the greatness of history is that it offers lessons in various human endeavours. I guess that’s why there is the saying: the surest way to the future is via the past.
So what do we, Malawians, learn from the recent Burkina Faso crisis?
For the first time in sub-Saharan Africa, people power expressed through massive demonstrations—not the gun, not the ballot—on October 31 rendered a president of 27 years jobless. That president is Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso.
He still had a year to go when his unsavoury machinations to change the constitution so he could serve another term made him lose the presidency and ended up seeking refuge in Cote d’Ivoire.
When the army took advantage of the vacuum and made its own man, Lt. Col. Isaac Zida, the transitional leader, the same people power coupled with pressure and threats of sanctions from Ecowas and AU forced an instant U-turn. The army agreed to return to the barracks as soon as a civilian emerged to manage the transition.
Compaore used the 27 years he was in power to consolidate his grip on the reins of government. By the time he made the futile attempt to extend his tenure, the opposition was too weak to defend the constitution. Incidentally, the economy was neglected in the process and the youth weren’t amused.
History repeats itself, they say. What the people of Burkina Faso did by using mass protests of shock-and-awe proportions to boot out their self-serving elected leader is a replica of what happened in Egypt in 2011, when the people, incensed by the corrupt dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak forced him out of the presidency with massive and persistent mass protests.
Mubarak was filthy rich (don’t ask how he made his money) and commander-in-chief of one of the best equipped armies both in Africa and the Arab world, yet the people who brought him down did not even have as small a weapon as The Arab Spring actually started in Tunisia where mass protest also brought down a leader. When they spread to Libya and Syria later, the military was used to crush them but bloodbath did little to save the unpopular regimes.
Both Libya and Syria are now war-torn, Libya’s strongman Muammar Gaddafi was assassinated and the West argues that the Syrian leader has lost the legitimacy to rule and must, therefore, go. Of course, Russia and Iran disagree.
The mass protests in Burkina Faso—just like the Arab Spring that preceded them—train the light on the enormous potential of Section 38 of the Constitution which states that “every person shall have the right to assemble and demonstrate with others peacefully and unarmed.”
It’s the David’s sling that can save us from what some have described as the second-term-curse. The term refers to the misery and suffering former presidents—Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika—brought us as they were serving their second term.
They were so much focussed on the issue of succession that laws and the Constitution had to be changed, the economy messed up and any opposition to their machinations savagely clubbed, all this done just to suit their personal interests at our expense.
In fact, we are still suffering today as a consequence of the curse that came of their second term.
APM may not want to hear this but the fact is that there may be quite a few of the electorate—and probably donors as well—who may take all the good work he is doing with a pinch of salt, thinking that come the second term he would be a totally different person as was the case with his predecessors.
Political leaders embrace demonstrations only when they are in opposition. When they assume power they hate them with a passion. Bingu’s regime killed 20 people during the July 20 2011 demonstrations. Muluzi used agents of the State to thwart demonstrations as well.
Still, the mass protests in Burkina Faso have proved that Section 38 is the best weapon Malawians have to deal with the second term curse should it rear its ugly head again in future.