Burkina Faso: Mass revolt foils coup

Independent working class political solution urgently needed

It was barely a year ago that a mass movement of working people and youths forced Blaise Compaore, the long-time dictatorial ruler of Burkina Faso, to abdicate power. Since then, there has not been any serious political event in the landlocked country that has attracted massive global attention as much as the recent reactionary military coup staged in the country. The transitional government was toppled on Wednesday, 16 September 2015, in a military coup d’état, organized and carried out by the elite unit of 1,300 men of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) loyal to Compaore. The coup leaders installed rebel leader General Gilbert Diendere, Compaore’s former chief of staff, as the country’s new leader.

In the process, the leader of the interim government, Mr Michel Kafando and his interim Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, who had been running the country since a popular uprising deposed iron-fisted President Blaise Compaore last October, were seized and arrested. This development apparently sparked off a serious stand-off and tensions rose. Masses of working people and youth stormed the streets with a clear sign of revolutionary instinct to express their mass discontent against the coup.

To thousands of youths and poor working people, who converged on the streets of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, the coup was not only a technical means to truncate the on-going transition process but fundamentally an attempt to return the ancien régime through the backdoor. The stated grievances of the coup plotters included their opposition to plans by the transitional government to disband the presidential guard and integrate them into the regular army. A second grievance was the electoral law prohibiting members of Compaore’s party; the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), as well as politicians linked to last year’s bid to change the constitution in order to allow Compaore another term in office, from participating in the coming general election originally scheduled to hold on 11 October.

The determination among the working people not to allow the coup to endure was so high that despite the fact that over 10 people died with more than 100 injured, the mass confrontation of the working people with the presidential guard not only continued but grew. In order to douse the growing mass anger, the regular army troops upon their arrival in the capital, Ouagadougou, on Monday, 20 September, ordered the anti-coup protesters in Ouagadougou to return home. The opposition the army troop earlier expressed to the coup by issuing an ultimatum for immediate return of power to the interim government notwithstanding, they were not prepared for any serious show-down with the coup plotters. This became clearer with the kind of rotten and overnight agreement the army signed with the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) in front of the country’s most influential traditional leader, Mogho Naba.

According to this agreement, the RSP was to step down from the positions they had taken up in Ouagadougou, while the army was also to withdraw its troops 50km from the capital and guarantee the safety of the RSP members as well as their families. With this kind of agreement mediated by the most influential traditional ruler in the country and regional power blocs, it is obvious that the ruling class is aware that power is neither in the hands of the RSP nor in the hands of army but on the street. They have to agree on strategy to douse the growing mass anger among the working people to prevent themselves being forced to take power at the expense of either section of the ruling class contesting for political power.

It is in line with this understanding that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), acting in conformity with the dictate of its imperialist masters (EU, France, and UN), expressed opposition to the coup. Their publicly expressed opposition to military coups notwithstanding, the real concern of regional power blocs and imperialism is that such military adventures, especially one so unpopular, could easily spark mass revolt that threatens capitalism. This is together with the ever-present risk of political instability, civil strife and sectarian conflict that military incursions could easily set-off in many countries on the continent.

During the protests that chased away Compaore last year and again this year, the memory of Thomas Sankara came alive. Captain Thomas Sankara ruled the country between 1983 and 1987 when he was killed in a coup plotted by Blaise Compaore and the very same General Gilbert Diendere. For the brief period he was in power he captivated the entire continent with his progressive social and economic reforms as well as anti-imperialist rhetoric, even though he failed to build a genuinely democratic and socialist economy. Dubbed ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’, Sankara’s image opens up in the minds of Africa’s youth the possibility of an alternative road to development, different from the irrational neo-liberal and pro-market road that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank prescribes for the continent, where high growth rate comes hand-in-hand with deepening poverty and mass misery,.

Especially since the 2011 mass uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, imperialism fears the power of independent movements from below of Africa’s combative youth and working masses. They rightly fear that if left alone, these movements could very well go beyond installing democratic rights but also ending the capitalist system and imperialist domination of the continent which are the causes of mass misery, poverty and wars. This could explain why they quickly intervene once a movement starts, just as they did in Libya and helping derail what started off as an independent, pro-democracy and anti-imperialist revolt in order to ensure that the movement did not go beyond ending Gadaffi’s dictatorial regime. The result today is the destabilisation of Libya, with the country divided among various armed sectarian gangs and social conditions far much worse than before the revolt.

Can ECOWAS intervention end the crisis?

The way the coup in Burkina Faso rapidly disintegrated demonstrates the enormous power of the youth and working masses. At every step of the way, the negotiators from regional bodies and imperialism, as well as the interim government, were conscious that only a solution that satisfied the protesters on the streets could succeed. The peace plan put together by ECOWAS to end the crisis in the former French colony, which included an amnesty for the coup leaders and the lifting of an electoral ban on those connected to Mr Compaore, was largely rejected by members of the civil society and protesters, who felt betrayed by this ‘peace plan’. Protesters were reported saying, "General Diendere has blood on his hands and the presidential guard do not deserve amnesty". Protesters were also reported saying that the "proposals are not acceptable and we shall hold our own destiny. The future of this country belongs to us". Reflecting the pressure on the street, the country’s interim president, Kafando, shortly after his reinstatement, was quoted as follows: "Regarding the ECOWAS proposals for a solution to the crisis, it is obvious that we will only commit to them if they take into account the will of the Burkinabes."

Now the widely-hated presidential guard has been disbanded after a brief standoff. Key participants in the coup, including coup leader General Gilbert Diendere, were arrested and detained in early October. However the truth is that the transition programme can only end up in the formation of a pro-capitalist government that will not only fail to bring a permanent respite to the economic woe under which the mass of poor Burkinabes groan, but in most likelihood will make things worse. While socialists energetically fight for democratic rights, we also argue that winning them does not automatically lead to meaningful change in people’s life and improvement in social conditions unless the exploitative system of capitalism is replaced by a democratic socialist alternative. Over 50% of Burkinabes population of 17.8 million live on less than a dollar daily. More than 70% of the productive population are jobless. The minimum wage is just $2 per day. The country is ranked 183 out of 186 on the Human Development Index. Going by this, it is obvious the Burkinabe working masses should not have illusion in any section of the capitalist ruling class, whether military or civilian. Instead the working masses and youth must stay united in the struggle for democratic rights and fight for an end to the condition of mass misery and poverty which is caused by capitalism.

Independent Working People Socialist Alternative

The 2014 popular uprising in Burkina Faso has given rise to "Balai Citoyen" (the Citizen’s Broom) – a civic movement that played a crucial role in the mobilisation of the working people that led to both the overthrow of Compaore’s regime and defeat of General Diendere. Even though the leaders are inspired by Sankara’s legacy, the ideas behind this movement and its slogans are very limited at the moment. There is urgently needed an understanding that for real democracy and an end to the condition of mass misery that pervades the country, there is a need for an independent working masses’ political party that represents the true interests of the mass majority and the building of a mass movement to put an end to capitalism. To achieve this requires the working class to be politically independent from pro-capitalist parties and leaders. These ideas will gain echo in the coming period especially when elections are finally held and the working masses realises that none of the pro-capitalist political parties represents the genuine interests of the workers, youth and poor.

One major weakness of the mass uprising is that while workers may have joined protesters at the barricades and protest marches, the working class did not intervene in an organised fashion and as a class through its organisations. This is in spite of the existence of powerful trade unions like the Confédération Générale des Travailleurs du Burkina (CGTB) which led a two-day national strike in 2008 against the high cost of living. Meanwhile historical experience shows that without the working class organising itself and the poor, leading a revolutionary struggle to end capitalism and building a new socialist society out of its ashes, a permanent victory is not assured. Therefore for the struggle for democracy and a better life to go forward, the civic movements like the Balai Citoyen and the trade unions need to convene a conference of workers, youths, farmers, unemployed and rank and file members of armed forces who also live in poverty in the community, workplaces, schools, villages, urban centres across the country, to deliberate on the way forward. A democratic conference of this kind will not only provide a forum to engage in thorough discussion and debate over the political and economic crises in which the working people and youth are victims but also how to continue to defend the democratic, social and economic rights of workers, youth and poor masses. It can also provide the most visible platform for an agreement on the formation of an alternative working class and poor people’s political party to fight for political power.

Only through the taking of political power by the workers and poor masses, through a social revolution, can there be any hope of ending the economic and political crises that ravages Burkina Faso. This would involve firstly putting the public resources and wealth of the country under a common ownership and control of the working masses and poor. For instance, the mines, financial institutions and the cotton industry would be nationalised and their management and control decided by democratically elected representatives of the working people. This is against the present situation whereby just 3 of the 11 banks that control over 60% of the financial institution are owned by a handful of local and foreign big business people. By taking the key sectors of the economy under public ownership and workers’ democratic control and management and linking this with a socialist plan, the possibilities will open up for the ending of the mass misery and penury in which vast majority of Burkinabes wallow. Only this kind of an independent working people’s political programme can provide the necessary solution to the economic and social quagmire being faced by the working and poor people. This programme can unite the entire working people across every section of society and prevent the country being plunged into civil war owing to the self-serving rivalry among sections of the thieving ruling elites, usually backed by foreign imperialist collaborators.

In view of the sabotage and blockade imperialism will launch in order to defeat this kind of independent working people’s socialist agenda, there will be need for an appeal for a revolutionary solidarity with working and young people in the rest of Africa and across the world, to be able to undermine such inevitable capitalist counter-revolutionary response. The example of the ‘Arab Spring’ is an indication that a successful revolution in any country of Africa can spread like wildfire across the continent and beyond, thus undermining the ability of imperialism to drown it in blood.

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October 2015