Burkina Faso’s military backs Colonel Zida

Top army officials say Lieutenant Colonel Issac Zida should lead country after protests forced president to step down.

Burkina Faso’s top military officials have thrown their support behind presidential guard Lieutenant Colonel Issac Zida as leader of a transitional government after President Blaise Compaore was forced from power, the Reuters news agency has reported.

The move on Saturday sidelines Compaore loyalist General Honore Traore, the joint chief of staff, who had announced a competing plan to lead the country following Zida’s departure.

“Lieutenant Colonel Yacouba Issac Zida has been elected unanimously to lead the transition period opened after the departure of President Blaise Compaore,” read a statement issued after military chiefs met to discuss who should take power.

The statement came shortly after Burkina Faso’s deposed president reportedly arrived in neighbouring Ivory Coast, less than 24 hours after being forced from power.

Population: 16.9 million.
Nearly half the population lives on less than $1 a day.

Landlocked state bordering Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo and Ghana.

Became independent from France in 1960. 
Economy based on agriculture. Main exports are gold and cotton.

Compaore, who resigned on Friday amid mass protests against his 27-year rule, arrived in the capital Yamoussoukro on Saturday with his family.

“The services of the President hotel in Yamoussoukro served him [Compaore] dinner yesterday [Friday] and breakfast this morning [Saturday],” a hotel employee told the AFP news agency.

A local resident told the AFP he saw “a long cortege of around 30 cars going in the direction of the villa,” which is used as a semi-official residence for foreign dignitaries.

Zida and Traore both announced they would lead a transition to democracy after Compaore was pushed out.

Zida said in a recorded address posted early on Saturday on the website of a national television station that he was filling the vacuum.

“While we wait to define in a consensual manner, with all of the political parties and civil society organisations, the contours and composition of this peaceful democratic transition,” Zida said. “I will henceforth assume, from today, the responsibilities of the head of this transition and the head of state.”

The announcement came just hours after Traore made the same declaration. It was not immediately clear if Traore accepted Zida’s announcement on Saturday.

When he resigned, Compaore had said a vote would be held in 90 days, but Zida said the “length and make-up of the transitional body will be decided later”.

Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the US State Department, called for democratic elections.

“We condemn any attempts by the military or other parties to take advantage of the situation for unconstitutional gain and call on all parties to respect the people’s support for the democratic process,” she said in a statement released late on Friday.

Semi-authoritarian rule

Compaore stepped down after protesters stormed the country’s parliament and set it on fire as he was seeking to pass a vote that would allow his re-election for the fifth term.

While he was respected on the international stage, critics noted that, under Compaore’s semi-authoritarian rule, the country of 18 million people remained mired in poverty. The landlocked country’s fortunes rise and fall with gold and cotton prices – and adequate rain in a region plagued by drought.

Why Burkina Faso matters?

Compaore’s exit will have significance throughout the region, where many leaders have pushed through constitutional changes to prolong their rule and others are attempting to, West Africa expert, Philippe Hugon, said.

“It’s obvious that what happened will have an echo in other countries,” said Hugon of the Institute for Strategic and International Relations.

In the end, Compaore was pushed from power by violent protests and an emboldened opposition that would accept nothing short of his resignation.

“I declare that I’m leaving power,” Compaore said in a statement. “For my part, I think I have fulfilled my duty.”

Thousands of opposition protesters gathered Friday in a square in the capital and burst into cheers when they heard the announcement of his resignation on hand-held radios.

“This is a new revolution” and a chance to get it right, said Donald Fayama, a shopkeeper who was among the demonstrators. “At least tomorrow, we are not going to wake up with the same face of the same president.”

Burkina Faso hosts French special forces and serves as an important ally of both France and the United States in the fight against Islamic militants in West Africa.

Mathieu Hilgers, a University of Brussels professor and author of several books on Burkina Faso, said there could be a “real danger” if the country’s transition takes too long.

“There is clearly some motivation to make the process go as fast as possible, because indeed nobody wants the military to [stay in power] longer,” Hilgers told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies