Despite its status as a poor, landlocked country in the midst of West Africa, Burkina Faso plays an important role in the region and for its international partners. During his 26 years in power, President Blaise Compaore has cast himself as an indispensible mediator, having brokered negotiations to end crises in Togo in 2006, Cote d’Ivoire in 2007 and 2011, and Mali in 2012, among others. With the diplomatic skill and networks necessary to negotiate the release of Westerners held by terrorist groups in the Sahel, Burkina Faso under Compaore has also become a “hostage whisperer.” In addition, Compaore has capitalized on the country’s geostrategic location to provide access to both the United States’ Joint Special Operations Air Detachment, which conducts surveillance missions across the Sahel, and a detachment of French special operations forces.
By the time of Burkina Faso’s next presidential election in November 2015, Compaore will have served two seven-year terms and two five-year terms, but will only be 64 years old—meaning that he could live long enough to rule another 15-20 years. However, the increasing momentum of opposition to the Compaore regime points to a pressing need for the Burkinabe leader to find an exit strategy.
Over the weekend, thousands of Burkinabe marched in opposition to what they perceive to be the president’s attempts to amend Article 37 of the constitution, which stipulates a presidential term limit that would prevent Compaore from running for re-election in 2015. This protest followed two mass resignations earlier this month of almost 200 politicians from the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), in response to what they called the “disappearance of democracy” under Compaore. These events follow last year’s protests against the creation of a Senate full of Compaore supporters, which is seen as a potential rubber stamp for the president to extend his tenure in power.