Is Compaore's reign in Burkina Faso coming to an end?

Burkina Faso's President Compaore is seeing new protests against his regime in Western Africa that may finally be sweeping him out of power.

By , Correspondent

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    Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore adjusts headphones during a news conference at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in this Dec. 17, 2009 file photo.
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In Burkina Faso, a wave of turmoil may be forcing an end to the 24-year presidency of Blaise Compaore, West Africa's longest-serving leader.

Hundreds of soldiers stationed a half-day's drive from Ouagadougou, the capital, spent last night – all last night – and parts of this morning firing their weapons into the air in a thunderous display of discontent by the army's rank and file.

That racket is hardly the first recent challenge to Mr. Compaore's reign. Since February, students have staged strikes constantly to protest a police killing of a young man. On April 14, a military mutiny by members of Compaore's presidential guard forced the leader to flee the capital.

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Then there's the cotton farmers: Just yesterday, 8,000 of them commenced a no-planting boycott to protest cotton taxes.

"If this were not happening in the completely different context of the post-Arab revolutions, I would have seen it as a routine challenge to Compaore's rule, but this time around it has gained momentum," said David Zoumenou, a political analyst at South Africa's Institute for Security Studies.

Of all nations, Burkina Faso may be the most shaken by the uprisings on the other side of its Saharan front.

Once a big benefactor of Libyan largesse, Burkina's aid-dependent government finds itself suddenly unable to pay its praetorian guard.

Then there's Burkina's even more important ally: France, its former colonizer. In the context of an Arab spring, the country has little appetite to defend Compaore's bids to extend a quarter century rule, Mr. Zoumenou says.

"France really doesn't want to embarrass itself after that situation in Tunsia of not taking sides when people were protesting against [former Tunisian dictator] Ben Ali," he said.

Compaore has obvious reason to be concerned. Like any number of leaders of his generation, the former military officer himself rose to power in a coup before he buttoned into a presidential suit.

That generation, however, has retired.

Over the past year, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Nigeria -- three of the region's largest and least democratic states – all staged elections freer and fairer than each had held in decades. Fellow junta-leaders-turned-democrats in Compaore's class – such as Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo or Ghana's J.J. Rawlings – have been out of office for a decade now, maintaining their villas while Burkina's onetime G.I. continues to govern his state.

"He really is one of the last of his kind," Africa analyst James Clinton Francis at London's Eurasia Group said. "You have Compaore sort of sitting there in the neighrborhood of all these reformist leaders who are looking to bring the region into a new direction,"

Last November, Compaore won a fourth term with 80 percent of an allegedly rigged vote. He looks likely, Zoumenou says, to amend Burkina's constitution to allow a fifth.

"Burkinabés are still observing the situation, but at a particular moment, they will jump to the street and pose their demands as clearly as possible to make Compaore understand that it's time for him to go or reform," he said.

"In one line," he added, "I would just say that the Arab revolutions have had an impact on sub-Saharan autocratic leaders."

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