The masquerades of Burkina

BURKINA FASO, ‘the land of Honourable men’ and women, is again in political turmoil following the return of soldiers last week. The country’s soldiers, like many in Africa, graduate from the Infantry School of Treachery. They earn their pips in the  admittedly,  difficult low intensity wars of the radio station where coups and counter coups are announced.

Our continent has had  a handful of Field Marshalls, and they mainly come from these wars that test their battle experience. They also turned out to be some of the most brutal men in history. There was the ex-Lance Corporal, Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbedu Waza Banga who became Zairean Head of State on November 25, 1965.


The NCO,  Idi Amin Dada who seized power in Uganda on January 25, 1971. And, of course, Colonel Jean-Bedel Bokassa who took out his relative,  President David Dacko on December 31, 1965. Bokassa had the distinction of not only becoming a Field Marshall, but also Emperor.

The  neo-colonial military had ruled landlocked Burkina Faso in one form or another since the Colonel Sangoule Lamizana January 3, 1966 coup that toppled independence leader, Maurice Yameogo.

The Foreign Minister, Colonel Saye Zerbo took out Lamizana on November 24, 1980. What followed was a tragi-comedy that shows the dangers of forceful power take over.

That coup also revealed to the world, a young 31-year-old Army Captain, Thomas Sankara. Like we say in Nigeria, the white pap comes out of the black pot; it was from this anti- people military, the famous Sankara emerged.

He had declined his appointment as Information Minister, and the Head of State had to order him to report for duty. Six months later, Sankara resigned at a press conference, and was ordered to a remote town, Dedougou. But there were series of attempts to unseat the Government.

Finally, a group of NCOs on November 7, 1982 overthrew the government and the country was further thrown into chaos as there was no clear coup leader.

Coincidentally, Sankara and his friend, Captain Blaise Campaore   had come to Ouagadougou the day before. They were afraid they would be accused of instigating the mutinies. So they went to the radio station to announce that a Council for the Peoples’ Safety  (CSP)  had taken over power.  The CSP existed in their imagination.

Later, the various military factions met and decided to establish the CSP, with surgeon,  Major Jean Baptiste Ouerdrago as Head of State. But that the did not end the chaos, so Major Ouedrago personally appealed to Sankara to become Prime Minister and try to put a functional government in place. Sankara came with the programme of his group.

But the chaos continued. On May 17, 1983, the government seized and detained Sankara and some of members of his group. Mass street protests started with a demand that political prisoners should be freed. Ten days later, an amnesty was announced. Sankara was brought back to the capital and placed under house arrest.

On August 4, the Po Garrison marched on the capital, encountering no resistance, they freed Sankara, he became Head of State, and to-date, the most famous Burkinabe in history.

His radical programmes including abolishing forced labour by traditional chiefs and tribute payments to them, banning head tax, land distribution  in Ouagadougou, women empowerment, irrigation, mass immunization, housing  and literacy, endeared him to the people, but alienated  entrenched interests. His anti-imperialist position seemed to have sealed his fate.

On Christmas Day in 1985, Mali under General Mousa Traore invaded Burkina Faso to destabilise the  Sankara government. The war lasted five days. Traore was to reveal later that he was given  one million dollars by then Ivorian  leader, Houphout-Boigny to stage the invasion. Sankara refused to allow the country to be used to train Libyan and Liberian rebels.

Sankara was too trusting; when he got security reports that his friend, Campaore was about to overthrow the government, he shrugged it off; that if his  ‘brother’ wanted to do such an unthinkable thing, he would not move against him.

In the evening of October 15, 1987, Sankara wore his track suit to go for exercise, when Campaore’s agents opened fire killing him and all the loyalists with him, except one who escaped.

With that, began the infamous  Campaore dictatorship which lasted twenty seven years until 2014, when the people mustered enough force to defeat him in street  battles.  Four major figures had been responsible for the Burkinabe Revolution; Sankara, Campaore,  Economic Planning Minister, Captain Henri Zongo and Defence Minister Colonel Lingani. The last three conspired to assassinate Sankara. On September 19, 1989, Campaore tied his fellow traitors to the stake and shot them.

Two figures straddle the  1987 coup against Sankara and last week’s coup; Campaore who betrayed the revolution, and the head of his  Presidential Guard,  General   Gilbert Diendere who headed last week’s coup. After seizing and releasing the Head of the Interim Government, Michel Kafando and killing ten protesters, the Campaore stooge, agreed to hand over power.

It is not clear why the coup plotters beat a retreat. Was it the fear of ECOWAS and the African Union? French pressure, lack of popular support or the threat of other sections  of the Burkinabe military to counter attack.  It is also not clear why a  section of the military decided to  give the coup plotters an ultimatum; for patriotic or  democratic reasons or are they under local or external pressures?

Whatever the case, the game now is that by ECOWAS led by a delegation of Nigerian, Senegalese and Benin leaders.  The ECOWAS Plan is the restoration of the Interim Government, Amnesty for the coup plotters,  lifting the ban on the Campaore gang to contest elections, and a rescheduling of the elections from October 11 to November  22, 2015.

What is clear is that the Campaore forces of avarice and destabilisation are still strong; it is like cutting off, rather than smashing the head of the snake. The masquerades in the Burkina military might  not have ended their deadly dance. This raises a major challenge  in Africa; bringing to justice those who maim and kill in the name of politics.