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Burkina Faso's President Steps Down After 27 Years


Today, the president of Burkina Faso resigned after 27 years in office. Protests had been building among people angry about the president's move to pass a bill that would allow him to seek yet another term in office. The vote was scheduled for yesterday. But before it could happen, protesters marched to the parliament and set it on fire. This morning, the president stepped down. We heard how protesters responded today from Issa Napon of the country's public broadcaster RTB.

ISSA NAPON: We are more than happy. We are outside on the streets screaming. We are all enjoying.

CORNISH: For more on the significance of this moment in Burkina Faso, we're joined by Pierre Englebert. He's a professor of African politics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Dr. Englebert, welcome to the program.

PIERRE ENGLEBERT: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So we just heard that reporter describing joy on the streets of Burkina Faso now that the president has stepped down. Help us understand why. What were the grievances against this president?

ENGLEBERT: Yeah, there's very understandable elation on the streets right now at the departure of the President Blaise Compaore. Even though he's won many elections, a lot of people feel the grievance that these elections were won through patronage and intimidation much more than in terms of selling policies that people actually want to endorse.

When I was there this past summer doing some focus-group surveys, I met a lot of young people - students at the University - and I was really overwhelmed by the extent of anger of the pent up expectation in the grievance that they felt, a really strong emotional expression of their despair. And you can see these young people going to college for maybe eight years instead of four because there are no teachers, no classrooms, no facilities. And then when they come out, they have no jobs. But then they see a government that's increasingly corrupt with a very high income class through their connections with politics. And so when you see who's in the street, it's mostly these young people.

CORNISH: And as you describe, President Blaise Compaore was in power for some 27 years. And he took power in a coup. So what's going on these last few days? Is this being seen as a triumph of democracy or something more along the lines of another coup?

ENGLEBERT: Yeah, that's a great question. It's very ambiguous right now. So certainly the people in the streets see it as a triumph of democracy for now. Bear in mind that Compaore resigned. So it's not technically a coup at this point. And the chief of staff of the military, which is General Traore, a man who was appointed by Compaore and is very close to him, said that he was in charge for now and it would be a three-month transition to some sort of election.

So it's not clear whether the Army's playing some sort of pro-democracy role or whether this general actually trying to still do Compaore's bidding and try to mitigate the damage.

There's apparently some division within the military. There was a meeting a couple of hours ago with a lieutenant colonel declaring the constitution suspended and that they will appoint a new organ in coordination with civil society forces to manage the transition. This contradicts what the general Traore said. So it looks like the military might be in the middle of some sort of negotiation of some sort of chaotic process of settling who's in charge of what.

CORNISH: The collapse of Burkina Faso's government at this point - how and in what ways will it be felt elsewhere in Africa? We know that this president had meddled in good and bad ways throughout the continent.

ENGLEBERT: Yeah, you know, I think more in bad ways than good in the end. He was very good at selling himself as the great mediator of West Africa. But he was very much involved in weapons smuggling in the Angolan civil war and diamond smuggling in Liberia and Sierra Leone. If you look at it in the long-term, the net effect in the region is negative. So it's not such a big loss from that point of view. However, you know, like the U.S. works with Burkina. We have a very big embassy there, out of proportion with the size of the country. And we have some military personnel there. We have intelligence people there. We fly drones from Burkina to neighboring Mali and Niger and the whole Sahelian strip.

But I don't see any reason to believe that anybody else of the possible successors will have a different position. What I do see as a possible effect elsewhere in the region is as a warning sign for many other rulers who are about to face a similar kind of deadline. There's eight other incumbents in Africa who are coming to the end of their constitutional terms. And I think that most of them are toying with the idea of staying. I would think that they're paying attention and that it might dampen some of their enthusiasm.

CORNISH: Pierre Englebert, thank you so much for talking with us.

ENGLEBERT: My pleasuring. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Pierre Englebert is a professor of African politics at Pomona College. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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