Burkina Faso coup leader trained by Pentagon

After much intense discussion among opposition parties, mass organizations and the religious leaders of Burkina Faso, it was announced on Nov. 10 that a roadmap was agreed upon for a transition to civilian rule — after mass protests had pushed out President Blaise Compaore. This consensus must now be negotiated with the military to set the terms of the transition.

Popular organizations had rejected the military’s attempt to lead a transition team. Three leaders from Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal — representing the regional Economic Community of West African States — visited the capital of Ouagadougou on Nov. 7 and called for a rapid process leading to national elections. The plan put forward from discussions among opposition parties and mass organizations calls for elections by November 2015 after an interim civilian president is appointed to guide the entire process.

On Oct. 30, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators demanded the resignation of Compaore, the 27-year dictator. When members of Parliament were set to approve a bill providing legal cover for Compaore to run for another term of office, thousands gathered outside the Place de la Nation. Many others stormed the Parliament, the ruling party’s headquarters and other symbols of authority, setting them on fire.

To prevent further unrest, the military selected Gen. Honore Traore on Oct. 30 to head a new government, terminating the Parliament and declaring a nighttime curfew. The next day, Compaore resigned and then fled to neighboring Ivory Coast.

By Nov. 1, the military had replaced Gen. Traore with Lt. Col. Isaac Zida. On Nov. 2, thousands re-entered the streets, telling Zida that he, too, must go, paving the way for civilian control.

U.S. trains, uses military leaders to intervene

Compaore, the ousted leader, had come to power in October 1987 after leading a coup against Capt. Thomas Sankara, a Marxist revolutionary leader and theoretician who had seized power four years earlier. Sankara attempted to break with the legacy of French neocolonialism, advancing a program of self-reliance, women’s liberation and international debt cancellation for Africa.

France and its allies in the region were suspected of being behind the overthrow and assassination of Sankara. In recent years, the U.S. has escalated its military and intelligence presence in West Africa, even among states previously considered to be within the strategic interests of Paris.

Compaore was a participant in U.S. Africa Command (Africom) counterterrorism operations in West Africa. These programs include a presence for Pentagon personnel within the country and the training of military officers in the U.S. so that they can more effectively carry out Washington’s aims on the continent.

Of the new appointee, Zida, the Washington Post wrote on Nov. 3: “‘In 2012, when he was a major, Zida attended a 12-day counterterrorism training course at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida that was sponsored by the Defense Department’s Joint Special Operations University,’ said Army Lt. Col. Mark R. Cheadle, a spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command. ‘That same year, Zida attended a five-day military intelligence course in Botswana that was financed by the U.S. government,’ Cheadle said.”

The article continues, “The U.S. military has developed a close relationship in recent years with Burkina Faso, which has allowed the Pentagon to operate a secretive Special Operations base that it uses to conduct reconnaissance flights across West Africa.” Interestingly, Washington, which officially says that it cannot conduct normal relations with states where the military has seized power, has not labeled the current situation in Burkina Faso a coup.

Pentagon “counterterrorism” in Western Africa

Capt. Amadou Sanogo, who led a military coup in Mali in March 2012, was also trained at Pentagon bases in the U.S. Additionally, the military seizure of power in Egypt on July 3, 2013, was carried out by Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, a former student in Pentagon training programs.

The Egyptian military has long ties with the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. As with Burkina Faso’s current political situation, Washington did not describe as a coup Egyptian President El-Sisi’s seizure of power. Additionally, for over three decades, Washington has provided more than $1 billion a year to the Egyptian military.

Referring to the Pentagon counterterrorism program in West Africa, the Washington Post noted: “A key hub of the U.S. spying network can be found in Ouagadougou, the flat, sunbaked capital of Burkina Faso, one of the most impoverished countries in Africa. Under a classified surveillance program code-named ‘Creek Sand,’ dozens of U.S. personnel and contractors have come to Ouagadougou in recent years to establish a small air base on the military side of the international airport.” (June 13, 2012)

Burkina Faso is an emerging mineral producer, attracting foreign investment from firms in the leading capitalist states. The country is the fourth-largest producer of gold on the continent. Mining activities in other areas are underway.

These factors will largely determine the Pentagon and CIA role in keeping Burkina Faso under U.S. and French influence. For the country to embark on a genuine path towards development and sovereignty, the anti-imperialist forces among the opposition and mass organizations must end the state’s collaboration with Africom.

The events in Burkina Faso since Oct. 30 have sparked hope among the African workers, farmers and youth throughout the region and beyond. A political program of independence and anti-capitalist development must emerge so the gains of the popular struggle can win concrete results that benefit the majority of the poor and exploited population inside the country.