This is how the peaceful overthrow of a long serving African strongman is supposed to work.
Burkina Faso’s political, civilian, religious and traditional leaders have not only hammered out a transition plan for the next 12 months, but new transitional leaders have also been selected, a mere 20 days since the fall of Blaise Compaore. International pressure from regional and international actors – threatening sanctions if civilian rule and the constitution weren’t restored swiftly – played a part, but it is the work of the Burkinabe leadership, from all spectrums, which is responsible for moving the country forward in a confident manner. As with the fall of Blaise Compaore, the Burkinabe people did not rely on or need foreign intervention or assistance to move their agenda forward. Nor did they resort to violence.
Early on, Lt. Col. Zida – formerly a part of Compaore’s presidential guard – dismissed the African Union’s ultimatum, giving the military two weeks to return to civilian rule or face sanction. And while the transition plan and interim leadership ended up being established within the two-week time frame, the AU’s ultimatum had fallen flat. Zida had claimed that the ultimatum didn’t bind Burkina Faso, and ECOWAS supported him by exhorting the international community to give Burkina Faso time to work out a transition plan and not immediately and arbitrarily impose sanctions on the country.
The interim head of state, 72 year old former foreign affairs minister and long serving ambassador the United Nations Michel Kafando, was selected to preside over this transition phase following a transparent selection process. While he is fairly unknown to the Burkinabe public, he has a strong reputation, both inside and outside Burkina Faso. Zephirin Diabre, a key opposition leader, said that Kafando is “in tune with the expectations of the [October-November] revolution“, and is described by former colleagues and other diplomats as someone who will bring wisdom, competence and integrity to the post.
These glowing reviews notwithstanding, Kafando will have to prove himself as a level-headed leader who understands both the establishment and the people and carves a way forward, consensually, to help the country navigate a challenging transition. This should culminate with free, fair and democratic elections within a year. Along with Kafando as new head of state, Lt.Col. Zida has been selected as interim prime minister. According to observers in Burkina Faso, the two men appear to be willing to work together closely in the coming weeks and months. Zida, who was a relative unknown a few weeks ago, has stunned with his ability to bring back a certain degree of harmony to a country which seemed to teeter on the edge.
These positive developments are to be understood in the broader context of a country where much still needs to be done to ensure sustainable, inclusive economic growth. In 2013, Burkina Faso ranked 183 of 187 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index – which in part explains discontent with Compaore, who despite having presided over a period of growth and improvement in the country’s history, did little to create the conditions for a better educated, better employed and an overall improved society to flourish. So far, the signs are all positive that Burkina Faso’s transition will be peaceful and perhaps even usher in a new era of prosperity for the country.
Photo credit: Republic of Togo’s Flickr stream