AFRICNGLOBE – Burkina Faso’s interim President Isaac Zida said Sunday evening that the army would cede power to a “transitional body,” just days after President Blaise Compaoré’s resignation. He stepped down Oct. 31 following violent protests over his bid to extend his presidential term.
On Saturday, the country’s military named Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida as leader of an interim government. But thousands of protestors gathered on Sunday in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougo, to demand that the military give up power. The army reportedly responded by barricading the city’s main square and opening fire at state TV headquarters, killing at least one demonstrator.
The African Union, the U.S. and the U.N. have also criticized the military takeover and expressed a desire for a return to civilian rule.
Following a meeting with key opposition figures on Sunday, a military spokesman said in a statement that the army would install “a transitional body… with all the components to be adopted by a broad consensus.” The spokesman added: “Power does not interest us, only the greater interest of the nation,” citing the army’s sacred values of honor, dignity and sacrifice.
The military has not yet given a timeframe for plans to hand over power to a consensual leader.
Army Meets Diplomats as Capital Calm Returns
Burkina Faso’s military leaders told foreign diplomats they don’t intend to hold onto power as shops reopened with the return of calm to the capital, Ouagadougou, following the ouster of longtime dictator Blaise Compaore.
“We wanted to reassure them and say we’re not here to usurp power, but we are here to find a way out of the situation we’re in,” Colonel Isaac Zida, who’s leading the transitional administration, told reporters today at the Foreign Affairs Ministry. “I think they have understood our message.”
The meeting followed violence yesterday that left one protester dead and drew a warning from Zida that “any act likely to undermine the transition process will be suppressed with vigor.”
The opposition has refused to recognize Zida’s appointment as the nation’s acting leader after four days of protests that forced Compaore to end his 27-year rule on Oct. 31.
After the meeting with Zida, Archbishop Vito Rallo, the apostolic nuncio in Burkina Faso, said he hoped everyone “would get together to find a calmer future for the Burkinabe with the return of democracy.”
Opposition supporters scheduled a march for today to demand the military continue talks and allow them to name a leader. They’re calling for Saran Sereme, head of the opposition Party for Democracy and Change, to become the West African nation’s next president.
One person died yesterday when soldiers broke up a demonstration in the capital’s main square and fired warning shots to disperse protesters who gathered at the headquarters of the national TV station.
“We’ve no argument with the military — they are our brothers — but their place is in their barracks,” Sereme told the demonstrators.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, said a mission of the UN, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States urged the military to ensure a speedy return to constitutional rule.
Zida, 49, joined the Presidential Security Regiment in 1996 following several years of military training in Burkina Faso and abroad. He served as a UN peacekeeper for a year.
“We want to take into account civil society groups, the opposition, and we want to hear the viewpoint of other actors such as religious and traditional leaders,” Zida said today.
Yesterday he said he had met with opposition leaders, the U.S. ambassador to the country and Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo, who was president of the country in 1982 and 1983 before being overthrown in a coup.
The resignation of Compaore was the culmination of an explosion of street protests over his plan for parliament to pass a law to allow him another term ruling the country.
Compaore, 63, a former army officer, seized power in a 1987 coup that killed head of state Thomas Sankara, whom Compaore helped install in an earlier putsch.
He won an election in 1991 that was boycotted by the opposition, and was re-elected three times in ballots that gave him about 80 percent of the vote.
Compaore, who showed little tolerance for dissent, was accused of involvement in civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. He was an ally of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was handed to an international court in 2006 and later convicted of aiding war crimes in Sierra Leone.
Burkina Faso, a nation of 17 million people, ranks 181st out of 187 nations on the United Nations Human Development Index, which measures life expectancy, literacy, education and gross domestic product per capita. Per capita income in 2012 was about $650, according to the UN.
Burkina Faso’s economy depends heavily on remittances from an estimated 4 million migrant workers in neighboring Ivory Coast, according to the World Bank. Agriculture employs about 85 percent of the population, with cotton as the main cash crop.
By: Simon Gongo and Pauline Bax