Burkina Faso's military prosecutor has announced the opening of a trial of the alleged killers of former President Thomas Sankara and his companions in October 1987. Among the accused is another former president, Blaise Compaoré, who is currently in exile in Côte d’Ivoire - where he has been since his ousting.
A chaotic melee of violent demonstrations, against an attempt by President Blaise Campoare to tweak that country’s constitution and seek a fifth presidential term, this week shook Burkina Faso to its political foundations.
Burkina Faso could be an example for the region if […] it avoided the risk of a non-consensual Constitutional amendment – François Hollande, president of France
Thursday morning was marked by unprecedented events in the West African country, as demonstrations escalated in the capital, Ouagadougou, where protestors gathered in front of the national parliament.
The protests were an attempt to stop Campaore’s ruling party from voting a bill into law that would allow the president to run for another term in office.
Campaore, who came to power after the assassination of former leader Thomas Sankara in 1987, has had the constitution amended twice in the past to stay in power.
The political atmosphere slumped when a much talked about referendum on a new constitutional provision was stifled with the announcement earlier this week that only parliamentarians would be eligible to take part in the crucial vote.
It was a risky move.
Earlier in the month, a letter from French President François Hollande had warned of an imminent crisis if the Burkina Faso government went ahead with the constitutional amendment.
François Hollande warns
“Burkina Faso could be an example for the region if in the coming months it avoided the risk of a non-consensual Constitutional amendment,” Hollande said in a letter to Campaore on 7 October.
Ahead of the parliamentary vote, tens of thousands of demonstrators overran the main streets of the capital on Tuesday to denounce what they said was a “constitutional coup d’etat”.
The demonstrations quickly flared into general unrest late Thursday morning with a string of memorable events occurring in the space of an hour.
Burkina Faso’s parliament, national television station and the town hall of the country’s second largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, were all attacked and pillaged by protestors between 11am and 12pm.
And even though various reports claimed the military had initially used live bullets to quell the demonstrations, by 11am security forces had started abandoning key locations around the capital, with opposition politician Bénéwendé Sankara declaring that the army was “backing the people” against Campaore.
Early Thursday evening, a presidential communiqué read on national radio announcing a state of siege – the extension of military jurisdiction to civil authority – was quickly followed by another statement from Gen. Honoré Nabéré Traoré, Chief of staff of the armed forces, announcing the dissolution of government and the establishment of a transitional authority.
But Campaore, who has been at the helm of affairs for the past 27 years, wanted to have the last word of the day.
His last word
Appearing on a private television channel shortly before midnight, the embattled leader said he had dissolved his cabinet to make way for a transition government. He said he wanted to finish his mandate and hand over power to a democratically elected government.
Despite a confusion of who was in charge following Campaore’s television announcement, which declared an end to the state of siege, the army’s imposition of a national curfew from 7pm to 6 am remained intact.
His plan to remain in power through the constitutional amendment in tatters, and in the face of what appeared to be a full military takeover, Campaore could no longer afford to hold steadfastly to his guns without a government.
By early Friday morning, hundreds of demonstrators had started converging at the Square of the Nation. It was going to be another trying day. Blaise Campaore finally announced his departure from office, but not without imposing his last word: elections in 90 days.
It is now up to the military to ensure a smooth transition to democratic rule. But with opposition leader, Sankara, already denouncing a military coup, Gen. Traoré, who on Friday proclaimed himself as Head of State, has a long road ahead.
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