faced renewed tensions as civilians demanded change to constitutional rule as gunfire erupted between security forces and protestors.[6] Due to the current crisis, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council held a meeting to determine the next steps for Burkina Faso’s struggling interim government.[7]

The African Union has increased pressure on the military leadership to stand down within a fortnight, but the military has refused to surrender power.[8] Instead, the leadership has agreed to work with the opposition and civil society groups to nominate a transitional president and parliament and to establish elections in November 2015.[9]

The question is will a transitional government have enough strength to prevent a vicious cycle of government instability, a common crisis in Africa that allows for easy access to terrorists. With a population that is 61% Muslim,[10] Burkina Faso was one of the West’s staunchest allies in the fight against al-Qaeda before the power vacuum.[11] However, now the country faces a serious problem with the constant expansion of ISIS. The terrorist organization has already spread into Africa through Egypt,[12] and ISIS tends to feast off primarily Islamic countries with unstable governments.

As a result of the common government instability in Africa and a particular weakness to terrorist organizations as a result of its Islamic heritage, Burkina Faso’s military should hold power indefinitely. Since the takeover, the country has failed to name a civilian to lead a transition to democracy.[13] That includes numerous discussions “brokered by three African presidents” who stated that Burkina Faso intends to restore the Constitution and establish an interim government but could not determine a suitably eminent civilian to lead the charge.[14]


This kind of power vacuum is alarming because without a viable candidate for the transition, the country is open to outside influence and radical tendencies. For countries such as Iraq and Somalia, influence has shown to be severely damaging with terrorist organizations capturing numerous amounts of land. Also, Egypt, which had fair elections in 2012 after a revolution, elected the Muslim Brotherhood,[15] a known al-Qaeda sympathizer.[16]

However, the military overthrew the Brotherhood a year later after the regime attempted to push Islamist legislation and expand authoritarian power.[17] Therefore, without any person to run an interim government, Burkina Faso should not rush into creating a government without a military presence. While the protestors may be unhappy with the current situation, forming a government without any significant foundation to hold it together will likely result in collapse like it has for so many other unstable nations.

The best course of action, while controversial, should be to allow the military to possess authoritarian rule until the African Union can decide on a proper president to lead Burkina Faso into a stronger democracy.


[1] Margot Haddad & Chelsea J. Carter, Protestors torch Parliament building in Burkina Faso; military seizes control, CNN (Oct. 30, 2014, 7:34 PM), http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/30/world/africa/burkina-faso-unrest/index.html?iref=allsearch.


[2] Id.


[3] Id.


[4] Anna-Maja Rappard& Mariano Castillo, Renewed clashes grip Burkina Faso amid calls for calm, CNN (Nov. 2, 2014, 4:41 PM), http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/02/world/africa/burkina-faso-unrest/index.html?hpt=iaf_c2.


[5] Id.


[6] Id.


[7] Id.


[8] African Union chief in Burkina Faso for talks, Al Jazeera (Nov. 10, 2014, 6:48 PM), http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/11/african-union-chief-burkina-faso-talks-201411101433718802.html.


[9] Id.


[10] International Religious Freedom Report 2010: Burkina Faso, United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (Nov. 17, 2010), http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/2010/148665.htm


[11] Haddad & Carter, supra note 1.


[12] Ian Lee & Hamdi Alkhshali, Egyptian terrorists are linked to ISIS, YouTube message says, CNN (Nov. 12, 2014, 10:16 AM), http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/11/world/isis-egypt/index.html.


[13] Hervé  Taoko & Alan Cowell, African Mediators Fail to Name a Civilian to Lead Burkina Faso, N.Y. Times, Nov. 7, 2014, at A7, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/07/world/africa/african-mediators-fail-to-name-civilian-to-lead-burkina-faso-after-unrest.html?_r=0.


[14] Id.


[15] Ian Black, Mohamed Morsi victory a landmark for Egypt – but a qualified one, The Guardian (June 24, 2012, 1:44 PM), http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/24/mohamed-morsi-victory-landmark.


[16] See Eric Trager, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Sticks With Bin Laden, The Atlantic (May 3, 2011, 7:00 AM), http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/05/egypts-muslim-brotherhood-sticks-with-bin-laden/238218/.


[17] See Patrick Kingsley, Protestors across Egypt call for Mohamed Morsi to go, The Guardian (June 30, 2013, 5:55 PM), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/30/mohamed-morsi-egypt-protests.


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