The demonstrations and rioting were very political. The regime, to its credit, did not respond with very much force. But that "civil" response, however, seems to have spurred other, more unruly elements to see weakness. Military garrisons around the country started rioting themselves, again in a fairly political way, targeting residences of government officials and government buildings. Finally, on Friday, the elite presidential guard went on a rampage, this time carrying out a fair amount of looting. The merchants of Ouagadougou, fed up, themselves rioted today and destroyed several government buildings.
President Blaise Compaoré has sacked the chief of army staff and the government (Burkina Faso has a ministerial government that serves at the pleasure of the President and the ruling party). President Compaoré, who has ruled since 1983 (at first as co-ruler with Thomas Sankara, who was killed in 1987) faces a serious challenge to his regime. The outcome is now down to the micro-politics of Burkinabe society, and the highly unpredictable outcome of interactions among the 2,000-3,000 officers of the armed forces. Civil society, however, is far stronger than in was in 1987. As in Europe in the 1700s, a growing bourgeoisie is ready to tell those with weapons that if they want to continue to rule, they have to make concessions.
Transparency and accountability are seen now, vividly, to be more than buzzwords. Without them, 20 years of moderate economic progress, increases in schooling, refinement of institutions for enabling investment.... all will vanish overnight, lives may be lost, infrastructure destroyed. Five of Burkina Faso's West African neighbors have gone through this awful decline: Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Guinea, Niger and Sierra Leone.
I am hopeful that Burkina Faso will weather the crisis. The country has several good institutions: a very stable traditional ruling class, in the form of the Mossi kingdoms; a tradtion of ethnic and religious tolerance that seems impermeable to animosities that can be stoked by spoiler politicians; a sense that the political elite understands the lessons of the five neighbors, and won't risk chaos; a lively free press that is keeping the citizenry pretty well-informed; a small but active segment of the judiciary that tries its best to act as counterweight to the regime; a large class of professional former government officials- President Compaoré liked to cycle through government every five years or so, so there is a lot of "dispersed expertise."
I will be watching events unfold. For now FAVL staff and volunteers in Burkina Faso are all safe and do not appear to be significantly affected by the unrest. Villages are usually the safest place to be in troubling times.