Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The putsch in Burkina Faso

The return of putsches and coup d’états is no solution to the frustration of Burkina Faso’s jobless youth, writes Gamal Nkrumah

The putsch in Burkina Faso
The putsch in Burkina Faso
Al-Ahram Weekly

Former Burkina Faso president Thomas Sankara was Africa’s Che Guevara. Decades after his assassination, he is venerated in Burkina Faso and much of Africa as a revolutionary leader. “La patrie ou la mort, nous vaincrons” (“homeland or death, we will overcome”) was his battle cry, and the youth of contemporary Burkina Faso have taken it up.
Sankara was the “comrade president”, a man of the people, and it seems that the Burkinabé people want such a leader today. It is easy to see why Sankara is still popular after his political demise since a true reformer is what the youth of Burkina Faso want. Sankara replaced the luxury cars used by former leaders with more affordable Renault 5s. There is no iron rule that politicians in Africa must kow-tow to neocolonialism.
The landlocked country of 18 million people is a trendsetter in Africa in more ways than one. Whatever its failings, Burkina Faso is still a promising country even though deposed ex-president Blaise Compaoré still wields considerable power. In 1987, Compaoré launched a coup against his former comrade Sankara, stabbing him in the back and usurping the presidency of the West African nation for 27 years.
 
Compaoré was ousted by angry young people in a popular revolt on 31 October 2014. The current interim President Michel Kafando is a distinguished Burkinabé diplomat and academic who has served as the country’s transitional president by paying tribute to the late and legendary Sankara. In his first speech after being elected, Kafando mentioned Sankara in a heart-wrenching tribute to the legendary Burkinabé leader.
 

A former minister of foreign affairs and with a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris, Kafando was believed to have been under house arrest until 21 September following the recent putsch, when he was reported to have arrived at the residence of the French ambassador in the country.
 

He was reinstalled as president at a ceremony on 23 September in the presence of the West African regional economic grouping, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
 
 However, ECOWAS insisted that Compaoré’s allies be permitted to run in the upcoming presidential elections, even though Kafando and Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida were arrested and detained for a week by Compaoré sympathisers during the coup attempt. Zida, who briefly served as Burkina Faso’s acting prime minister, is a staunch Sankara supporter and is vehemently opposed to Compaoré.
However, the national debate was cleverly switched to Zida’s actions when he held the defence portfolio in addition to his role as premier. On 19 July, Kafando stripped him of the portfolio, though he was reinstated after the failure of the coup as premier.
 
 The putsch was precipitated by the interim authority’s determination to exclude Compaoré loyalists from participating in the forthcoming presidential race. The chief of army staff accused the presidential guards of intimidation, and in retaliation the guards orchestrated a putsch. The guards, members of the elite Regiment of Presidential Security, the Régiment de la Sécurité Présidentielle, or RSP, have proven to be extremely loyal to ex-president Compaoré and they are composed of 1,200 well-armed and well-trained men.
What is now clear is that in order to win the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections and govern well the Burkinabé military will need less posturing and more policies that stand up to public scrutiny.
The putsch failed primarily because of popular discontent. However, other factors were also at play. The local Mossi king, or Mogho Naba, played a pivotal role in brokering a deal between the rival factions. The Mossi are by far Burkina Faso’s largest ethnic group, and the Mogho Naba was instrumental in appeasing tensions in Burkina Faso at a time when things were spiralling out of control.
This is the second time in less than a year that the people of Burkina Faso have managed to oust those who they saw as trying to usurp power and install Compaoré’s puppets and hangers on. In mid-2015 there was a dispute between Zida and the RSP in which the Burkinabé people had no say. Members of the RSP then stormed a cabinet meeting on 16 September, taking Kafando prisoner.
 
 But the country’s military does not speak with one voice. Both the gendarmerie and the national police are subdivided into administrative and judicial functions. The former are supposed to protect public order, and the latter are charged with criminal investigations.
Coup leader Gilbert Diendéré has stated that he staged the coup because there were plans to exclude ex-president Compaoré’s allies from standing in the upcoming elections. Nevertheless, he conceded that the coup had been “the biggest mistake.”
 

Criticism of Burkina Faso’s military is not confined to its political foes. Civil society groups and young people in particular have emerged as a strong force for change and political reform in the country. And other African nations need to learn the lessons of the Burkinabé example. Neighbouring Benin’s President Thomas Yayi Boni has now abandoned plans to change the constitution to extend his term in office precisely because of the resilience of grassroots activists and civil society movements, for example.
 

But Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has violently resisted months of popular protests. The popular President of Rwanda Paul Kagame is also prevaricating on whether to seek an extra term in office despite laws that prevent him from running again.
 

Why does popular protest work in Burkina Faso and not in other African nations? Political experts suggest that either indifference or neocolonialist forces are at work supporting lackeys in African capitals. Perhaps it is due to ignorance over how an underdeveloped economy works. Whatever the reason, another direction is needed to end the repression and mount a genuine challenge for power.

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