This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
Late last month, longtime Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaoré resigned under public pressure and fled to neighboring Cote d’Ivoire.
Compaoré’s abrupt expulsion—which ended his twenty-seven-year rule—was a significant achievement for the hundreds of thousands of Burkinabes who took to the streets to demand his ouster and a democratic transition.
However, a dark cloud hovers over the demonstrators’ democratic aspirations, as many fear that Compaoré’s loyalists in the military—who seized power in the midst of the ongoing unrest—will refuse to relinquish control to a democratically elected civilian government.
What happens next will determine whether Compaoré’s fall will mark the beginning of a democratic transition or merely the latest episode in a tradition of military coup d’états that have shaped Burkina Faso’s political landscape since its independence in 1960.
It will also be a test for the West, which long relied on Compaoré’s semi-authoritarian government for investment opportunities and security cooperation. With a US-trained military officer now running the country, it remains to be seen whether Washington will evince much interest in pressing the military to step down.
West African Spring
Though Compaoré’s sudden fall was a surprise even to many of the demonstrators who pressured the West African leader to relinquish power, the country’s political opposition has been mobilized for months.
Last January, peaceful opposition groups staged massive demonstrations in Ouagadougou and other cities to protest Compaoré’s efforts to muscle through constitutional changes that would have enabled him to run for another term in office. The mobilization was so impressive that some international commentators thought a “West African Spring” was developing in Burkina Faso.