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Revolutionary Lessons from Burkina Faso
10/12/2015 12:22:50 PM

Bill Fletcher, Jr
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

The September 17 coup against the interim president of Burkina Faso, Michel Kafando, contains important lessons regarding the struggle for justice and democracy. Under pressure from demonstrators, striking labor unions and the West Africa regional bloc, the coup leader, Gen. Gilbert Diendere, stepped aside and Kafando and Prime Minister Yacouba Issac Zida were restored to power as transitional leaders of the country formerly known as the Republic of Upper Volta.

The background to the September 17 coup can be traced to October 2014 when a popular uprising ousted long-time dictator Blaise Compaore, who had overthrown and murdered his former friend and comrade, the near legendary, Thomas Sankara in 1987. It reversed the revolutionary changes that the central African country of Burkina Faso had experienced under Sankara’s leadership.

Compaore returned Burkina Faso to its neo-colonial status under French and U.S. domination, and instituted a repressive dictatorship. In the fall of 2014, after an attempt to extend the length of his presidency, millions of people turned out in defiance of the government, ultimately driving Compaore not only out of office, but out of the country.

The excitement generated by this insurrection was infectious, not only in Burkina Faso but in neighboring countries. Yet, there was an almost immediate problem. Was this an anti-Compaore insurrection or was it a revolution? And, if it was to be a revolution, then how was it to be pursued?

The September 17 coup against the interim president was carried out by units led by the presidential puard, which had not been dismantled and remained loyal to Compaore. In carrying out a coup, shortly before the upcoming elections, the objective of the coup-people was clear. Regardless of whether Compaore is returned, the coup leaders wanted a return to the old regime.

Since the Arab democratic uprisings that started in late 2010, we have witnessed in the Middle East and Africa a phenomenon of similar democratic protests and insurrections. In many cases, the leadership of such movements are not visible, and in other cases, they are quite dispersed.

Popular, democratic uprisings can drive dictators out of office, but in order to purse a revolution, more is needed than masses of people in the streets. There is a critical need for organization, whether in the form of political parties, unions or national fronts that can harness the energy of those in rebellion and help to advance the interests of the majority of the people.

It is also essential to have organization in order to neutralize the organization of the “other side.” That is, the side that represents the old and corrupt regime. After all, the old regime would never have been able to stay in power absent organization. And there are few examples in history where the old regime has voluntarily surrendered and walked off into the night of history. Usually, they attempt to find their way back into power.

Recognizing that, Kafando announced Friday the disbandment of the presidential guard, a unit of about 1,300 soldiers, and fired its commander and the minister of security. On Saturday, the country announced that it would freeze the assets of Gen. Gilbert Diendere and 13 others suspected of being associated with the coup.

Gen. Diendere and presidential guard staged the coup because they were upset that supporters of former President Blaise Compaore couldn’t run in elections, originally scheduled for Oct. 11. They are expected to be postponed for several weeks and a 30-day investigation of the coup will be conducted.

In the wake of disbanding the presidential guard, the county issued a statement Saturday saying, “The government invites the populations to remain calm and exert restraint.”

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