Burkina Faso needs a revolution

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 242 December 2014/January 2015

On 30 October President Blaise Compaoré was forced to flee Burkina Faso after four days of mass protests. Over his two decades in office, Compaoré plunged over half the country into poverty, reversed women’s rights and privatised natural resources. On 21 October he attempted to pass a new bill scrapping the presidential term limit, allowing him to stay in power for the foreseeable future. This sparked mass outrage.

The spectre of the ‘African Che’
Imperialism will not accept significant change in Burkina Faso easily. The country is central to French regional control as Compaoré brokered deals with Côte d’Ivoire and Mali. He was close to the US, allowing a military base to be built in Ouagadougou, the capital. Drones are used for the US spy network, flying over Mali and the Sahara.

The imperialists are haunted by the fear of any movement developing in the spirit of the 1983 revolution, led by the Marxist Thomas Sankara. Sankara, known as the ‘African Che’, implemented socialist reforms and rejected the IMF, World Bank and NGOs, stating, ‘He who feeds you, controls you.’ He refused to pay the country’s international debts, describing them as a new colonialism and promoted Pan-Africanism, the unity of African nations against the yoke of imperialist plunder.

The former French colony, then Upper Volta, was one of the poorest countries in Africa. Sankara, influenced by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, fought against corruption, promoted health and education and tackled famine through reforestation and self-reliance. In the first weeks of his presidency, over two million children were vaccinated and his government was one of the first in the world to recognise HIV/AIDS as a serious threat. He brought free health care to thousands of impoverished people and opened clinics across the country. He advocated women’s rights, making Burkina Faso one of the first African countries to ban female genital mutilation, as well as forced marriages and polygamy, and promoted women’s access to education and political and military posts. As Sankara said, ‘The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity…It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution.’

Mineral and land wealth were nationalised, projects were established to make the country self-sufficient in food. Sankara called for African nations to unite, to reject IMF and World Bank debt repayments, criticised France, denounced apartheid South Africa and developed relations with Cuba and the Soviet Union. The Burkina Faso revolution threatened imperialist rule in the region and, in an operation led by France and supported by the US, on 15 October 1987 Thomas Sankara was assassinated – by his minister and former comrade, Blaise Compaoré. Compaoré took control of the country and reversed Sankara’s policies. He re-joined the IMF and World Bank and re-established friendly relations with France.

On 21 October 2014, as Compaoré sought to consolidate his power, unrest began on the streets. By 28 October mass demonstrations had spread throughout the country. Up to a million people marched, calling for the government to scrap the proposed legal changes. Thousands gathered outside the presidential palace and trade unions called for a general strike. Revolutionary action took shape with mainly young people battling the police, blockading highways and parts of the capital. The masses confronted troops outside the presidential palace. Tear gas was used to quell the crowds, with reports of live ammunition being used.

In Ouagadougou events moved swiftly as the masses congregated in the Place de la Nation, now named Place de la Revolution by the protesters. On 30 October tens of thousands of people stormed parliament and other government buildings, setting them alight and chasing out bourgeois politicians, forcing them to flee the country. The protesters demonstrated a lesson for revolutions across the world to be mobile, dynamic and pro-active in engaging reactionary forces. The people marched to the state broadcasting building, taking it over, forcing them off air and withstanding attacks by the police. In the second largest city, Bobo Dioulasso, violent protest erupted, with the headquarters of Compaoré’s party headquarters set ablaze. Actions continued across the country.

Attempting to hold onto power Compaoré passed day-to-day running of the government to General Honoré Traoré, army chief of staff. Traoré declared a state of emergency and curfew, but the revolutionary masses defied this and remained through the night in the packed Place de la Revolution. On the morning of 31 October, huge crowds took to the presidential palace where the news broke that Blaise Compaoré had fled to Cote d’Ivoire. Ouagadougou’s streets erupted into wild celebrations. The hasty exit of Compaoré is a great achievement by the revolutionary forces in the land of the upright people, but this is just stage one. Compaoré’s departure was intended to maintain the regime in power.

History teaches that imperialist-led regimes retain power when threatened not always through the use of armed suppression but through the smoke and mirrors of opportunists, social democracy pacifying the masses and feigning the handover of power. If the revolutionary forces stopped at deposing Compaoré, as opposition leaders demanded, the uprising would be a failure. On hearing that Traoré was in charge, young men gathered in the Place de la Revolution, intending to head to the military headquarters. There appeared to be a power struggle in the presidential palace, leading to the emergence of a new transitional head of state, Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, deputy commander of the elite presidential guard. Zida was trained by the US in counter-terrorism.

The coalition of opposition forces, which could be a source for revolutionary leadership, released a statement on 2 November, denouncing the military takeover and stating that the transition needed to be civilian-led. They called for more protest and mobilisation. The Sankara-inspired Youth Citizens’ Broom Movement stated: ‘Down with the military bourgeoisie.’

On 17 November a transitional government was formed whose president is foreign minister Michel Kafando (a former president of the UN Security Council); Zida is interim prime minister. The constitution, dissolved when Compaoré fled, has been reinstated. There will be elections in November 2015. The military and ruling classes will manoeuvre to secure their positions. It is important that we show solidarity with the masses in Burkina Faso, following in the steps of Thomas Sankara, striving to create a real revolutionary movement.

Eric Ogbogbo