Burkina Faso: Mass uprising ousts neocolonial ruler

Hundreds of thousands of Burkinabes reject neoliberal ruler after 27 years.Photo: Burkina Faso

Hundreds of thousands of Burkinabes reject neoliberal ruler after 27 years.
Photo: Burkina Faso

Nov. 3 — Hundreds of thousands of people in Burkina Faso have forced the longtime imperialist-backed leader, President Blaise Compaore, to resign amid mass demonstrations and rebellions in several cities across the West African country. Compaore took power in a French-supported coup on Oct. 15, 1987, against revolutionary Pan-Africanist and socialist leader Capt. Thomas Sankara.

Several political parties and movements that are seeking to reclaim the legacy of Sankara were very much in evidence during the unrest that reached a critical point on Oct. 30, when thousands stormed the parliament building and set it alight. The legislative body was set to vote on a motion to extend the 27-year rule of Compaore, who, although coming out of the military, had run for office repeatedly as a civilian candidate.

Compaore sought to reassert his authority by refusing to formally resign from the presidency until the evening of Oct. 31. General Honore Traore announced after the rebellion on Oct. 30 that he was assuming power and dissolving parliament.

Immediately people in the various opposition parties began to object to the leadership of Traore. The following day, Nov.1, yet another military leader emerged, claiming to be in charge.

This time it was Lt. Col. Isaac Zida, the deputy commander of the elite presidential guard. Media reports emanating from Burkina Faso said the military had endorsed Zida’s leadership.

After meeting with foreign diplomats on Nov. 3, Zida said that the military would hand over power to a civilian transitional authority that is acceptable to the people of the country. Many say there could be more violent unrest if Zida does not move swiftly in this regard.

Masses call for return to civilian rule

The opposition forces called for a major mobilization on Nov. 2 to demand that Zida relinquish power. Thousands took to the streets and later gathered outside RTB, the national television station, in the capital of Ouagadougou.

The crowd attempted to enter the television studios but were prevented from doing so by the army. Soldiers later fired shots and one person was killed.

Reports indicated that opposition leader Saran Sereme was at the television station, where she stated that she and a leading general were prepared to head a transition team. Sereme later denied this claim and said she was brought to the location by force.

The army continued to emphasize on Nov. 3 that it does not want to maintain power but rather create the conditions for a smooth transition to civilian control. Nonetheless, opposition forces are demanding a rapid turnover to civilians to lead the country.

“The army does not want power. But the anarchy needs to stop. Any violation will be punished with the utmost energy,” said army spokesperson Auguste Barry, referring to the Nov. 2 shooting at the television station. (Reuters, Nov. 2)

Later on Nov. 2, after leaving the RTB studios, the crowd of thousands moved toward the Place de la Nation where disturbances on Oct. 30 resulted in the attacks on parliament. Military forces set up barricades to prevent demonstrators from getting close to the location that had been damaged by fire.

Burkina Faso emerges as major gold producer

Historically, the country of Burkina Faso, formerly known as Upper Volta, was an agricultural producing state. In recent years the production of gold and other mineral commodities such as granite, marble, phosphate rock, cement, dolomite and pumice has accelerated.

At present Burkina Faso is the fourth-largest producer of gold in Africa. There are at least six major mines in operation.

However, the revenue generated from the export of gold and other minerals is not being shared with the majority of workers, farmers and youth. The official unemployment rate is 77 percent, and the country ranks 183 out of 186 on the index of living standards for the world’s nations.

One of the major firms involved is Orezone Gold Corporation, based in Ottawa, Canada. In a 2011 study by Orezone, it noted that Burkina Faso ranked sixth in the level of potential for mineral production, including gold. Orezone has been involved in the country since the late 1990s.

According to the report: “[Orezone] recognized the enormous potential of Burkina Faso 15 years ago when we started exploring the area. Although we have discovered more than 10 million ounces of gold to date and we expect to put new gold mines into production over the next few years, we believe we have barely scratched the surface in terms of its true potential. The results of this survey demonstrate the on-going commitment of Burkina Faso to creating a favorable investment climate for companies like Orezone Gold and we are delighted to work in this country.“ (orezone.com, March 7, 2011)

The unrest inside the country has reportedly caused a suspension in gold production. Orezone issued a statement on Nov. 3 indicating that it is following the political situation closely in light of the economic interests it has in the country. “Orezone Gold Corporation has temporarily halted its activities in Burkina Faso until the political situation in the country has stabilized. All personnel are safe and accounted for.” (orezone.com, Nov. 3)

Legacy of Sankara still relevant

During the tenure of Capt. Thomas Sankara (1983-1987), the Burkinabe leader advocated the cancellation of the international debt which African states were obligated to pay due to the legacy of colonialism and neocolonialism. Sankara instituted policies which utilized local production of cotton and other commodities for internal consumption.

Since Burkina Faso is a landlocked state, it is essential that it develop trade links in partnership with neighboring African countries. However, the imperatives of the transnational corporations based in the imperialist states are to exploit the natural resources and labor of the African states, which does nothing to improve conditions for the majority of the population in those countries.

Sankara attempted to build mass organizations and Marxist study groups throughout the country. His efforts were undermined by France and its major ally at the time in the region, Ivory Coast, then led by President Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

In recent months unrest and strikes among the working class have increased in West Africa. In Ghana, to the south of Burkina Faso, a general strike impacting oil workers, educators and other public sector workers has prompted legal actions by the government to force the employees back on the job.

Burkina Faso still maintains close ties with its former French colonial power. Paris has used the country as a rear base for its operations against rebel fighters in northern Mali.

Both Ghana and Burkina Faso have been lauded for their increasing rates of economic growth. Nevertheless, if these profits from the production of gold and other strategic minerals are not shared with the people, the working class and youth will continue to demonstrate and strike in opposition to neocolonial rule.