One of the longest standing African leaders has bowed out, following intense public pressure for him to vacate power. After 27 years as head of state, Blaise Compaore has stepped down from the presidency of Burkina Faso. Popular discontent with Compaore’s plans to modify the constitution to allow him to run in the upcoming presidential election hit a fever pitch over the course of the last week. The groundswell of opposition to Compaore has been growing steadily over the course of the past year, but it was yesterday’s massive protests – which saw protesters take over the Parliament building and the national TV station, and during which at least four people were killed, and hundreds were injured – that tipped the balance, and forced Compaore to resign. In his statement today, Compaore said he decided to step down “in light of the severely deteriorated sociopolitical situation and the threat of division in our national army and out of a desire to preserve the peace.”

With the government and National Assembly dissolved, a potentially damaging and significant power vacuum emerged, though it was quickly filled by military chief General Honore Traore. In a news conference today, he said “Considering the urgency of saving the nation, I have decided that I will assume from this day the responsibility of the head of state […] I undertake a solemn engagement to proceed without delay with consultations with all parties in the country so as to start the process of returning to the constitutional order as soon as possible.”

Burkina Faso’s military has now taken over the reins of power – not an ideal outcome for the protesters, who have been calling for democratic reform, not a military take-over of the state. Indeed, while Compaore’s statement called for elections within 90 days, General Traore has said that he intends on restoring constitutional order within 12 months. Following General Traore’s announcement one of the key opposition leaders, Zephyrin Diabre, said that it appears the military did what it had to do. He said he was “satisfied and now waiting for the transition to be put in place”, and that civilian leaders will soon begin discussions with the military. He also acknowledged that Compaore’s 90 day time frame for elections was “likely a bit short.”Meanwhile, an opposition MP, Blassé Ouédraogo, described the situation as “total confusion“.

The situation is still unfolding in real time. Compaore is rumored to be heading to the Ghanaian border, via a 20 vehicle convoy, though it is unclear what his destination is at this point. Ouagadougou is still reeling from the massive demonstrations that rocked the city this week, as the dust is – literally and figuratively – far from settled. What we know for sure is that the Burkinabe people toppled one of the African continent’s most long-standing leaders. That, in itself, is momentous. What happens next for Burkina Faso is unclear, but the history books will tell the story of how the people got rid of the man they thought was coopting their country. 

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