Not So “Beautiful Blaise”

Blaise Compaoré, Wikimedia Commons

By Sudakshina Chattopadhyay, Columnist

After 27 years in power, Burkina Faso’s former President Blaise Compaoré relinquished his office on October 31st, 2014 amidst chaotic protests in the capital city of Ouagadougou. The protests were triggered by the president’s attempt to change the nation’s constitution and extend his presidential term. Though Mali, Niger, and Côte d’Ivoire are no strangers to civil unrest and military coups, Burkina, the “Land of the Upright People,” has maintained a relatively peaceful environment under the semblance of a democracy for over 15 years. While this eruption of violence surprised much of the international community, prolonged rule under a poorly scrutinized president virtually isolated from his people should not have gone unnoticed. Either strategy, complacency, or both, failed to prevent this collapse of government.

Leading media sources reported these protests as “sudden” or “unexpected.” [1] However, the Burkinabé people, regional scholars, experts, and any recent visitor to Burkina would unequivocally express zero shock at the events of the last few weeks.[2] After Compaoré orchestrated the assassination of Thomas Sankara, the nation’s beloved revolutionary hero, the Burkinabé public never genuinely embraced his rise to power in 1987. Rather than questioning the possibility of resistance or ‘if the people would resort to protests,’ individuals familiar with the country pondered “When?” and “How?” they would occur.

Until now, Compaoré has been the United States’ and France’s strongest ally in the Sahel, offering Burkina as a base for French Special Forces and American military operations against al Qaeda-linked groups.[3] His support and political clout in the region as a leading mediator for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in a number of regional crises, insulated his reputation enough to overlook the length of his presidential term. Perhaps also overlooked was Compaoré’s close and long-term relationship with Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. Until Qaddafi’s death in the Libyan Uprising in 2011, Compaoré secured significant financial aid from his former teacher. Indeed many forgot that Compaoré, and others, including Chad’s current President Idriss Déby and Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor, were all pupils in Qaddafi’s World Revolutionary Center (WRC) near Benghazi, Libya. Foreign Policy refers to Qaddafi’s WRC as the “Harvard for Tyrants.”[4]

According to the 2013 United Nations Human Development Index, Burkina Faso comes in at 181st out of the 187 countries listed.[5] This landlocked, impoverished nation suffered from stagnant development and growth under the leadership of the once affectionately nicknamed, “Beautiful Blaise.”[6] Compaoré once boasted of the glorious stability of his West African state within a region wrought with corruption. In 2014, the public’s outcry for transparency finally shattered the hollow orb of his alleged democratically run state.

Now more than two weeks since Compaoré’s resignation, Burkina is in the process of rebuilding its government. Burkinabé Lieutenant Colonel Yacouba Issac Zida was quick to declare himself head of state and suspended the nation’s constitution.[7] Much of the Western world and other invested parties immediately voiced their concerns with this military’s rule. However, negotiations and international convoys since Zida’s rise have successfully persuaded the Lt. Colonel to transfer state control to civilian leadership. In this interim, the nation’s political parties must agree upon a President, head of parliament, and Prime Minister to maintain order until Burkina’s regularly scheduled elections in November 2015. Voice of America reports that “The interim president and members of his government cannot run in that election. Nor can the head of the National Transition Council.”[8]

On November 16th, 2014 a civilian electoral college named Michel Kafando, a onetime ambassador to the United Nations and former foreign minister, the interim president. “The committee has just designated me to guide temporarily the destiny of our country. This is more than an honour. It’s a true mission which I will take with the utmost seriousness,” Kafando said on Monday.[9]

Reconstructing Burkina’s government presents the opportunity for building and growing a truly democratic country, something her citizens have yearned for the last couple of decades. While hope and optimism can usher in support for a democratic environment and a promising future for a nation filled with humble and genuine individuals, such intangible niceties are not enough to guarantee a sustained democracy with concrete checks and balances. As is the case for most construction projects, the foundation is the key element in securing this nation’s future. If the West needs to maintain its relationship and strategic presence in this country, it must take more active measures in aiding and overseeing this vulnerable transition period and the foundational reconstruction of Burkina Faso’s government.


Sudakshina Chattopadhyay is an M.A. candidate in Georgetown’s Security Studies Program, concentrating in Terrorism and Substate Violence. Her research focuses on terrorism and insurgency throughout the Middle East and Africa’s Sahel region. Before pursuing her master’s degree, Ms. Chattopadhyay served in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso from 2011-2013 and received her B.A. in International Relations and Policy Studies from Syracuse University.


[1] Drew Hinshaw and David Gauthier-Villars, “Burkina Faso President Resigns, Military Takes Over,” The Wall Street Journal, October 31, 2014,

[2] Drew Hinshaw and David Gauthier-Villars, “Burkina Faso President Resigns, Military Takes Over,” The Wall Street Journal, October 31, 2014,

[3] Mathieu Bonkoungou and Joe Penney, “Protests Force Out Burkina President, Soldiers Vie for Power,” Reuters, October 31, 2014,

[4] Douglas Farah, “Harvard for Tyrants,” Foreign Policy, March 4, 2011,

[5] United Nations Development Programme, “Table 1: Human Development Index and Its Components,” UNDP, 2013,

[6] Leela Jacinto, “The Fiery Fall of Burkina Faso’s ‘Beautiful Blaise,’” Foreign Policy, November 5, 2014,

[7] Al Jazeera and Agencies, “Burkina Faso Army Says Constitution Restored,” Al Jazeera, November 15, 2014,

[8] Anne Look, “Burkina Faso Reaches Deal on Transition, Civilian Handover,” Voice of America, November 14, 2014,

[9] Al Jazeera and Agencies, “Burkina Faso Names Transitional President,” Al Jazeera, November 17, 2014,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.