Revolution in Burkina Faso: A Black Spring in the making?

By Kwabena Opong

The constant unfolding of events in Ghana makes it difficult to place them in any order of priority. The people’s action in Burkina Faso to take back their country comes at a time when in Ghana 12 labor unions have embarked on a strike action to demand accountability from government about their pensions. As workers parade in the streets and clamor for change in other ECOWAS countries the Black Spring comes to mind as an inspiration for change. But could there be any change a la Burkina anywhere in the region?
President Blaise Compaoré, a former aide to Captain Thomas Sankara who he ousted in 1987 after a bloody coup was ousted after mass protests over his plan to amend the constitution to remove presidential term limits (he was due to step down next year after the term limits were introduced after the 2005 elections). Protestors stormed and set on fire the Burkinabè parliament on Oct 30, when it was due to vote on the term-limit elimination.
For the four years that he ruled the country once known as Upper Volta, Sankara introduced populist economic policies characterized more by a certain youthfulness than socialism as Western media would rather put it. He was less than 40 years himself. He rejected neo-liberalism that was then the fad in Europe and adopted policies that inured to the needs of the ordinary Burkinabe. According to Josiah Neufeld, writing in the Globe and Mail, the Canadian newspaper, Mr. Sankara, in conformity with his own political beliefs, wore clothing made from Burkina-grown cotton, frequently rode his bicycle to work and ordered his ministers to give up their expensive Mercedes Benzes and drive Renault 5 mini-cars. He replaced the country’s colonial name, Upper Volta, with Burkina Faso, meaning “land of the upright people” in two of Burkina’s indigenous languages. During his four years in power, crop production increased, thousands of children were enrolled in school and a massive tree-planting campaign was started to fight desertification. A fierce advocate for the “emancipation of women,” Mr. Sankara appointed women to key cabinet positions and declared one day a year on which men were required to cook, go to the market and do the work traditionally assigned to women.
Burkina Faso like its sister African countries before 1983 was assailed by economic issues that was largely ordered from the metropolitan nations, particularly, France, the country’s former colonial overlord. What constituted Burkina Faso’s international trade was largely with France. Reid writes in that the current event is a rekindling of Sankara’s legacy. Mr. Sankara was a perceived Marxist revolutionary, often referred to as Africa’s Che Guevara. He was determined to build a proud African nation that was independent of Western aid. “The one who feeds you also controls you,” he declared, wearing his trademark military fatigues and red beret. “Our country produces enough to feed us all. Alas, for lack of organization, we are forced to beg for food aid. It’s this aid that instills in our spirits the attitude of beggars,” Sankara would say. Alexander Reid Ross, further writes, “The promise of Thomas Sankara, … until his assassination in 1987, was the suture of the generation gap and the progression of egalitarian economic policies.” Mr. Campaore reversed all the socio-economic policies pursued by his predecessor and adopted neo-liberal policies welcomed by Western powers.
Blaise Compaore reintroduced neo-liberalism of the West and allowed his country’s economy to be determined by the Bretton Woods institutions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, notes Reid. A country rich in mineral resources and lately like its southern neighbor, Ghana, is experiencing a gold rush. According to official figures, the production of gold increased in Burkina Faso by 32 percent in 2011. The next year, British mining company Amara Gold purchased the Canadian OREZONE’s gold mine in Burkina in 2012. A year later, the Canadian company, TrueGold, completed the feasibility study on their “Karma Project”—a “low cost, heap-leach” open-pit gold mine, and the Cayman Islands-based Endeavour Mining, which started one gold mine in the country in 2008, completed the feasibility study on another mine. The greenwashing Canadian firm RoxGold has also become deeply involved.
But as Reid observes, the extraction industry remains in the hands of the central government but still struggles for decentralization as is happening in Ghana where private and illegal miners are competing alongside each other. In spite of a supposed seven percent growth in the Burkinabe economy, again like Ghana, the average Burkinabe is not feeling the growth in their pocket. Per capita income is less than $800 and the fall in gold prices has adversely affected the country’s economy.
Admittedly, these are neither the eighties nor the nineties when revolutions were easily distributed and exported. Jerry John Rawlings, a fore bear and friend of Thomas Sankara impacted the West African region. Sankara did not only take a cue from Rawlings but actualized the ideals espoused under June 4th 1979 and 31st December 1981. Unlike Rawlings, Sankara could not survive his own revolution and was cut short by his close aid and companion Blaise Campaore in 1987. The Rawlings revolution in Ghana three decades later is hardly a justification for the violence and loss of lives and limb that characterized it. Indeed, issues of probity and accountability that Rawlings trumpeted in his time are systematically truncated for a scale of corruption not seen in the history of Ghana by a party he supposedly founded. Same could be said of almost all the countries in the region.
As we write, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are under attack by the Ebola virus, a deadly epidemic that has already killed more than 5,000 people. Countries not already infected are taking steps to prevent the epidemic’s spread with aid from western nations, but ironically not making efforts to improve their health care delivery. Epidemics emanate usually from lifestyles that create the enabling conditions. Invariably the incidence of Ebola in affected countries results from the available socio-economic conditions of which health care delivery has become a casualty. While the ruling classes are flown overseas for medical care average West African citizens without exception do not have the luxury of medical care worth its name.
The region’s major economies, Ghana and Nigeria are all reeling under troubling worker agitation. Twelve labor unions in Ghana were ordered by court to return to work after a week’s strike action. Oil workers in Nigeria also returned to work a couple of weeks ago after a few days of work stoppage. There is so much discontent among people in the region that would have invited military interventions a few decades ago. Ghana is currently talking with the International Monetary Fund for a bail out at a time when investment in the extractive industry runs into several billions of dollars.
In addition to strike actions are civil society demonstrations against the incidence of corruption and other forms of malfeasance in government. Insurgent action by religious fanatics as the Boko Haram in Nigeria; invasion of rural farms and villages by Fulani pastoralists from outside Ghana; and illegal mining by foreigners in Ghana, Nigeria and Burkina Faso all point to lack of political will on the part of governments to ensure their countries’ security.
But is there the popular will for a change that could, as in Burkina Faso, be usurped by a bunch of military officials hungry for power? Indeed there was some negative backlash to a suggestion of a military coup to replace the ruling NDC administration in Ghana a few months ago. People, including opposition politicians reacted angrily against the idea. The freedoms afforded by constitutional rule in the region is gradually trumping over any forms of forcible change in governance. The people’s liberation has always been the reason for military interventions but the people are always the victims of the excesses of military rule in the region. Free speech has replaced the culture of silence that once pervaded the region.
Democracy or not, discontent among the people in the middle of unbridled corruption and conspicuous consumption among the ruling classes in the region will always present the conditions for a people’s revolution and there is nothing that can prevent it.

Posted by on Nov 16 2014. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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