Burkina Faso: new steps towards democracy?

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Already in september 2014 after a coup d’etat, the military had soon to step aside and give way to free elections. In september 2015 a new coup took place in Burkina Faso, the country was shaken, the very young democracy trembled. But also this time the crisis has soon been solved, and even though part of the country still longs for long-time dictator Campaoré, it seems that the majority wants change and renovation. What is happening in this little African country is examplary of the situation in this wide continent, a continent that many look at as the site where a new economic upheaval is about to blossoom. By Aurora Servadio Bris     There are so many countries in the world, that we are often not able to keep track of all the crises each one of them goes through. Let’s talk about Burkina Faso, a little west African country, that with a projected 2015 GDP of $15 billion, or $827 per capita, rankst amongst the 20 the poorest contries in the world. This relatively little ex French colony went over many government changes after winning independence in 1960. What is happening now must be looked at on the background of its history. The name by which the country is known today is actually relatively new: on 4 August 1984, as a result of President Sankara’s activities, the country’s name was changed from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (it means: land of the upright/honest people). It was a way for Sankara to celebrate the indepenence he desired for his country. Actually Burkina had become independent from the French dominion already in 1958, but since then, it was squandered by continued government overthrowals and coups d’etat. Sankara was brought to power in 1983 by a popular revolt. And his government implemented a series of revolutionary progams which included mass vaccinations, infrasctructure improvements, the expansion of women’s rights, encouragement of domestic agricultural consumption, and anti-desertification projects. He was the first African President who denounced and attempted to fight the plague of Aids. He also denounced the use of foreign indebtment by the big banks and foreign countries, as a way of exerting a new form of colonial power. Sankara will be remembered as an example of a patriotic president. But couldn’t last long. Burkina fell to a military coup implemented by his aide, Blaise Campaoré in 1987. Campaoré executed Sankara and established a new dictatorship, which lasted till Oct. 31Th 2014. When Campaoré was finally overtrhown by a popular insurrection, after 27 years at the head of the country, he fled into exile, and the burkinian “spring” began. New general elections where supposed to be held on October 11th 2015. But on September the 17th 2015, 1300 men of the army, more precisely the ex Campaoré’s Presidential guard (Regiment of Presidential Security – RSP) interrupted a Cabinet meeting and Burkina plunged into chaos. Interim President Michel Kafando, interim Prime Minister Isaac Zida and two ministers were taken hostage. The RSP seized control of the capital Ouagadougou and establised a new junta, headed by general Gilbert Diendéré. Several international organizations condemned the events: the United Nations, African Union and Eonomic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for the detained to be released, and voiced support for the country’s democratic transition. Also inside Burkina, people didn’t accept the new coup. Protesters marched on the presidential palace in the capital Ouagadougou, but were compelled to scatter as bursts of gunfire broke out. Crowds had gathered with whistles and vuvuzelas near the palace, shouting “Down with the RSP”. The headquarters of Compaoré’s Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party was ransacked in the evening. The country’s main trade unions, united the General Labour Federation of Burkina Faso, launched a joint appeal “to participate in a general strike throughout the national territory (…) against the RSP interference in politics and for a true democracy”. The Balai Citoyen (“Civic Broom”) movement, which was at the forefront of last year’s anti-Compaoré protests, called for protesters to gather to “say no to the coup d’etat under way”, an appeal that was shared widely on social networks. During the clashes, the presidential guard opened fire against protesters; more than 250 people were injured, and at least ten people were killed. Eric is a young university student. He spoke with your reporter, and described what he personally witnessed of the recent events unsettling his country. One of his friends, who was amongst the protesters, was severely injured and spent some time in the hospital. Eric is proud of Kafando and Zida, who remained loyal to their country. On 25 September the Regiment of Presidential Security was disbanded by government decree. On 26 September the assets of Diendéré and others associated with the coup were frozen by the state prosecutor. On 28 September, the army chief of staff accused the RSP of failing to comply with the disarmament ordered by the government. Each side accused the other of acting belligerently during the process. Diendéré downplayed the tensions and said the process would continue. However, he said that RSP members needed their weapons for their own security, arguing that the government had failed to honor the guarantees for their safety The end of the crisis was finally possible thanks to the the loyalist army that surrounded the RSP base in the Ouaga 2000 neighborhood of Ouagadougou on 29 September and attacked it, seizing control of the base “without meeting much resistance”. Diendéré said that he had tried to get his troops to disarm before the army’s assault, but many of them refused to do so. Diendéré apparently fled to the Vatican embassy. After the government assured the Vatican that Diendéré would not be killed, he was turned over and taken into custody by the government on 1 October, escorted by former President Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo. Members of the RSP were reassigned elsewhere in the military following the RSP’s dissolution, and the government announced on 7 October that about 30 members of the RSP, out of a total of about 1,300, had not showed up for their new assignments. They were therefore “presumed guilty” and deemed “at large” . Elections have been moved to November 29th . Eric says his country needs assistence in terms of security support in order to prevent attaks from extrimist groups, such as Boko Haram. He thinks the elections will be held in absolute freedom and equality. Eric also thinks the international community should take more interest in Burkina Faso and spread informations about it and also promote a more intense cultural and economic exchange between the country and the rest of the world. Burkina has a lot to offer, in terms of natural resources and landscapes. As many African countries have. The problem for them is to be able to manage their own territory, after centuries that they have been prey to foreign interests.  ]]>

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