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The Lesson of Compaore’s Fall
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When the end finally came for the dictator in Burkina Faso after 27 years in power last Friday, it was so surreal that Mr. Blaise

Compaore thought he could still exert his dominance over events by choosing to supervise a transition he had earlier foreclosed with a dubious constitutional amendment process. Not only did the people reject his offer, he is now practically on the run, leaving his country in turmoil. It came to that because, like most African leaders, Compaore did not understand that public office is not what you hold onto forever.

Of the several African presidents who completed their constitution-bound tenure in the last two decades, only eight have left office without seeking any constitutional amendment to extend their stay in office. They are: Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya, Mathieu Kerekou of Benin Republic, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, Mascarenhas Monteiro of Cape Verde, Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, Alpha Konaré of Mali, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Miguel Trovoada of São Tomé and Príncipe. Of course there was the much-revered Mr. Nelson Mandela (now of blessed memory) in South Africa who pledged to spend only one term as president and stayed true to his promise.

However, three other African leaders have also attempted some contrived but failed constitutional amendments to extend their tenure. They are: The late Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, Bakili Muluzi of Malawi and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. In the intervening period, seven long-serving African leaders have secured constitutional amendments that allowed them to stand for a third term in office: Idriss Deby of Chad (president since 1990), Omar Bongo of Gabon (who has been in power since 1967), the late Lansana Conte of Guinea (who was president of Chad from 1984 until he died in 2008), Gnassingbe Eyadema (President of Togo from 1967, also until his death in 2005) and Yoweri Museveni (who has been president of Uganda since January 1986).

Sam Nujoma (president of Namibia from 1990 to 2005) sought and secured an extra-constitutional third term after which he left while Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso (who had been in power since 1987) also sought Constitutional amendment that secured for him a term before he was upended last Thursday while plotting for a fourth term.

The list of course does not include Robert Mugabe who at 90 has spent the last 34 years as president of Zimbabwe; Jose Eduardo Santos, who has led Angola since 1979, Todore Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who has also been president since 1979 and Paul Biya of Cameroun, who came to power exactly 32 years ago today (my birthday and Simon Kolawole’s) on 6th November, 1982!

However, with the 24 hour upheaval that swept Compaore out of power in Burkina Faso last week, many sit-tight African leaders, including those who believe in their omnipotence, should now know that when push comes to shove, power ultimately belongs to the people.

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