The world may well be witnessing another African revolution.
After ousting President Blaise Campaore (pictured below) one week ago in a two-day uprising that included setting fire to parliament and storming the country’s state-run television station, citizens in Burkina Faso are now working to forge a new government for their country.
What some are calling the Black spring, inspired by insurrections in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Libya during the 2011 Arab spring, could be a force that rolls through Africa and ushers in a new era of leadership throughout the continent.
While Burkina Faso is a small francophone country that few would likely be able to find on a map, the West African nation’s popular rebellion may be the catalyst for a wave of revolt poised to take numerous countries.
“This is a ‘sub-Saharan Spring’ and it must continue against all the presidents who are trying to hang on to power in Africa,” Burkinabe student Lucien Trinnou told Reuters on Friday.
The protests began when Campaore sought to amend the country’s constitution to allow himself a third presidential term, after 27 years in office.
The constitution allows only two five-year terms, but Campaore had already served as president since 1987 when he took power in a military coup. His regime was often accused of corruption and authoritarian rule and had made itself virtually impossible to defeat in an election by using coercion, repression, and fraud to stack elections in his favor.
In recent years, says Ernest Harsch, a research scholar at the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University, the government had also been accused of forcing businesses to contribute quite lavishly to Campaore and his political allies, giving them the ability to outspend any potential challengers, which often meant simply buying them out of the race.
“People around Campaore – his family, their hangers-on – were getting visibly very rich through their corruption and other pilfering of state resources,” Harsch told NewsOne.
The corruption occurred against a backdrop of poverty that has inundated Burkina Faso throughout Campaore’s rule.
It is 183rd out of 186 countries on the U.N. human development index and despite an economy that grew at a rate of 7 percent in 2012 (about twice the rate of the United States’ growth rate), half of the country’s 17 million people still lived in poverty.
“So that gap between the poverty that everybody was living and the very visible lavish lifestyles of those in the elites was just becoming more and more grating,” says Harsh, who is also the author of “Thomas Sankara: An African Revolutionary,” a book about the country’s former leader who was overthrown by Campaore.
“The move to extend the presidential term further just was the final trigger that set off people’s anger.”
What has largely kept major revolutions from happening in sub-Saharan Africa is a lack of tools to organize and mobilize large populations. But with the growth of the middle class in some countries and the expansion of Internet access and other social networking technologies, more people are joining large-scale protest movements.
“We did not witness an African Spring, but that does not mean we are safe,” Hamisi Kigwangalla, a member of parliament in Tanzania, which borders Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo wrote in July.”We have our own generation of corrupt and autocratic leaders and bureaucrats, or what George Ayittey named the ‘Hippo Generation.’ There are growing inequities, rising rates of unemployment, and an unbearable cost of living. We also have an active youth that constitutes a huge chunk of our population, as well as a rapidly expanding literate and urbanised middle class.”
When the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, many predicted that the revolutions would move south to countries like Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda that had embattled leaders and regular demonstrations against issues that ranged from institutional corruption to growing income inequality and abuse by military and police forces. A major factor in the uprisings of 2011 was the countries’ large youth populations, which led the protests and mobilized political groups.
Those same elements are present in countries throughout Africa, but it often goes unreported.
“Many [African] countries are having protests. It’s a very contentious continent,” says Harsch. “A lot of it does not get reported unless it gets very political, unless there’s violence, and unless it comes to the brink of bringing down a government.”
But as more Africans grow impatient with their rulers, the clock may be ticking on many of the continent’s longest-serving officials. The people in some of the poorest and most-corrupt nations now have an example of how to execute a swift changing of the guard.
“Certainly activists will be looking to Burkina Faso for inspiration, maybe for lessons about how to organize,” says Harsch, “because [protesters] were well-organized in Burkina, at the elite level, but especially at the grass roots.”