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Burkina Faso protests hit Western-backed regime

French imperialism does ‘regime change’ in Ivory Coast

Published Apr 21, 2011 8:30 PM

On April 18, reports of student unrest in the central city of Koudougou, Burkina Faso, told of youth burning down the headquarters of President Blaise Compaore’s ruling party and the prime minister’s house. This is the latest in a series of mass protests, which have struck this West African state for more than two months.

The very recent rebellions by students and youth in Koudougou come amid an armed forces’ mutiny in several regions of the country, which began on April 14 in the capital city of Ouagadougou. There, soldiers from two barracks moved into the streets, breaking into local businesses and stealing cars. Some merchants then torched government buildings.

Within days, the unrest had spread to the north and east of the country. On April 17, groups of soldiers at a military garrison in Po fired their weapons into the air and took control of key locations within the city.

Presidential guards and other soldiers had complained that they had not been paid their housing allowances. Reportedly, after payments were made, they agreed to return to their barracks in the capital.

Demonstrations in the former French colony began in February, at the time when rebellions and strikes had reached a critical stage in several other African states, including Tunisia and Egypt.

These protests were prompted by the death of Justin Zongo, who died in police custody in Koudougou on Feb. 20. Although Zongo purportedly died from meningitis, his family, friends and many youth alleged that police had brutalized him. Students and youth took to the streets in the aftermath of Zongo’s death. Six people died during demonstrations in Koudougou.

Protests then quickly spread all over the country and continued into March, when President Compaore closed the universities and schools to try to stop them. However, he met with student leaders on April 4, in an effort to address their grievances.

Legal workers had also gone on strike for three weeks to demand better employment conditions and security after the courthouses were attacked by disgruntled soldiers.

On April 8, tens of thousands of trade unionists and members of mass organizations held large anti-government demonstrations in Ouagadougou and other cities.

The National Syndicate of African Teachers of Burkina Faso, one of the organizations that sponsored those demonstrations and others a week later, indicated that the rising price of food and the overall cost of living were the determining factors that drove people into the streets.

Cema Blegne, who works for NSAT, said, “We have translated the anger and feeling of frustration that these students and their teachers feel each time there is corruption. We have blasted impunity and bluntly told our truths.” (Associated Press, April 18)

Although President Compaore tried to stem the anger and unrest by replacing many government officials, including the prime minister, there is still widespread discontent throughout the country.

Origins of the unrest in economic crisis

Most observers agree that the current demonstrations and mutinies within the military are based in the economic crisis facing many African states. As producers and exporters of mineral resources and commodities that are utilized by Western capitalist countries, the African states are subjected to the prices and terms of trade dictated by the transnational corporations, which are detrimental to the people.

Burkina Faso is ranked 161 out of 169 countries on the U.N. Human Development Index, which measures the national income and living standards for people in a given country. This West African nation, which has a population of more than 15 million people, has very high rates of unemployment and illiteracy.

The country maintains strong relations with France and the United States. The U.S. has trained Burkina Faso soldiers, and the two states have cooperated in the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program.

President Compaore, who was re-

elected in November, came to power in 1987 in a coup, which overthrew and assassinated Capt. Thomas Sankara. Sankara had led a revolutionary movement within the armed forces that took power in August 1983. During the 1983-1987 period that Sankara led Burkina Faso, the country became a center of revolutionary activity in West Africa.

The economy of Burkina Faso is based on cotton and gold exports. Gold is now its leading export earner, replacing cotton as the main cash crop.

Despite the protests, Reuters reports: “The Canadian gold miner Semafo, Inc. said the recent unrest in Burkina Faso in West Africa has not disrupted operations at its flagship gold mine, the Mana mine, in the area.” The news service also reports that another Canadian mining firm, Iamgold, says that operations at its Essakane mine have not been affected by these demonstrations and rebellions. “The Essakane mine produces 315,000 ounces of gold per year. Iamgold also mines in Canada, South America and in other African states.” (April 18)

The unrest in Burkina Faso illustrates that the most oppressed countries continue to be profoundly impacted by the world economic crisis. Despite the growth in exploration and mining in Africa, the overall standard of living among the people cannot be qualitatively improved until the capitalist ownership of natural resources is taken over by the people for their own benefit.

Recent developments in Ivory Coast

In Ivory Coast, another former French colony, Alassane Ouatarra’s military forces had stated that they could not take control of that country’s security without the assistance of France and the United Nations. Incumbent President Laurent Ghagbo was overthrown in a military assault, which was led by French and U.N. troops on March 11.

Gbagbo had refused to step aside after the U.N. and Western countries insisted that he lost the run-off presidential elections held in November — despite a clear lack of evidence that this was the case. An ensuing struggle resulted in the overthrow of Gbagbo’s government by France and the U.N., which placed Ouattara as the head of state. In this way the former colonial power re-inserted itself directly through “regime change” in the country.

France’s actions in Ivory Coast and Libya point to a more aggressive military posture on the part of Paris on the African continent.