Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, addressing the "African-Americans Speak Out for Palestine" forum on January 31, 2009 in Detroit. (Photo: Alan Pollock), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Burkina Faso Demonstrations and Mutiny Hits Western-backed Regime
Unrest continues in former French colonies in Ouagadougou and Abidjan
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Demonstrations and military unrest has struck the West African state of Burkina Faso since February. On April 18, there were reports of student unrest in the central city of Koudougou where youth burned down the headquarters of the ruling party and the house of the Prime Minister.
The rebellions in Koudougou comes amid a mutiny among the armed forces in several regions of the country. Although the mutiny within the army began in the capital Ouagadougou on April 14, by the following Monday, the unrest had spread to the north and east of the country.
Members of the presidential guard and other soldiers complained that they had not been paid their housing allowances. After the payments were reportedly made they agreed to return to their barracks inside the capital.
On April 17 groups of soldiers in Po at a military garrison began to fire their weapons into the air and would later take control of key locations within the city. In Ouagadougou the previous Thurs., soldiers from two barracks moved into the streets breaking into local businesses and stealing cars. Later some vendors would torch the several government buildings in the capital.
These demonstrations in this former French colony have been taking place since Feb., when rebellions and strikes had reached a critical stage in several other African states including Tunisia and Egypt. On Feb. 22, there were protests that turned violent leading to the deaths of six people in the western town of Koudougou.
The demonstrations were prompted by the death of Justin Zongo, who died in custody purportedly from meningitis. Allegations by youth that Zongo had been mistreated and brutalized in custody sparked anger and unrest.
Problems within the military began on March 22 when troops from a number of bases took control of weapons and began to fire in the air while looting stores. The soldiers were said to be angry over the prosecution of troops for rape and other criminal charges.
After the closing of the universities and schools by President Blaise Compaore, he met with student leaders on April 4 in an effort to address their grievances. However, within four days on April 8, tens of thousands of trade unionists and members of mass organizations held large demonstrations and rallies in the Ouagadougou as well as other cities.
Legal workers had also struck demanding better employment conditions and security after the courts were attacked in demonstrations by disgruntled soldiers. The soldiers are saying that they have not been paid.
Origins of the Unrest
Most observers agree that the current demonstrations and mutinies within the military derive from the economic crisis facing many African states. As producers and exporters of mineral resources and commodities that are utilized by the western capitalist countries, the African states are subjected to the prices and terms of trade dictated by the multi-national corporations.
One of the organizations that sponsored the recent demonstrations, the National Syndicate of African Teachers of Burkina Faso, indicated that the rising price of food and overall cost of living was the determining factor that drove people into the streets. Cema Blegne, who works for the above-mentioned organization said that “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)
Burkina Faso is ranked near the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index that is designed to measure the national income and living standards for people within a given country. Burkina Faso is listed as 161 out of 169 nations and has very high rates of unemployment and illiteracy.
The country has a population of over 15 million people and 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 (ACOTA).
The current leader, Blaise Compaore, came to power in 1987 in coup which overthrew Capt. Thomas Sankara. Sankara had led a revolutionary movement within the armed forces that took power in August 1983. During a four year period, the country became a center of revolutionary activity in West Africa.
Compaore was re-elected in Nov. 2010 to another term of office. However, there is still widespread discontent throughout the country.
The economy of Burkina Faso is based on cotton and gold exports. Gold recently became the leading export earner for the country replacing cotton as the main cash crop.
Despite the unrest in several parts of the country one of the leading mining firms has said that its operations have not been negatively impacted. According to a Reuters press agency report “the Canadian gold miner Semafo, Inc. said the recent unrest in Burkina Faso in West Africa has not disrupted operations at its flagship gold, the Mana mine, in the area.” (Reuters, April 18)
Another Canadian mining firm, Iamgold, said on April 18 that operations at its Essakane mine had not been affected by the demonstrations and rebellions taking place inside the country. The Essakane mine produces 315, 000 ounces of gold per year. Iamgold also mines in Canda, South America and in other African states. (Reuters, April 18)
The unrest in Burkina Faso illustrates that the most oppressed countries will 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 another former French colony, Ivory Coast, the military forces of Alassane Ouatarra have stated that they cannot take control of the security of the country without the assistance of France and the United Nations. The incumbent president of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo was overthrown in a military assault launched by French and UN troops on March 11.
Gbagbo had refused to step aside after the UN and other western countries had insisted he lost the run-off presidential elections held in Nov. 2010. An ensuing struggle resulted in the toppling of his government by France and the UN who placed Ouattara as the head-of-state.
The actions of France in Ivory Coast and in Libya point to a more aggressive military posture on the part of Paris on the African continent.