Will the military in Burkina Faso revive the revolutionary ideals of Thomas Sankara?


A coup d'état from the neighbourhood, report from Burkina Faso: Of course, it is to be feared that the new masters of the country are no better than the old ones. But hope dies last, they say. And at least the military aspects of the fight against terrorism will now be tackled more professionally than before. We know all too well - see Afghanistan - that terrorism cannot be defeated militarily. The most famous Burkinabè was a military man who came to power in a coup. Thomas Sankara did his utmost to implement a policy in the interest of the vast majority of the country's population in 1983 until his death on behalf of Blaise Compaoré on 15 October 1987. The fact that a trial was currently underway, and hopefully continues to be, in which Thomas Sankara's assassination is being investigated, could have been a factor that increased the desire of some in the army to coup - because the murderers, their clients and helpers are to a large extent still alive. So let's hope that the new head of state, Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, and his junta are not partisans of Blaise Comparoé and Gilbert Diendéré, but rather that they will try to do justice to Thomas Sankara and breathe new life into the revolutionary ideals of the 1980s.


Günther Lanier reports from Burkina Faso

In the supplement, I am transmitting a first-hand report on the military coup in Burkina Faso, written by our Africa reporter Günther Lanier, who lives in Ouagadougou. Although some of the background is not clear even to him, who witnessed the events directly on the ground and has lived in Burkina Faso for many years, his descriptions give a good insight. from the International magazine in Vienna


Today I am not writing as an analyst - I am writing as someone who lives here. We have some problems in Burkina. The biggest is terrorism, a not insignificant part of the country is no longer under the control of the state and the number of internally displaced people is more than 1.5 million. Many schools are closed, affecting more than 500,000 children. To make matters worse, there has been a recent outbreak of bird flu. Covid, on the other hand, contrary to all expectations, has not brought the country's health apparatus to its knees - there have been 353 Covid deaths as of 21 January 2022, according to official figures.


Not in the new year, but since March 2020, mind you.

Contrary to what the international media say, the coup that has just taken place here is not one of our problems. Lest I say the wrong thing, Covid has recently started to worry us - players are regularly tested at the African Football Championships currently being held in Cameroon. Rumour has it that especially the strongest among the home side's opponents test positive - at least that was the case with Burkina, who actually lost out to Cameroon in their opening match (but still made it through the group stage and will now play Tunisia in the quarter-finals on Saturday after beating Gabon 7-6 in the last 16 in a penalty shoot-out).



So Sunday into Monday, a coup took place in Burkina. Late on Monday afternoon, the "Patriotic Movement for the Protection and Restoration" (Mouvement patriotique pour la sauvegarde et la restauration/MPSR) read out a five-minute declaration on state television: that it had taken power in the country - without bloodshed. It declared the constitution suspended, the government and parliament dissolved and closed the borders until further notice. The curfew, which had already been in place since Sunday evening, was slightly extended - it would now apply from 9pm to 5am. What a name the junta has chosen! But that is probably beside the point. The deposed Roch Kaboré - a handwritten letter of resignation is circulating on social media - had had ample opportunity to prove his inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to improve the country's situation, especially with regard to terrorism, since he assumed the presidency at the end of 2015. From the beginning, he was afraid of the army - now, we could say, he has successfully brought about the coup d'état. Not many in the country shed a tear for him, even though he was confirmed in office by the voters in the first round at the end of 2020 (there was no attractive alternative). However, quite a few people do object to being ruled by the military. The international community has already begun to exert pressure. The constitutional order must be restored as soon as possible. Where else would we end up?



So, for the time being, the future fate of the country will be determined by the military. What policy they will pursue, we do not know. Who is behind them we know just as little as whether anyone is behind them at all, or whether it is a grassroots movement in the army, where discontent was seething after the death of 53 gendarmes (the gendarmerie is part of the army) in a terrorist attack in Inata in November 2021, especially as they died in scandalous circumstances: The troops involved had not been supplied with food for weeks, and the helicopters needed to do so had been otherwise occupied. Rumour has it that Gilbert Diendéré was freed - a loyalist of long-term head of state Blaise Compaoré, who was finally driven out by the people in 2014 after 27 years in power. Diendéré had attempted a coup against the then transitional government in September 2015, but resistance from "the street" prevented it. The rumour was also denied (though not by the new rulers, who have said next to nothing so far except for their initial statement). The junta leader comes from the presidential guard, disbanded in 2015, which remained loyal to Blaise Compaoré and also attempted the coup in 2015. We do not know where his political sympathies lie, to whom he is loyal. And the same goes for the other junta members.


On Saturday 22 January there were demonstrations against Roch. Two registered demonstrations had not been approved by the mayor. Some young people were not deterred by this. Tyres were burnt, barricades were erected, tear gas was used, security forces chased the youth. In the night from Saturday to Sunday, shots were heard in barracks. This was initially played down by the authorities as a mutiny with limited corporate demands. On Sunday morning, the mobile internet was switched off - a bad habit introduced by the Roch Kaboré government in November 2021 (not even Blaise had made use of it; it is also pointless, only costing those affected nerves and also money). Then, until the aforementioned declaration of the junta, there was ambiguity as to who was in power. Apart from the military and the powerful, however, no one was directly affected. Of course, we were careful. We avoided the vicinity of barracks - bullets can get lost, it has happened in the past. Banks only reopened on Tuesday - and not at 8am, but a little later, when it was clear that everything was and remained calm. On Monday, schools did not open as instructed, a measure initially scheduled for two days that has since been extended until the end of the week. International NGOs as well as local businesses told their employees to work from home on Monday (not helped by the mobile internet being switched off). On Sunday late afternoon, a nightly curfew was decreed - before that, the already mentioned victory of the "Stallions", the national team in the African Football Championships was still celebrated extensively. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, we largely did what we usually do. A coup doesn't upset anyone. As long as the army and the powerful settle it among themselves....



Four Germans, including Erwin Wiest, who provides me with the photos, arrived in Ouagadougou on Saturday. Since 2014, he has been the chairman of the Piéla-Bilanga Ochsenhausen e.V.7 association, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and of which Pascale Pouzet is also a member. Susanne Langer and Barbara Rode belong to the Friends of Bareka8 from Untergruppenbach. Since Piéla and Bilanga (in the east of the country) are now unfortunately also acutely threatened by terrorist groups, it was already clear before their arrival that the meetings with the Burkinabe partners would take place in Ouagadougou this time. The simple but extremely pleasant Hotel Lorette is located in the city centre, a few hundred metres from the nearest barracks. During the night, gunshots could be heard well and again. But the planned meetings could all take place as scheduled. Erwin & Co trusted their Burkinabe partners, who assured them that there was no danger whatsoever.



Of course, we waited anxiously on Sunday and Monday to see how it would turn out. I don't mean the football match, that anyway, but who would finally prevail. The military won. Not so few people are happy about that. On Tuesday, at Revolution Square - or is it still called Nation Square? -Again, a few hundred metres from the Lorette Hotel, there were celebrations all day - photos in the media show that the huge square was full. Many wonder why they should weep for a democracy that allowed Blaise Compaoré to stay in power for decades; an electoral-based democratic system that, after a short election-less transition period (limited to one year due to pressure from the "international community"), saw more progress than in long years before and even in the seven years since; a democracy that has done nothing but confirm in office a president who is proven to be incompetent - because his party had and has more money than others, because his party apparatus was more efficient, because the alternatives available were no better.


Of course, it is to be feared that the new masters of the country are no better than the old ones. But hope dies last, they say. And at least the military aspects of the fight against terrorism will now be tackled more professionally than before. We know all too well - see Afghanistan - that terrorism cannot be defeated militarily. The most famous Burkinabè was a military man who came to power in a coup. Thomas Sankara did his utmost to implement a policy in the interest of the vast majority of the country's population in 1983 until his death on behalf of Blaise Compaoré on 15 October 1987. The fact that a trial was currently underway, and hopefully continues to be, in which Thomas Sankara's assassination is being investigated, could have been a factor that increased the desire of some in the army to coup - because the murderers, their clients and helpers are to a large extent still alive10. Let us hope, then, that the new head of state, Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, and his junta are not partisans of Blaise Comparoé and Gilbert Diendéré, but rather that they will try to do justice to Thomas Sankara and breathe new life into the revolutionary ideals of the 1980s.


P.S. If you have a different impression of the Burkinabe coup based on whatever media, I ask you to bear in mind that media live on attention and therefore have a vital interest in attracting such attention. The images of the Saturday events in Ouagadougou of burning tyres producing grim smoke went around the world. In reporting on the coup on Sunday and Monday, the focus was on what was going on in the lofty heights of power. Action and drama sell better than everyday life. Let's instead pay tribute to the more than 7% of Burkinabè who have become internally displaced. And the many others who live in fear and do not know whether they would be better off abandoning their fields and pastures and fleeing for their lives



Microsoft Word - 2022 01 26 Coup d'état from the perspective of local residents.docx (international.or.at)










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