The PJ Tatler

White House Treads Oh-So-Lightly as Burkina Faso Protests 27-Year Rule of Compaoré

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The Obamas and the Compaores pose at a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House on Aug. 5. (Official White House photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Protesters in Burkina Faso have had it with Blaise Compaoré’s endless reign, yet the White House — not even mentioning the dictator by name — wants everyone to cool down and find a political solution.

Compaoré, 63, led a 1987 coup that brought him to power. He skirted the issue of term limits in his 2005 re-election and now wants the constitution changed so he doesn’t have to leave office next year.

One protest leader told AFP that today is Burkina Faso’s Black Spring, in the style of the Arab Spring that saw dictators flushed out of their posts.

Protesters in the capital Ouagadougou have set the parliament building on fire, according to the BBC, as well as the headquarters of the ruling party and city hall.

“The United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Burkina Faso resulting from efforts to amend the constitution to enable the incumbent head of state to seek another term after 27 years in office,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.

“We believe democratic institutions are strengthened when established rules are adhered to with consistency,” Meehan said. “We call on all parties, including the security forces, to end the violence and return to a peaceful process to create a future for Burkina Faso that will build on Burkina Faso’s hard-won democratic gains.”

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that the U.S. is “concerned by the spirt and intent” behind the draft National Assembly bill in Burkina Faso that would allow Compaoré to run for an additional five-year term.

“As the Burkinabe National Assembly prepares to consider the proposed constitutional changes, the United States emphasizes that constitutionally mandated term limits provide an important mechanism to hold heads of state accountable, ensure peaceful and democratic transfers of power, and give new generations the opportunity to compete for political office and elect new leaders,” Psaki said. “We urge all involved, including Burkina Faso’s security forces, to adhere to non-violence, and to debate this issue in a peaceful and inclusive manner.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) at least mentioned Compaoré by name, saying his “efforts to change Burkina Faso’s constitution is a misguided move that betrays his fellow citizens.”

“It was inspiring to see images of thousands peacefully marching through Ouagadougou to oppose an indefinite presidency. Others besides Compaoré can lead Burkina Faso,” Royce said.

“Many, including other term-limited heads of state on the continent, are closely watching Burkina Faso… President Compaoré has a real opportunity to drop this power grab and set the right course for his country, and the continent quite frankly. U.S.-Burkina Faso relations will be impacted by his choice.”