Africa in the News: Burkina Faso’s President Compaoré Steps Down, Zambia’s President Sata Passes, and Tripartite Free Trade Agreement To Launch

Constitutional Amendment Ignites Protests and Dissolution of Government in Burkina Faso

On Friday, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso resigned from his post following violent protests in the capital of Ougadougou and major city of Bobo Dioulasso. Over the past week, thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate against Compaore’s attempt to implement a constitutional amendment that would allow him to extend his 27 years in office and run for another five-year term. As the protests turned increasingly violent on Thursday—with protestors setting fire to the parliament, city hall and the private residences of the president’s staff—the opposition party called for Compaoré’s immediate resignation. By Friday, October 31, army chief General Honoré Traoré released a statement that the army had seized power and would arrange national elections.

Compaoré’s resignation in light of these protests is significant in that it could signal to other African leaders considering similar constitutional amendments (such as in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) that attempts to hang onto power will not be tolerated in democratic societies. For more analysis of the protests that led to Compaoré to resign, please see the recent Africa in Focus blog by Africa Growth Initiative Nonresident Senior Fellow John Mbaku, Burkina Faso Protests Extending Presidential Term Limits.

Death of Zambian President Michael Sata Leads to Questions over Succession and the Economy

According to a statement issued Wednesday morning by the Zambian government, President Michael Sata of Zambia passed away late Tuesday evening while receiving treatment for an unknown illness in London. Vice President Guy Scott has assumed the role of interim president and will be responsible for carrying out presidential elections within the next 90 days. While media sources are already speculating who may contest  the upcoming elections, it is unlikely that Interim President Scott will be able to present himself as a candidate given a clause in the Zambian constitution that requires the president be born to Zambian nationals (Scott’s parents were Scottish.)

Amid the uncertainty over Zambia’s future leadership, international investors and, in particular, foreign mining companies involved in Zambia’s major copper mining sector are hoping that Sata’s passing will usher in a new, investment-focused president for the country. While in office, Sata worked extensively to reform the mining tax regime and extract more revenues from foreign companies benefiting from Zambia’s vast copper resources, which are the second largest in Africa. Taxes on mineral extraction were set to increase from 6 percent to 20 percent starting in January 2015, however, it is unclear if these policies will go into effect under the leadership of a different president given the strong opposition of the mining companies. In addition, Zambian officials were scheduled to meet with the International Monetary Fund in order to secure much-needed loans following a currency dip, but they are likely to postpone these meetings until a new president is selected.

For more information on the passing of President Sata, please see: The Death of President Michael Sata and Issues of the Health of African Leaders.

Leaders Anticipate Launch of Tripartite Free Trade Agreement Summit Next Month

On Saturday, October 25, during a meeting of ministers from the regional blocs of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Burundi, leaders announced that the Tripartite (COMESA-EAC-SADC) Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will be launched this December at the Summit of Heads of State and Government in Cairo. The decision to move forward with the launch was made after tripartite negotiators came to a general agreement on issues related to tariffs and rules of origin. Once implemented, the Tripartite FTA will be the largest economic bloc in Africa, covering 26 countries, a population of nearly 625 million and a total GDP of approximately $1.2 trillion. The harmonized trade regime is expected to reduce the cost of doing business (due to the existing multiple, overlapping trade regimes) and attract foreign direct investment to countries within its coverage.