Sudden change doesn’t seem to work in politics. Non-parliamentary change of government, which is actually undemocratic, is principally wrong. This means I don’t at all believe in change through revolution. Street protests and other demonstrations, be it in Islamabad, Hong Kong, Burkina Faso, or elsewhere, may be important indicators of people’s discontent with government affairs, but they shouldn’t lead to sudden change. And if they do, such as in Burkina Faso just now, the outcome is a double-edged sword.

If change happens suddenly, having built up over the years, even decades, such as the ‘Arab spring’, those who take over should not only have concern for themselves, but include all groups. At the same time, they must also not slide back to ways of the former regimes. Sadly, the latter seems to have happened in many fields after the initial stages of the ‘Arab spring’. The old leaders were ousted but the new ones were not quite competent, with the skills the demonstrators had hoped for. They did not have plans and strategies in place. And they hadn’t foreseen that there were many supporters of the old leaders, too, in the civil service, the military and elsewhere, working against them.

After the ‘Arab Spring’, we have seen that to get the old leaders ousted, was just the first step. Real change is more than getting different faces at the top – and on TV. We have come to realize that change in society, in a whole country, is more complicated than what can be organized by street demonstrators: dharna’s, marches and sit-ins. We have come to understand that change will always have to take time; it is a step by step process, not something that can happen overnight – and often it is two steps forward and one step backward over a long time.

Maybe we have also come to question whether the new leaders who were named by such ‘street courts’ are the right ones to produce the change they promised. They may have been good on the barricades and in protest speeches, but the follow-up requires other types of leaders. I believe we have often seen in history that these new leaders turn autocratic if they get power without skills, being afraid that the ‘revolution’ will slip out of their hands.

I believe the only way to change and develop is through cumbersome and slow processes, with a lot of debate between the rulers and the ruled, and different interest and political groups. Democratic voting and elections must follow soon after a take-over through non-parliamentary methods.

Speeches and banners on main streets and squares in a country’s capital and major cities, even if tens of thousands participate, are rather like opinion polls and sample surveys. They may indicate moods and trends, but they cannot replace elections. From research we know that a sample survey can never be a substitute for asking every individual in the total population.

We should not be entirely naïve either about the intentions of protest movements. They are not necessarily representing the ‘right’ ideas and values. In the past, when there were clearer ideologies, from rightwing capitalism through socialism to Marxism, popular uprisings and coups would subscribe to one or the other, including foreign alliances. Today, uprisings are usually a fight for more democracy and people participation, better rule of law and less corruption, and equal sharing of resources. But the movements are usually also western and liberal in character, wanting smaller government and more capitalism for everyone – which may well have inbuilt contradictions if the goals are indeed to ‘serve the masses’.

Last week, we saw another president ousted, notably Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso in West Africa. He had been in power for 27 years and wanted to stay on, but the demonstrators said, “It’s time to go.”

About twenty years ago, when the President was quite new, after having taken power in a violent coup in 1987, I worked on education projects in Burkina Faso for the World Bank. I recall that at that time we were of the opinion that ‘things were moving in the right direction’ in Burkina Faso. France, the former colonial ruler, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), supported the new leader, who was indeed not a socialist as the former military leader, Thomas Sakara, although the two had been comrades-in-arms. Our political analysis was shallow and it sided with the going international political and economic ideology. Hence, let me remind myself and others that in all political analysis, we must be self-critical and try not side with one or the other, for convenience or conviction.

Now, then, back to recent events, which are just about a week old and counting: I wonder if the Burkinabe demonstrators – the young, smart, eager and willing young men and women – who ousted the country’s president are happy with what they got. Perhaps they went too far in asking for sudden change? Maybe they should have stopped at showing their dissatisfaction and their muscle. Now, they have got a military ruler who says he will only stay till fresh elections have been held. The demonstrators haven’t accepted that, and of course, they should not. It is never good enough to have a military leader as head of state, even if just temporarily in the palace.

There should be a civilian committee, composed of the attorney general, the opposition in parliament and others, the military and the police, to handle the immediate crisis and oversee further processes, including elections and transition to the next, more democratic era of one of the world’s poorest countries with a population of about 17 million people.

The people of Burkina Faso didn’t just want a new president. They wanted deeper change. However, to get that is more difficult and will take much longer than street demonstrators want to believe. Impatience may be good, but not if it leads to sudden and dramatic change. We want planned change, with consideration of pros and cons, analyses and weighing of different strategies, selection of solutions in openness and dialogue, and much more. This is how we can find and implement real and lasting change and development. This is how democracies develop and grow strong. Important, too, that leaders in such lands will listen to discontent and accommodate demands for change at early stages. Temporary demonstrations, rallies, dharna’s and so on are important, giving messages and warnings to leaders. But they shouldn’t lead to immediate change. Yet, we must also, always, work for change; real, lasting change, through peaceful, steady, democratic methods. Change is the only constant, it has been said.

n    The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.