Emmaus International

Marième is a volunteer for Emmaus International. She is visiting Emmaus organisations in Africa in order to find out how they are involved in the movement’s priority areas. Here is her account of the events of autumn 2014 in Burkina Faso.

I spent the day of 30 October 2014 on Twitter. From the morning to the evening, I followed the famous #Lwili, all the while furiously hitting F5 on my computer keyboard, refreshing the web page so that I could follow minute by minute the developments of the popular uprising that was rocking Burkina Faso.

Bernard spent the 30 October on the streets of Ouagadougou. He left his home town of Bobo Dioulasso for a week in order to join the hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Burkina Faso who invaded the streets of the capital to call for the departure of the president Blaise Compaoré. “We were scared”, he confesses, “but it had to be done.” The shrug of his shoulders does not fool me and I can clearly perceive the pride he legitimately feels at having been part of civil disobedience in response to one too many affronts. The self-same pride can be heard in the voices of all of those who came out onto the streets over those days to call for their president to leave office. Six months on, young people still talk in such glowing terms about that day; they talk with an almost childlike enthusiasm which is very contagious.

The walls of Ouaga are still covered in graffiti, with slogans such as No to the referendum, Blaise, clear off! and others saying Sorry, but it’s time to go being proof that a peaceful grassroots movement can overcome the stubborn blindness of the political élites. However, nothing can be taken for granted; and everything still needs to be done. In October of this year, Michel Kafando's transition government will hand over to a new regime following a presidential election for which campaigning has already begun. The new Burkina described to me by those who still seem just as excited as when Blaise Compaoré left office still needs to be constructed.

Despite the doubts and uncertainty, the dominant feeling on the capital’s streets today remains one of optimism. Encouraged by the success of their recent protest movement, the people of Burkina Faso are not planning to hand over their victory to the unwise people who would like to claim it as their own. They do right.

The wind of hope that has got up in Ouagadougou is blowing across the entire continent and is starting to worry these leaders, who, like our uncle Blaise, believed themselves to be invincible and unassailable. The country’s grassroots movement Balai Citoyen (the Citizens’ Broom), which played a major part in Blaise Compaoré’s departure, symbolizes the new momentum gained by young people in Africa; they had previously seemed disinterested in politics. The citizen vigilance advocated by the leaders of these movements is primarily a case of these young people (i.e. the vast majority of the continent's population) taking back ownership of their place on the public stage. By claiming their right and duty to scrutinize political decisions, these young people are putting popular pressure on their leaders, with this constituting a new threat for regimes which appear to be increasingly archaic and old-fashioned.

150410 recits des volontaires MariemeThe Citizens’ Broom – Our strength is in numbers

The recent arrest of Burkinabe, Congolese and Senegalese activists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a possible third term of office by President Kabila is facing increasingly virulent opposition, is proof of this movement. Are the old continent’s political elites feeling that the wind is turning? In Burundi, several members of the head of state Pierre Nkurunziza's party recently officially declared themselves to be against him running in the elections set to take place in June.

It would be wrong to think that this strengthening of African civil society is simply all about the issue of constitutional change and extending terms of office. Everything is at stake right now in Burkina Faso. Blaise leaving is not enough in itself. Burkinabe society wants unemployment to be reduced, vulnerability to be addressed and health infrastructure to be developed. The people of Burkina Faso were tired of seeing their leader obstinately holding on to power and an entire political class growing rich while the country struggles to put its under-development behind it, so now more than ever, they will not lower their guard. The transition regime is getting it right and has made many goodwill gestures, taken strong initiatives – such as disbanding the former president’s party – and is undertaking wide-ranging reforms, with a general review of the judicial sector starting on 23 March, notably in order to guarantee the independence of the justice system.

It would be naïve to think that the Burkinabe example can be replicated in all the countries where leaders cling on to power. However, it would be very cynical to think that lessons cannot be learned from the example of Burkina Faso about the power of grassroots movements. The miracle achieved by the people of Burkina Faso is that they voiced their opinion to a man who did not want to hear reason and that they were finally seen by someone who had been blinded by decades of power. They are the thousands of twigs that make up the broom which swept Blaise out of his country: it would be foolhardy to underestimate the strength of the movement.