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Published 7th November 2014

Vol 55 No 22


Firefighters against an inferno

OUAGADOUGOU: Stall selling stickers of politicians Blaise Compaoré, JJ Rawlings and Thomas Sankara, and the band Black So Man. Crispin Hughes / Panos
OUAGADOUGOU: Stall selling stickers of politicians Blaise Compaoré, JJ Rawlings and Thomas Sankara, and the band Black So Man. Crispin Hughes / Panos

Image courtesy of Panos Pictures

Popular anger at unemployment, political corruption and crony capitalism is now targeting governments across the region

Searching for a way to sum up ousted the 27-year rule of Burkinabè ex-President Blaise Compaoré, as the opposition gathered on the streets in Ouagadougou last week, a French political analyst settled for 'un pompier pyromane', a firefighter who is also an arsonist. He went on to to explain how Compaoré, with the financial and military support of Libya's Colonel Moammar el Gadaffi, had backed rebellions in Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and had, at best, highly ambiguous relations with insurgents in Mali and Niger.

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BLUE LINES
THE INSIDE VIEW

Last week's street protests in Burkina Faso, which toppled President Blaise Compaoré, recall the Tunisian demonstrations which launched the rebellions across north-east Africa four years ago. There are some clear parallels. Compaoré, like Tunisia's President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, were seen as political fixtures, running a crony capitalist network while servicing the security needs of Western governments. Yet they were chronically unaware of changing politi...

Last week's street protests in Burkina Faso, which toppled President Blaise Compaoré, recall the Tunisian demonstrations which launched the rebellions across north-east Africa four years ago. There are some clear parallels. Compaoré, like Tunisia's President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, were seen as political fixtures, running a crony capitalist network while servicing the security needs of Western governments. Yet they were chronically unaware of changing political realities: how tougher local and international economic conditions were driving up unemployment and hostility to the cushioned ruling elite. Mobile telephones and the internet outmanoeuvred state censors as bloggers and tweeters broadcast their criticisms of the regimes.

All three faced a tide of public anger. Brought together by old-style political campaigning combined with mobiles and social media, tens of thousands of people hit the streets, overcoming their fear of soldiers and the police. Sometimes grudgingly, sometimes with a fellow feeling for the demonstrators, soldiers stood back and lowered their guns. As in Tunisia and Egypt, in Burkina Faso it was the securocrats who struck the last blow, pushing their leader through the door.

Twenty five years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union prompted popular uprisings against one-party states in Africa. Demands for national conferences to draw up new constitutions quickly morphed into movements to overthrow autocrats such as Mathieu Kérékou, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Mobutu Seso Seko. Today, almost every African state runs a form of competitive elections. Yet multipartyism has failed to hold governments to account. Instead, veteran leaders have become expert at using a show of democracy to perpetuate their rule. After Compaoré's fall, their success can no longer be taken for granted.

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