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U of R professor Joseph Mburu

The continent of Africa has seen more than its share of military takeovers, and experts are cautiously watching the latest one in Burkina Faso.


The land-locked francophone country of 17.4 million made headlines in October when long-time president Blaise Compaoré was overthrown after attempting to make changes to the constitution. The new laws would have eliminated all presidential term limits.  Instead they triggered the country’s first coup since 1987.


However, in a continent that still struggles with poverty, low literacy levels and high rates of corruption, there is hope that Burkina Faso can be a light for the rest of the continent.


“It’s encouraging because I hope other civil societies and the general population will see what has happened,” said Joseph Mburu, a University of Regina international studies professor who specializes in African issues. “They will be happy there has not been a bloodbath.”


That’s not to say it’s been perfect. Protestors burned down the parliament buildings in Ouagadougou and instigated some minor looting. Some protestors were also killed by police and army personal, but overall Mburu said he’s pleased to see things didn’t escalate.


“I’m happy with the police in Burkina Faso, and the army, that they did not really go on the streets and start killing people,” he said. “There were people who were killed, yes, but not that many. Of course the death of even one person is painful, but considering what has been happening in other countries, you feel that the security forces acted with significant restraint. That was encouraging.”


However, Mburu said the biggest surprise was that Compaoré tried to stay at all. In an era where average Africans are becoming bolder about standing up to dictators and presidents who overstay their welcome, Mburu said he thought Compaoré would be smarter, especially after similar amendments failed in other African nations.


“What Compaoré ought to have learned is that extending his term of government, particularly his own regime, was unwelcome. You would have known what happened in Malawi, or what happened in Zambia for example. In both countries those leaders tried to extend their duration and people were opposed, but surprisingly he did not take note of that, leading to this mass uprising.”


So now the question is whether this event will start an “African Spring” or whether it’s a onetime event that will eventually fade away. Mburu said that’s entirely in the military’s hands. The country’s military leaders quickly moved in to maintain order and fill the power vacuum. However, despite meetings in November between top military officials and African Union president Abdel Aziz, the situation is still far from settled.


“It’s not very clear how things are going to unfold. There might be pressure from the Africa Union, but again, that has not given good results (in the past). The African Union tried with the Ivory Coast, it’s tried with Madagascar and several other places, like in Libya. It has not helped.”


Mburu said it’s up to the army to relinquish power, something they should have done a long time ago. According to Burkina Faso’s constitution, the leader of the senate is supposed to take over in the absence of the president. Mburu also thinks key regional powers like the United States and France should put on pressure, as should aid-donating countries like Canada, which sent $37.22 million to Burkina Faso in 2011-12.


However, in the end it comes down to the people. Poverty makes it difficult to organize elections and political campaigns, since most are simply looking to put food on their tables. It’s important that they do, since Mburu worries their struggle is only just beginning.


“Given the history of Burkina Faso as a country, and the rest of Africa, whenever the military has come to power, there is no example I can give where they handed over power within the stability period and that might be problematic.”