By Explo Nani-Kofi
The uprising of the masses of Burkina Faso against the military tyranny of Blaise Compaore, which masqueraded as a civilian constitutional regime, gave a lot of democratic forces around the world a lot of hope that masses were bringing about a change. This conviction was strengthened when the masses again stopped a military take over by soldiers close to the old regime led by General Gilbert Diendéré's in September this year. Some progressive forces even started celebrating that the revolutionary forces, in the tradition of Thomas Sankara, were now directing affairs in Burkina Faso.
In an article, which I wrote during the uprising of the Burkina Faso masses in November last year, I expressed my worries as follows: “With the naming of Michel Kafando, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, as Transitional President, and his appointment of Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, who had earlier declared himself acting head of state, as Prime Minister, it appears as if a deal is being knocked together which tilts in favour of the old ruling class and not the masses of demonstrators.”
In the same article, I cautioned that: “There is the danger of the military hijacking the struggle for which the masses have fought and even died for. To prevent this will not depend on just Burkinabes but all progressive Africans and the masses as well as all internationalists.”
On 1st December, Burkina Faso went to the polls. Despite the impression that Compaore was finished and the forces close to Thomas Sankara had woken up to turn around the 27 years of French neo-colonialism under Blaise Compaore, the elections seem to some extent to be a contest between the two figures. Many, especially friends outside, assumed that the victors will be the followers of Sankara as T-shirts with his pictures were very popular and chanted his government’s slogan: “La patrie ou la mort, nous vaincrons!” (“Homeland or death, we will overcome!”) during the uprising.
Looking at this situation, I warned in my last article that: “There doesn’t seem to be a way out as any rectification here seems to be channelled into legacy politics which is more about emotions than structure, principles and agreed programme.”
The Guardian Africa Network stated in an article on the web that “As the elections day got closer news started trickling down that, although the elections were been fought around the two figures, long time associates of Compaore were front runners in the polls. “
“The two front-runners in the election were particularly close to Compaoré. Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was prime minister from 1994-1996 and one-time leader of Compaoré’s Congress for Democracy and Progress party, while Zephirin Diabre was finance minister and economic adviser to the former president.”
It also added that “Bénéwendé Sankara (no relation), one candidate in the election, is running on an explicitly Sankarist platform, advocating a return to the former leader’s radical socialist principles. . . . . He is not expected to win.”
The elections took place on 1st December and Roch Marc Christian Kaboré won with 53% of the votes which meant that it wasn’t necessary to have a run off. Bénéwendé Sankara of Union of Rebirth/Sankarist Party had only 2.77 per cent of the votes. Even during the elections in 2010, under Blaise Compaore, he had 6.3 per cent of the votes with another Sankarist party also gathering 2.3 per cent of the votes in that Presidential election. There were other Sankarist parties which also took some votes. However, now all the pro-Sankara forces came together under one umbrella and could only acquire 2.77 per cent in an election following an uprising which was seen as promoting the Sankara legacy. They came third after the other Compaore associate, Zephirin Diabre, who had 29.65 per cent of the votes.
In the National Assembly elections, Union of Rebirth/Sankarist Party had only 5 seats but even a group contesting under the name of Blaise Compaore’s party, Congress for Democracy and Progress, had 18 seats out of 127. My warning of the emotional attachment to legacy politics being taken out of proportion to reality will have to be looked at carefully as even the demonised elements of Compaore’s party could gain more than three times the seats of the Sankarists.
The situation explains to us how organised the establishment is and the danger of overestimating the victory of protest without rooting ourselves in the population at large. In future articles, I will look at similar situations across the African continent.
Roch Marc Christian Kaboré is the son of a minister in the immediate post independence government on Upper Volta ( which name was changed to Burkina Faso by Sankara). He was an associate of Sankara and Compaore but after Compaore overthrew and murdered Sankara, Kaboré became Compaore’s right hand man and held various positions including leader of his party. He was with him for 26 of the 27 years that Compaore ruled. It was only in January 2014, when Compaore decided to change the constitution and contest again that he sensed the unpopularity of the move and smartly pulled out to form his party – People’s Movement for Progress – together with others who didn’t want to go down the path of destruction together with Compaore. He is French educated and his roots are deep in the ruling class in addition to having been part of the circle which run Burkina Faso since the murder of Thomas Sankara.
We have to learn serious lessons from this and other similar situations across the African continent. The experience teaches us that unless we organise people around issues and are rooted in the population at large we will struggle only for the forces of the establishment to return to power. This lesson has led to initiatives of a new type where grassroot social movements are being built such as Black First Land First in South Africa, Ghana Street Parliament Movement in Ghana and similar efforts to ensure that presence is built in the population at large to avoid a repetition of toiling to have the forces of the establishment of different faces to alternate in power.