November 12, 2014:
In October 2014 yet another African nation underwent a revolution. This time it was Burkina Faso, a former French colony that became independent in 1960, suffered under a series of corrupt or revolutionary dictators until one (Blaise Compaore) took over in 1987 and managed to hold onto power for 27 years until the winds of change finally caught up with him and he resigned on October 31st. This came after two days of demonstrations that the security forces, despite killing 32 people and wounding hundreds, could not control. The immediate cause of the unrest was Compaore’s effort to get a law passed to allow him to run for office again. For over a decade Compaore had been keeping revolution in check with a series of reforms that, whatever else they did (and it was not much) left him in charge. Compaore finally ran out of angles and new schemes. Military commanders who took over until elections can be held in 2015 are not considered completely trustworthy and there is widespread fear that the country will end up with another dictator.
Burkina Faso is a small (17 million people) landlocked country near the West Coast of Africa and the Equator. It is one of the least developed countries in Africa, largely because of the corruption and over half a century of one-man rule. The dictators tended to put more emphasis on retaining power than in forsetering economic freedom and growth. The most powerful people in Burkina Faso are dependent on a web of corrupt government and commercial relationships for their own wealth and power. Dismantling all these relationships is not easy. Thus while the most corrupt and powerful man, Blaise Compaore, is out of power the people who kept him in charge for so long are still running the government and the military. The opposition to the corruption and Blaise Compaore himself was never able to unite and the recent unrest was more of a spontaneous explosion of frustration by many people who were just fed up.
Rulers that stay in power for decades are still common in Africa. Even when there are elections that bring in new leaders on a regular basis. These “democratically elected” presidents tend to all be from the same party, one that usually practices organized corruption by a coalition of powerful families. While cell phones and Internet access have enabled many Africans to easily communicate with each other, a major discussion topic is the seemingly unshakeable power of the corrupt families that dominate government and commerce throughout the continent. Being able to discuss the problem with other victims does not automatically fix things.
What the cell phones and Internet do provide is easier ways to organize demonstrations and organized opposition to dictators. The perpetual unrest might attract some international peacekeepers, but it is no quick way to obtain an end to corruption and dictatorship. The people of Burkina Faso are not eager for the kind of endless civil war and violence so common in neighboring countries, but at the moment they are not willing to just accept any replacement for Compaore. The UN, the AU (African Union), France (who originally sponsored Compaore) and all the neighbors are hoping for the best and bracing for the worst.