Tag Archives: Revolution

Burkina Faso: a Revolutionary Opening in sub-Saharan Africa?

Burkinabe Revolution; the fires of the people's anger, continues to burn!

Burkinabe Revolution; the fires of the people’s anger, continues to burn!

On Friday 31st October, Blaise Compaoré, was forced to abdicate as President of Burkina Faso, after 27 years in the saddle. His attempt to further extend his stay in office by amending Article 37 of the constitution, triggered a tumultuous movement of the working people, which his declaration of a state of emergency could not curtail. This immediate victory for “revolution from below” presents possibilities for the deepening of the working masses’ struggles and unfolding of uprisings across sub-Saharan Africa. Its current aftermath, with the military stepping in to stabilise the system, as a provisional government, also points at the dangers of counterrevolution which activists have to oppose in Burkina Faso today, and across the sub-region as poor exploited people intrude onto the political arena, to determine their fate and transform society.

Blaise Compaoré declared the presidential seat “vacant” as he was forced out. But within hours, the army boss, General Honore Toure who had been Compaoré’s aide de camp announced that the military would be stepping in to conduct a transition within six months. By the following day, Lt. Col. Yacouba Isaac Zida, who had been the second in command of the presidential guard finally emerged as the trustable military hand of the ruling class, to hold the reins of power on its collective behalf.

The African Union has called on the military to step aside and handover to civilian politicians within two weeks, to conduct a transition programme. Zida on his own part declared “to the youth of Burkina Faso, which has paid a heavy price for change (that) I want to reassure them that their aspirations for democratic change will not be betrayed or disappointed. Bright youth! Long live the people of Burkina Faso!”  

In this article, Baba Aye and Andy Wynne, of the Socialist Workers League’s Editorial Board put the revolutionary resurgence in the West African country in perspective, analysing the problems and prospects it holds for bringing about social change.  

The Legacy of Thomas Sankara

Thomas Sankara, radical Left populist

Thomas Sankara, radical Left populist

In the early 1980s, President Sankara was a beacon of hope against the increased inequality and insecurity which structural adjustment introduced across Africa. He canvassed an anti-imperialist and pro-poor people programme of revolution from above. Earlier in 1976, Thomas Sankara, Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lingani, Henri Zongo and Blaise Compaoré who were all junior officers in the then Upper Volta army formed the “Communist Officers’ Group”.

1980 to 1983 were years of turmoil in the country, with intense working class struggles that precipitated a series of three coup d’états and an uprising, thrusting the “Communist Officers Group” and particularly its most radical representative, Thomas Sankara to power, in the end. The first of the coup d’états on November 25, 1980 brought in the Military Committee of Recovery for National Progress led by Col. Saye Zebo. It appointed Sankara as Minister of Information in 1981, but he resigned in 1982. His grouse was the anti-workers stance of the government despite the fact that the Council came to power on the crest of a wave of trade union agitation.

By November 1982, Col Zebo’s government was overthrown; once again the mass mobilisation of workers by the trade unions had made the country ungovernable. Major (Dr) Jean-Baptiste Ouedrago emerged as the head of another junta, the Council of Popular Salvation.  Two months after the coup, Sankara was appointed Prime Minister. But he did not last 5 months in office. Despite its “Popular” and Salvationist” self-categorization, the Ouedrago-led Council was subservient to French imperialism, as most French-speaking African countries’ governments are. The French state felt uncomfortable with the radical posturing of Sankara as Prime Minister and coerced Ouedrago to relieve him of his duties.

He was not only sacked, he and all other members of the “Communist Officers Group”, except Blaise Compaoré, were placed under house arrest. However, the fires of discontent of the workers and other poor working people, which had not ceased over the years increased in tempo, strengthened by protests against the incarceration of the three radical officers. There was a mass uprising from July to the early days of August and on August 4, a radical coup d’état was organised by forces in the army loyal to the “Communist Officers Group”’s agenda, and Captain Thomas Sankara was declared President, as head of a National Council for the Revolution (CNR).

Thomas Sankara’s strategy was defined in his Political Orientation Speech[1]. It was a defiant alternative to neo-liberal development strategies. In contrast, it aimed to eliminate corruption, avert famine, and make the delivery of social services (education and health) real priorities.  It changed the name of the country from Haute Volta (Upper Volta in French) to Burkina Faso (“Land of Incorruptible People” in More and Djula languages) and launched the most ambitious program for social and economic change ever attempted in Africa[2].

His government challenged the residues of feudalism still rampant in Burkina. Privileges of chiefs such as tributes and right to obligatory labour were abolished. Land reforms aimed at food self-sufficiency were also implemented with lands seized from feudal lords and placed in the hands of those that worked them. The salaries of top public servants were cut, their use of 1st class air tickets and chauffeurs prohibited and the fleet of Mercedes Benz cars of the government sold, with Renault 5 which was the cheapest car in the Burkinabe market at the time, purchased in their stead. Quite importantly, in all these, he started with himself, leading by example, and thus endearing himself to a generation of activists across Africa.

Committees for the Defence of the Revolution were established in workplaces and communities and bore arms. Universal military conscription was also organised with the formation of SERNAPO (Popular National Service) as part of the “Democratic and Popular Revolution” of the regime. “Pioneers of the Revolution” was equally established as a youth movement for propagating radical consciousness in young people. Many of its members were as well active in the CDRs.

Sankara’s social policy campaigns for; education, health and women empowerment, are some of the greatest legacies of his regime. A strong commitment to women’s rights led to the outlawing of female genital mutilation, forced marriage and polygamy.  Women were appointed to high government positions and actively recruited in to the military[3].  They were encouraged to work outside the home and girls were encouraged to stay at school even if they became pregnant. And by the end of 1985 almost 3 million children had been vaccinated to curb the spread of diseases like polio and measles and the enrolment of pupils in schools had doubled, as part of a nationwide literacy campaign, including adult education. The Sankara government was also the first African government to publicly recognize the challenge of HIV/AIDS[4].

The National Council for the Revolution was sincerely committed to achieving its egalitarian ideals, but these were imposed rather than being won through collective action of the workers and mass of the poor people. Despite its many significant achievements, this was socialism from above, not the self-emancipation of the working class and popular masses.  This approach led to the regime coming into conflict with sections of the working class and its organisations, several times.

When the school teachers went on strike, just over six months after Sankara came to power, nearly 2,500 were dismissed and they were not to return to their jobs until after his death[5].  A union front was set up in January 1985 against the decline in democratic and trade union freedoms.  This was to stay active throughout the “revolutionary” Sankara, period even though the trade unions and independent organisations were considerably weakened as a result of repression (including dismissal of civil servants, arrests and torture, etc). The actions of the unions were considered subversive and could be punished with “military sanctions”[6].

The Sankara Government banned trade unions and a free press[7] as they were seen as coming in the way of its radical reforms. Corrupt officials, counter-revolutionaries and “lazy workers” were tried in peoples’ revolutionary tribunals.  The public trials of former senior government officials were a positive development, but these trials were also used against genuine critics of the regime.

In the name of wanting to make a revolution for the mass of the poor people, Sankara did it without them, and in some instances, even against them. Sankara recognised this in his self-critical speech of 2nd of October 1987. But he and his allies did not have time to restore the links between the government and the mass independent working class organisations. Indeed, at the time he made this self-critical speech, the trade unions were on the warpath with him.

Sankara was assassinated with twelve of his comrades in a coup d’état led by his deputy, Blaise Compaoré. A week before his death, he declared: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas”[8].  One of the main opposition parties in Burkina Faso remains his Sankarist Party and Sankara is commonly referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara”[9].  He remains an inspiration for many young people across the region[10] and proof that another world is possible for Africa.

Compaoré’s Neoliberal Agenda

Compaoré claimed that Sankara had betrayed the Burkinabe revolution and was a dictator. He promised a new regime which would “rectify” Sankarist ultra-leftism with the contradiction-in-terms “ideology” of “pragmatic Marxism”. To buttress his assertiocampoaren that Thomas Sankara was a maximalist leader, Blaise Compaoré ruled after the October 15, 1987 coup d’état as head of a triumvirate with the other two members of the “Communist Officers Group” Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lingani and Henri Zongo. Two years later, he arrested them, ostensibly for plotting to overthrow the government and promptly had them executed. Shortly after this in the wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the state capitalist East bloc, he officially renounced “socialism”, banned the CDRs, SERNAPO and all popular organs of the CNR, aligning himself unabashedly with western imperialism.

The wave of mass protests against one-party states and military dictatorships across Africa on one hand and the entrenchment of the “Washington Consensus” by Western imperialism on the other, pushed the government of Compaoré to initiate a transition to multi-party democracy and a free market economy at the beginning of the 1990s. Like in many countries in West Africa at the time, such as Niger (and which Sani Abacha tried in Nigeria), this equally included the military strongman donning civilian garbs. This of course was a clear manifestation of the essential lack of difference between the military and civilian wings of the ruling class. He ran in a presidential election boycotted by all the major opposition parties, with barely a quarter of the electorate voting. The tenure of the president was made 7years and he was re-elected in 1998.

A constitutional amendment in 2000 reduced the tenure of a president to 5 years from 7 and limited this to a maximum of 2 terms. In 2005, he contested once again, arguing that as a serving president when the amendment was passed his earlier terms did not count. The constitutional court upheld the position. He ran against 12 opponents and won with a resounding 80% of the votes cast with a 56% turnout of the electorate. The opposition parties failed to unite on a common platform and in the main shared the same commitment to neoliberal capitalism as Compaoré’s Congress for Democracy and Progress. Blaise Compaoré was last re-elected in November 2010 by over 80% of the vote again, after a quarter century in power (but only receiving 1.7 million votes from an electorate of 7 million).

Burkina Faso is often considered as one of the World Bank and IMF’s best pupils, with a 10% economic growth rate through the 1990s. But it occupied the 181th position out of 187 countries in the 2013 UN Human Development Index and 46% of the population struggle to exist beneath the poverty line. While there was a high growth rate averaging about 10% in the 1990s and early 2000s, this was not driven by industrial productivity of any considerable extent. It was largely buoyed by increased sales of commodities (mainly, cotton and later, gold) in the world market, and the ruthless implementation of privatization policies, following the dictates of the “world market”, its international institutions and the Western states that insure it.

Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, this situation of neoliberal structural adjustment led to great inequality. The privatization process since 1991 had been pursued with “localisation” and “decentralisation” which essentially sought to consolidate weak, indigenous capital, with some limited success in “agribusiness”, particularly in the south. But, droughts, compounded by for-profit economic policies have made life unbearable for many in the rural areas furthering internal rural-urban migration.

Hundreds of thousands of youth that move to the cities and towns every year swell the ranks of the poor, disillusioned and angry, in the midst of increasing wealth of a handful of nouveau riche. One in ten Burkinabes now own half of the countries riches[11]. There has also been a pillage of national resources by the former president’s clique (senior political officials and senior military figures).  Partly as a result, there is high unemployment, especially for the two thirds of the population that is under 25 years old.

Since 2008, gold has replaced cotton as the primary source of wealth.  By 2012 Burkina Faso was the fourth largest producer of gold in the world.  This is based on seven major gold mines, most of which are owned by foreign multinationals (Canadian, Russian, British etc) with the government owning around 10% of shares giving it the financial incentive to intervene on the side of the owners.  The challenges the workers face include casualisation and discrimination in favour of expatriate workers.  The mines have also had a detrimental impact on local communities with expropriation or low levels of compensation for peasant land, increasing scarcity of water, banning of informal gold mining, pollution and the disruption of local life.

Reliance on primary commodities as a country’s main source of revenue generation is however dicey even in the best of times, being severely affected by market fluctuations. The continued state of depression of the global economy makes such uncertainty worse, with dire consequences. For example, while Burkina Faso witnessed a 32% increase in its production of gold from 2010 to 2011[12], contributing significantly to the $2.77bn value of its exports that year, by 2012, the value of exports had fallen drastically to only $0.75bn[13].

Dwindling resources and continued corruption paved the way for the 2011 wave of protests; the dress rehearsal for the 2014 revolts that brought Compaoré’s reign to an inglorious end.

The springing of a revolutionary moment

Burkina Uprising.4In the first half of 2011, Burkina Faso was rocked by waves of strikes (including a general strike on 8th April), mass action and even mutinies by the presidential guard. These came close to bringing the Arab Spring to sub-Saharan Africa and toppling Blaise Compaoré, who had to temporarily seek refuge in Zinaire, his hometown, after the first of a series of mutinies in the army, on February 15.

Compaoré’s confidence was shaken as his authority rested on the army and especially the presidential guard – which also mutinied on 14 April 2011.  But the heart and soul of the 2011 season of protests was in the streets, where, a powerful popular movement erupted with demonstrations and strikes.  Strikes took place in many work places, for example, schools, at the Comoé Sugar Company and in the gold mines, where fantastic bravery was demonstrated against the police who were supporting the mine owners. The people turned to the police present saying:

There is no authority anymore, so we will solve our problems with violence… What we ask you to do is to call Ouagadougou [the capital] and tell them to bring all the riot police. Because we have realized that the policy of the mining bosses is to use the riot police to suppress the local people. While the ministers in charge of the mines are happy to dine with the mining bosses, they never have as much as 30 minutes to talk to the local people. So let the riot police come. Some of us will fall. We want to see the police shoot at us. But we also have confidence in ourselves. We are sure we will eventually overcome Essakane mine.

Such strikes also demonstrated solidarity from beyond the working class.  During a strike by workers at the Comoé Sugar Company, the largest private employer in the country, women, children, young people, other private sector workers and pensioners demonstrated their support.

In several towns and cities, thousands protested over rising prices of basic commodities like bread. Students also joined the fray with five being reportedly killed in February. This raised the already charged atmosphere of struggle, particularly in Ougadougu, the capital and Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city. Towards the end of April, farmers joined the wave of revolts, protesting against the sharp fall in the prices of their products. The working people and the urban poor increased the tempo which had slackened a bit in March, as well. The house of a mayor and a police station were burnt in the city of Koudougou. Anti-riot police also mutinied on the heels of the presidential guard’s mutiny.

The opposition parties tried to give leadership to these revolts which had been largely independent of them as an organised force, by calling a rally on April 30. A day before, Compaoré announced he had reached a truce with the army, which would halt the spreading mutinies and mass protests[14]. 3,000 persons turned up for the rally despite heavy rainfall and there was a defiant mood, with protestors calling on Compaoré to resign. Many placards described him as Burkina Faso’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, pointing at inspiration from the Arab Spring.

At this stage, which began to ebb by the end of May, the government gave in to many popular demands (for example, the teachers). The state went on the offensive in June when the army smashed mass protests and a mutiny at Bobo-Dioulasso, killing seven people, and shortly after, the state sacked all 11 regional administrators replacing them with die-hard loyalists, including three senior army officers. Once order was restored, the regime returned to repression. The first strike of workers in the Ministry of Finance in August for example was brutally quelled.

In August 2012, a new conflict broke out at Taparko mines where 29 workers were dismissed for “inciting their colleagues to disobedience” after a union general assembly agreed to take a 30 minute break during their 10 hour shifts – as stipulated in their collective bargaining agreement.  The workers were forcibly expelled with the help of the riot police and their leaders dismissed despite the local labour board refusing to accept the dismissals.

While resistance against the CPD government was forced to retreat, activists and pro-establishment politicians did not stop organising, in different ways. A number of the CPD’s leadership cadre split from Compaoré’s inner caucus to join the Union for Progress and Change (UPC) which had been formed in 2010 by Zéphirin Diabré a former Minister of Finance. More importantly, in 2014, a large number of these “dissidents” of the CPD formed the Movement of the People for Progress (MPP).  These helped to consolidate the weak and disparate forces of bourgeois opposition. But the most significant realignment and reawakening of organisation for resistance was from below, by working people and restless youth.

The Génération Cheikh Anta Diop also known as the Mouvement des Sans Voix (‘The Voiceless’), emerged as a network of youth from the ashes of the 2011 protests, partly influenced by the los indignados movement in Spain. And on August 25, 2013, Le Balai Citoyen (the Citizens’ Broom) was formed as a grassroots movement which brought together youth activists including those of the Mouvement des Sans Voix. Led by two renowned musician, reggae singer Sams’K Le Jah and rapper Serge Martin Bambara (“Smokey”), it appealed to young people seeking organisation for their seething anger. It organised several mass actions in protest from its formation till the October Uprising where it played a central role.

As in several other African countries (for example, Egypt and Senegal) one of the aspects of the protests is the uncertainty over the future of the president.  Constitutionally his term in office was due to end in 2015.  With Compaoré gone, rivalry ensued over his succession (with two military leaders, for example, initially claiming to be leading the new regime).  The mass protests that led to the end of his regime were ignited when parliament was due to vote on a proposal for Compaoré to be allowed a further term as president. They did not subside when General Honore Toure emerged to step into his shoes. Installing Col. Zida who has some assumed radical credentials is an attempt to douse the raging anger on the streets.

However, there can be no hope for the poor working masses in any section of both the military and civilian wings of the ruling class. As an opposition party leader said, “I am not afraid or ashamed to say that I am a neoliberal… today, the world belongs to us neoliberals”.  So, even a change of president may not see a major change to the state’s economic policies.

Tolé Sgnon, secretary general of CGT-B a major trade union centre explained this problem saying[15]

We can replace Blaise Compaoré with someone else who will choose the same neoliberal policies.  In this sense, we need to develop critical thought towards the various political forces that are attempting to present themselves as alternatives to the current government but which, for the most part, share the basic fundamentals of the neoliberal policies of the existing government.

Even in Burkina Faso, where the majority of the people still live in rural areas, the organised working class usually forms the core of social protests.  In the first half of 2014, this included:

  • a public sector and teachers strike in early February, which won significantly increased allowances for public sector workers;
  • a three day sit in at the Ouagadougou municipality headquarters in early May and
  • a one day strike by public sector journalists in radio, TV and print in mid-July over pay and against government interference.

The lack of an organised socialist opposition with a clear view of the need for the self-emancipation of the working class[16] means that these protests can often be contained within the limits of current society and so do not result in significant improvements for the working class or other poor people. A radical break from neoliberal economic policies will only take place once the sugar workers, gold miners, teachers and other members of the core working class are able to use the power they have clearly exercised to end their exploitation and alienation. But it needs the development of a revolutionary socialist organisation with mass support to fuse the power of the small organised working class and the poor majority of the population, in democratic struggle with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the capitalist system.

However, struggle is the greatest teacher of the working masses. Victory through struggles also reinforces their confidence and readiness to continue to fight. A clear picture of this can be seen in a statement issued by the opposition forces that: “the victory born from this popular uprising belongs to the people, and the task of managing the transition falls by right to the people.  In no case can it be confiscated by the army.”  Thus, the struggle continues, even if many a turn and twist occurs as it manifests.

In lieu of a conclusion: lessons, problems and prospects

Smokey and Le Jah, leaders of the Citizens Broom

Smokey and Le Jah, leaders of the Citizens Broom

The future of this reawakening of mass struggle might appear uncertain in Burkina Faso and beyond, even though the embers of fires on the streets simmer beneath efforts by different sections of the capitalist class within and outside the country, to contain the situation. This is captured by the argument that “beyond Burkina Faso, Africa’s ‘Black Spring’ hope may be premature”[17].

The essential points of this position are: “(t)he poor, cotton-producing state south of the Sahara desert already had a tradition of street protest and military-supported social uprisings”, thus, the October Uprising is basically old wine in new skin, and: “not all African states can replicate Burkina Faso’s readiness for change”, because oppositionists “face more firmly entrenched rulers and elites than did the protesters in Burkina Faso”, including the absence of “army sympathy”, which is deemed “crucial” for the success of (similar) uprisings.

Traditions within countries do indeed matter. They constitute critical elements of the repertoire which enliven the spirit and forms of revolutionary upsurges, and also could provide cadres for subsequent mass intrusions into politics. For example Sams’K Le Jah, one of the leaders of le Balai Citoyen (Citizen’s Broom) was active as a youth in the Sankarist era Pioneers of Revolution.

But, capitalism creates a global world. Economically, this is seen in the world market which results in the impacts of severe crises in some parts spreading all over the world. For example, the global economic crisis which started in the United States (and Europe) in 2007 contributed significantly to the downturn in the Burkinabe economy, feeding the mass discontent that led to social unrest in 2011. Similarly, advances in information and communication technology lead to the diffusion of ideas and perspectives from different climes and times, as added inspiration to “traditions” of struggle.

Serge Martin Bambara (Smokey) another of the leaders of le Balai Citoyen gave concrete expression to this, in an interview he granted weeks before the October Uprising when he said: “We were inspired by movements like Y’en a marre in Senegal but also more generally by all the movements that contributed to reinforce the class struggle, as well as 1970s movements like the Black Power, Blaxploitation and Black Panthers”[18].

The Y’en a marre movement in Senegal was pivotal in mobilising mass resistance to Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third term as president. This reflects the appeal of cultural icons (mainly contemporary musicians) in mobilising “youth power” for change, both on the streets and in the communities; (a deepening of) the politics of civic (pressure) groups over partisan formations; and the affinity of politics and language across French-speaking Africa[19].

Starting from the last of these, the following are important to note, in the coming period.

First, the Burkinabe Uprising will surely be an inspiration for mass struggles against authoritarian rulers across the continent (especially as quite a number of countries are billed to have general elections in 2015). This will most likely be so in French-speaking African countries, particularly as most of the sit-tight heads of states are to be found here. The spread of revolution from Tunisia across the Arab world is a sample this possibility.

The argument of Farge and Felix about the weakness of the opposition in these countries (buttressed with reference to “a recent opposition rally against Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which) attracted only about 100 people”, on the heels of the ousting of Compaoré), misses the point. There have been waves of mass strikes and street protests in most of these countries since 2008 which were mainly crushed, albeit with some concessions, in most cases. The victory of the Burkinabe working people will reinvigorate the poor working masses and youth in their forthcoming battles. Failing to realise how the spirit of crushed rebellions can rise again in circumstances of intense crises and revolts, with inspiration from victorious uprisings, is not new. The Lebanese The Daily Star equally dismissed the possibility of revolution in neighbouring Egypt after the triumph of the Tunisian Revolution[20].

Second, the loss of confidence, by poor working people and youth seeking their self-emancipation, in the politics of traditional (left and right) parties is a common trend not only in Africa, but globally. The los Indignados movement in Spain is probably the clearest illustration of this trend glorified by autonomists and wrongly described as “anti-politics” by Humphrys and Tietze[21]. But, it is not enough to challenge power without fighting to win that power. The Indignados cadre came around to this conclusion from the experience of struggle, forming Podemos, a left reformist party. It is not unlikely that a radical reformist party of some sort could emerge from within the ranks of the broad grassroots movement of which Balai Citoyen is a part.

There are two related reasons for coming to this conclusion. Firstly, sweeping out Compaoré was only the first goal of the Citizen Broom Movement. As Smokey put it: “(o)ur second goal is to watch the next government. A new government means a potential slippery slope for new abuses, as within every power that doesn’t feel watched over. The Balai Citoyen will continue to exist. Today, we are working with the opposition parties: tomorrow, we might fight against those same people who will have come to power. We need a true change in power”. The logic of this engagement in the political sphere will lead a number of the group’s activists to the need for a “true change of power”, beyond just being midwives to a change of faces at the top. Secondly, recent events show that the movement which the brooms are leading will go beyond the dictates of its leadership. Smokey had also insisted that there would be no “burning… (of) official buildings”. But when the genie came out of the bottle, the parliament building went up in flames.

"youth power" can seize the streets, WORKERS POWER needed to change society.

“youth power” can seize the streets, WORKERS POWER needed to change society.

Third, the category of youth as being the epicentre of revolutionary change requires some discussion. Youth are the barometer of revolution, as Trotsky identified. But politics is condensed economics to borrow from Lenin. Thus, the essential struggle for power is that between the exploiters and the exploited i.e. the class struggle between the bosses and the working people. Categories of identity like youth, women, or nationalities that are oppressed are not unimportant. Revolutionary activists are tribunes against all oppression. But “true change of power”, the self-emancipation of the exploited requires the centrality of working class struggle to be accepted by radical youth and other oppressed groups.

The youth at the heart of the struggle are not marginalised just because they are young people. They face the lashes of want, unemployment and disillusionment specifically because they are young people from working class, poor peasants and urban poor backgrounds. The youth from the household of Compaoré and other “big men” in the society have no chains to lose and no world to gain through struggle. In fact, they stand (behind the apron strings of their rich fathers and mothers) for law and order to better defend the silver spoons they are born with.

Class struggle does not take place with all exploited and oppressed people on one side of a line and all exploiters and oppressors on the other side. It takes place between social movements against the state and within such movements made up of disparate people who may be unified-in-struggle. The power of youth on the streets is clearly of great importance for a successful insurrection. But workers’ power, as the arrowhead of mass struggle, is essential if we are to see fundamental change in terms of the class that actually controls society.

In summary, the challenge for working class activists in Burkina Faso and across the sub-region is to build working class parties based on revolutionary programmes that go beyond overthrowing some tyrant or the other. This is a daunting task, with the marginal place that revolutionary socialists generally occupy at the moment. But the ideas and politics of more radical forces like these will find greater resonance in the hearts of working people as the struggle deepens.

Further, “army sympathy” is equally not something cast in stone. Seemingly monolithic military discipline cracks in the most unforeseen circumstances, with sections of the army crossing over to the people or at the very least refusing to shoot. This scenario played itself out in the opening act of the Egyptian revolution. When the working people begin to move in their tens and hundreds of thousands, it was easier to win over the rank and file soldiers to their brothers and sisters who were active in the movement.

The road ahead might be long and with many bends on the way. But, as global economic crisis persists and the bosses continue with making the working people bear the brunt of their quest for recovery, the Burkinabe Uprising might very well be the signal for more intrusions of the working and poor masses into the political arena across Africa, seeking to seize their fate in their hands.

[1] An English translation of this speech is available from:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/96585260

[2] Thomas Sankara: The Upright Man by California Newsreel: http://newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0205

[3] California Newsreel

[4] Theramaili’s Blog

[5] California Newsreel

[6] Décret N°85-078, 1er/2/1985

[7] California Newsreel

[8] Burkina Faso Salutes “Africa’s Che” Thomas Sankara by Mathieu Bonkoungou, Reuters, Oct 17 2007

[9] California Newsreel

[10] Thomas Sankara, Wikipedia :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Sankara#cite_note-UprightDVD-5

[11] Etude nationale prospective, « Burkina 2025 », rapport général, 2005.

[12] Jeffrey York: “Iamgold’s growing investment in Burkina Faso” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 15 April, 2012

[13] The Observatory of Economic Complexity: “OEC: Products Exported by Bulgaria”, 2012, drawing from official Burkinabe records

[14] Mathieu Bongkoungou, “Burkina Faso president says army vows to end protests”, Reuters 20 April, 2011

[15] L’Observateur Paalga (2013) « Meeting contre la vie chère : ‘Réviser les salaires et non les articles’ », 22 July

[16] While there are a number of Left groups and parties in Burkina Faso ranging from affiliates of the Socialist International (with seats in parliament) to Marxist-Leninists who still uphold the two-stage theory,  there is hardly any country in French Africa with a significant Marxist group committed to “the revolution in permanence”, however there is a socialist bulletin produced for French speaking Africans – www.afriquesenlutte.org

[17] See Emma Farge and Bate Felix’s article on Reuters, online at: <http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/11/06/uk-burkina-politics-africa-analysis-idUKKBN0IQ1ZA20141106>, November 6, 2014

[18] Marianne Saddier “The Upright Citizens of Burkina Faso” 1st October 2014, online at: <http://africasacountry.com/the-citizens-of-burkina-faso/>

[19] Something similar can be noticed as well in the 2011 protests. Activists compared their mass struggle much more with the Tunisian Revolution than the Egyptian Revolution, which was equally unfolding at that time

[20] See Baba Aye Era of Crises and Revolts 2012: 62

[21] See Alex Callinicos “Thunder on the Left”, International Socialism No. 143: 111-140

Abuja Workers Bulletin: Oct. 29-Nov. 11, 2014

REVOLUTION IN BURKINA FASO!                                                       *

NEITHER THE ARMY NOR THE PARLIAMENT REPRESENT THE PEOPLE! WE SUPPORTT THE WORKERS!
anger of the masses fill Ouga' streets

anger of the masses fill Ouga’ streets

27 years and16 days after he murdered Thomas Sankara and took over power, Blaise Compaoré was disgraced out of office as President of Burkina Faso. Workers and youth across the length and breadth of the country rose up in one accord against his attempt at continued self-perpetuation, insisting that enough is enough!

This uprising might be a foretaste of revolutions that could sweep through West Africa in what many have started calling the “Black Spring” already. There are lessons for workers and youth in Nigeria to learn from the ongoing struggle in “the land of the incorruptible” (i.e. the meaning of Burkina Faso in English).

A major lesson is that the ruling class will not fold its hands allow the revolutionary working people to walk away with power after victory over some particular elite (or section of elite) or the other.

The army has already taken “control” of the state, in an attempt to stabilise it, after infighting within the military that eventually threw up Lt. Col. Isaac Yacouba Zida, as the new “strongman” of the bosses.

This is why revolutionary activists as the most vibrant fighters within the working people and youth need to build revolutionary organisations that can lead the masses in the struggle to win power from the bosses. Triumphant revolutions are not possible without the interplay of diverse organisations of the working masses and youths taking decisive mass actions. Revolutionary organisation serves as the cement for holding these building blocks of a new social order together.

Uprisings tend to start spontaneously, when we look at the surface. In Nigeria for example, the first sparks of revolt on January 2, 2012, were protests by young people angered by the sharp hike in fuel price.

But it is important to note that large revolts do not just appear from the blues. They reflect the concentration of mass activities like strikes, demonstrations and marches weeks, months and even years before the tidal waves of revolutionary movement burst the seams of power asunder like what recently happened in Burkina Faso.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, and in particular Nigeria, there is mass anger waiting to burst out. There is likelihood with the “do-or-die” partisanship of the bosses as the 2015 elections draw near that it could lead to a political explosion. The challenge that would face us is that which faces our comrades in Burkina Faso today, to fight against every section of the ruling class.

Socialist Workers League thus stands against the military junta in Ouagadougou. But, unlike the African Union, we affirm that the working people of Burkina Faso did not kick out Compaoré to hand over power to another boss on the basis of a constitution of the ruling class. We call for the revolution in permanence. A provisional government of the working people resting on Committees for the Defence of the Revolution in workplaces and communities is the only guarantee for the self-emancipation of the downtrodden. And this would inspire the poor and working masses across Africa in the unfolding period of ceaseless struggle.

SWL Symposium on LP

Yahaya Abdullahi, Chair NLC FCT Council, speaking at the symposium

Yahaya Abdullahi, Chair NLC FCT Council, speaking at the symposium

The symposium organised by the SWL Abuja branch on The Labour Party and the Working Class: Which Way Forward? held on October 30 at the Labour House Auditorium had over 70 persons in attendance.

They were mainly workplace representatives from 17 unions, while Comrade Lawrence Amaechi, Vice Chairman of the NLC FCT Council was a Special Guest of Honour. Other attendees included LP ward/area council leaders from Gwawgwalada and Kwali as well as civil society activists.

Lead speakers were Lucy Offiong (Vice President NLC), Abdullahi Yahaya (Chairman NLC FCT Council), Peter Adejobi (former LP FCT Chairman), Jaye Gaskiya (Coordinator Protest to Power Movement) and Baba Aye of the SWL. There were robust discussions on the theme from 12noon to 3.30pm.

Comrade Lucy set the ball rolling with a historic perspective of the formation and development of the Labour Party. She informed participants that the party was registered as Party for Social Democracy by NLC in 2002 and was renamed Labour Party in 2004. The leadership of the party since then, she said, distanced itself from the trade unions preferring to relate with members of the capitalist class.

She however assured everyone that NLC and TUC are poised to reclaim the party by calling on its National Executive Council to reschedule the LP Convention without the overbearing influence of PDP apologists inspired by Dr Olusegun Mimiko, governor of Ondo state.

Comrade Yahaya argued that the workers have to be the backbone of a Labour Party for it to be a labour party in deed. He pointed out that workers can fund the LP as millions of workers paying N100 each per month as membership subscription would amount to hundreds of naira for building the party.

He expressed the full commitment of the NLC FCT Council to the building of a working class-based Labour Party with other progressive forces.

Comrade Peter was of the view that the blame for the alleged derailing of the LP leadership from the set vision of the trade unions lies with the trade unions themselves. According to him, they abandoned the party, with most labour leaders not being members of the party.

He gave an example of Comrade Oshiomhole who is an APC governor to buttress his position. He rounded up by saying the only way to reclaim the LP is for workers to join it en masse first and foremost, and for the trade unions to fund the party and learn how to play politics.

Comrade Jaye stressed the need for NLC and TUC to have short-term, mid-term and long-term plans for reclaiming the LP. He advised that participating in the 2015 general elections should be off the cards as the first thing is to reorient the party ideologically. Work should then be done towards positioning the party to play a decisive role in the 2019 general elections.

Baba Aye emphasized the need for a working people’s party to be one that will be part and parcel of, and give leadership to, all struggles of workers, poor farmers, the urban poor and other strata of the exploited and oppressed people. For this to be possible there is the need for such a labour party to be built on the basis of a socialist programme. Referring to the NLC policy on “Labour and Politics” adopted by the 8th National Delegates Conference in 2003, he pointed out that this position had actually been theoretically arrived at earlier by the trade unions but was put aside in practice.

He noted that the crossroads we are in now regarding party-building by the working class should be seized without equivocation, and called for decisive steps by the trade unions on the way forward.

He further observed that the need for the most active and committed working class fighters to organise together in a revolutionary socialist organisation like the SWL within and beyond a mass workers party cannot be overemphasized.

This is because such groups play a central role in helping to raise the consciousness of working people by generalising their experiences in different struggles and continually pointing at the linkages of these to the ultimate goal of the working class’ self-emancipation.

22 participants joined the SWL at the end of the symposium, while 45 copies of Socialist Worker were sold.

Victory for Striking Workers at the Ministry of Education

The Federal Ministry of Education offices in the Abuja and all Federal Secretariats in the 36 states were shut down as workers went on an indefinite strike from September 17, until a victory was won on October 22. The action was called by the Association of Senior Civil Servants.

The demands included the payment of: outstanding arrears from 2007 to 2010 and the balance of 2011 promotion arrears, promotion arrears from 2012 to 2013, unpaid salaries for July-October 2013, end of year incentives and duty tour allowances, for workers, all of which amount to N1.8bn, that had been budgeted for, over the years.

In a show of solidarity, non-members of ASCSN, from NCSU and AUPCTRE in the ministry joined the strike, raising its potency and forcing the state to release the sum of N527.6m as the first tranche of money to defray payment of these accumulated wages and allowances, in instalments, from October to December 2014. This goes to confirm the saying that when we dare to struggle, we dare to win.

Members of SWL in the Ministry of Education participated actively in the strike across different states. SWL salutes ASCSN and indeed all unions in the civil service on this partial victory, even as we call on them to remain vigilante, as the bosses cannot be trusted. Workers united, cannot be defeated!

SWL elects new leadership

Kemi Afolayan, Chair, AUPCTRE NOA Branch Ibadan and Biodun Olamosu, during a session at the Convention

Kemi Afolayan, Chair, AUPCTRE NOA Branch Ibadan and Biodun Olamosu, during a session at the Convention

Members of the Socialist Workers League from all over the country gathered at the IMB NUPENG branch guest house at Challenge, Ibadan for the 3rd National Convention of the League on October 31 to November 2, 2014. There were intense discussions on the international situation, the national situation, the students’ movement and struggles of women in the trade unions and informal economy.

A new Central Committee was elected, with Comrade Abiodun Olamosu as National Chairperson, while the Editorial Board was reconstituted as well with Comrade Baba Aye elected as Chair of the Editorial Board.

The January Awakening in Nigeria by Baba Aye

The Revolutionary Awakening of a People!

Introduction

Few in Nigeria would have the feeling that 2012 is barely a month old. The past few weeks have been filled with events of historic proportions. First, in response to the unpopular 120% hike in petrol price, the people spontaneously took to the streets across the country in stiff resistance and with an 8-day general strike and mass protests, won a stunted victory. After this, the fundamentalist sect known as Boko Haram, which has killed no less than 935 persons in barely two years according to Human Rights Watch carried out is most deadly attacks on state institutions killing over 200 persons in the northern city of Kano, as it freed 100 of its incarcerated members.

It is pertinent in reviewing this situation which Tell a leading liberal weekly in the country describes as “A Revolution Postponed”, to put in perspective the contradictions and convergence of crisis which the Nigerian society is now embroiled in and make projections about the turbulent road that lies ahead.

The main focus of this review is on the anti-fuel hike struggle, which is distinct from the Boko Haram mayhem. There are however inter-linkages which deepen with the announcement of the sect on January 24, that it would bomb the headquarters of the Nigeria Labour Congress because organised labour “accepted” just a partial reduction of petrol price instead of the full reversal demanded by Nigerians.

The myth of deregulation and the petrol price hike

The President of the Federation, Dr Goodluck Jonathan started a campaign to hike fuel price, in August last year, well after his elections. According to him, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) could no longer afford to “subsidize” petrol prices if it were to carry out infrastructural development in the country. The outcry was loud. Petrol prices had been raised no less than 20 times since 1988. The reasons given were always the same, the primary one being that more money would be available for development. But the reverse has always been the case. Nigerians from all walks of life thus made it clear that any increase would be resisted. Several organisations started mobilizing against the January 1, 2012 date slated for the implementation of “full deregulation”.

The state responded with what now can be seen as subterfuge. While maintaining its position that deregulation was inevitable, it expressed interest in consultation and a national dialogue. It equally assured the country that any deregulation whatsoever would not start before April 1. This was in line with the resolution of the National Assembly that the 2011 budget (which bore outlay for “subsidy”) would run till March 31. Most groups and Nigerians as a whole who had started mobilisation against an impending fuel price hike, simmered their agitations. For example, barely 24hours to the hike, a rally held in Lagos asserting that the postponement of deregulation expressed a (minor) victory for the working people, who must however remain steadfast till April and similarly, there had been arguments for calling off the January 3 protest march organised by the Joint Action Front, also in Lagos, but it was believed that it would serve as a pre-emptive measure and not one to resist what would have been announced.

The FGN’s attempt to catch the people off guard as it announced the increment on January 1 did not work. By January 2, the first spontaneous protests erupted in several cities. In a matter of days, the protests grew more organised and demands expanded to include: inquiry into “subsidy” management; cuts in the costs of state governance & even “Jonathan Must Go!”

Popular resistance and forms of struggle

The January awakening in Nigeria invoked diverse forms of struggle some being novel. The most potent of of all these forms, and which led to the greatest disappointment with its eventual sheathing was the General Strike which lasted eight days. Mass protests in the forms of processions and rallies which have been features of popular dissent over the decades shook over fifty cities in the country, involving millions of citizens. Never before has such spread and magnitude of mass protests been witnessed in Nigeria. The forms that could be considered novel and which have gained the awakening the epithet of “Occupy Nigeria” Movement, included mass occupation of city centres and parks which became designated as “Liberation Square” (in Kano) and “Freedom Square” (in Lagos), for example. It also included the internationalisation of the spread of the protest movement by Nigerians in the diaspora who organised demonstrations in several cities across Africa, Europe and North America.

While the initial outbursts were spontaneous, efforts at having it organised in different forms started from the very onset. In Abuja, citizens had gathered close to the Eagle Square to sign a people’s petition demanding price reversal on January 2. They were dispersed with teargas and over fifty persons were arrested, eight of whom were released the following day, only after the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission, now headed by Prof Chidi Odinkalu, himself a liberal activist.

The first major organised forms of action were on January 3, in the two largest cities of the country. These were the protest march led by the Joint Action Front in Lagos, and a rally in the Kano City Centre under the aegis of “Occupy Nigeria”. The Joint Action Front which was established in 2004 by pro-labour civil society organisations, including most of the socialist left groups in the country is the civil society arm of the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) which along with it includes the two labour federations, NLC & TUC. Its protest march had been planned as a pre-emptive action that might have drawn at best a few thousands. It became a major platform for venting the rage sweeping through the land in the heat of popular and rising struggle which at the time was still largely spontaneous.

In Kano, “Occupy Nigeria” had been formed by a number of civil society organisations and activists in October last year, with a major aim of resisting any fuel price hike, and drawing inspiration from the Arab Spring and the Occupy (Wall Street) Movement globally, fight for a better Nigeria. By the next day, the rally in Kano became an occupation which lasted till about 1.30am the following morning when it was dispersed by gun-totting anti-riot policemen. At least five persons were killed in that attack. (Police had earlier on January 3 killed the 23-year old Muyideen Mustafa at Ilorin in the heat of one of the spontaneous, peaceful protests then rocking the nation. He would be the first of no less than 20 citizens martyred in the course of the anti-fuel hike struggle). After the general strike was called off, the organisers of the “Occupy Nigeria” group in the state teamed up with other forces to establish the United Front for Good Governance which has faced attacks, including the beating up of one of its leader and the local university teachers union chair Dr Buppa, by State Security Services operatives who then tried to whisk him away, but were stopped by protesters.

There were several other attempts at occupying or protests that designated themselves as being or being part of an Occupy Nigeria movement. In Abuja, this could arguably be said to have started on January 6, with youths with some six young men and two ladies staying put overnight in the surroundings of Eagle Square. The size of this group increased to about 35 persons at the time it was dispersed in the early hours of Monday January 9 by policemen who beat them up. Several scores more joined this Occupy Nigeria/Abuja during the day or late at night, but did not sleep overnight as these determined youths did. The group, whose membership includes young activists around the new Coalition of Youths Against Fuel Price Hike, continued again despite several attempts at curbing it, in the course of the general strike at what was dubbed “Freedom Square”, by the NLC, in the commercial nerve centre Wuse district of the city. But after the strike, the occupation now takes place only late in the evenings after working hours.

In cities such as Port Harcourt, Benin and Ibadan, several groups have also described themselves as part of Occupy Nigeria while protesting under the banner of several coalitions, such as the Coalition to Save Nigeria which organised a demonstration in Benin City before the strike commenced and the United Action for Democracy, which is an affiliate of JAF in Port Harcourt, for example. In Lagos, the “occupation” assumed a carnival-like atmosphere in the Save Nigeria Group-dominated Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park, where no less than 500,000 people gathered everyday from dawn to dusk with speeches made and revolutionary music blaring through huge speakers, throughout the duration of the general strike. The Gani Fawehinmi Park at Ojota, the entrepôt of the mega-city was where the December 31 protest march led by the National Conscience Party and the family of the late gadfly Chief Gani Fawehinmi who had been its founder had ended with a rally. The JAF march of January 3 established the park as the locus of mass activity in the state.

In no time though, the Enough Is Enough/Save Nigeria Group, which had emerged as a liberal force of civil society in 2010 demanding a resolution of the constitutional crisis the country was then sliding into as the then President Yar’Adua seemed to be in a comatose state, took charge of that space. With much more financial resources than JAF, it made food and water available for the hundreds of thousands of citizens that stayed at the Freedom Park all day. Celebrities and liberal activists graced its dais, wherefrom they demanded for radical reforms, stating clearly that corruption and not Nigerians should be killed by the state.

JAF along with trade unionists under the aegis of LASCO, on their own part, organised daily processions through different parts of the city with tens of thousands in tow. Several smaller “Freedom Parks” where also established in different strongholds of the working people and youths, such as Alimosho, Ikorodu, Surulere and Ebutte Metta. JAF in the second half of January commenced establishing branches in these areas as part of its mobilisation towards the next phase of what could very well be an unfolding revolution.

It is pertinent at this juncture to analyse the general strike which was the heart of the popular resistance while it lasted (with the streets as its soul) and which with the way it ended, led to condemnation of the trade unions and provided a safety valve for the state and the system it represents for the postponement of the hour of revolution.

NLC/TUC General Strike and its suspension

There were calls from several quarters for an immediate declaration of a general strike. But only the National Executive Council (NEC) of the trade union federations could summon such. On Wednesday January 4, NLC at Abuja and TUC at Lagos held NEC sessions were it was resolved that an indefinite general strike and series of mass protests commence on January 9 if petrol price was not reverted back to N65 from N141. A joint communiqué “In Defence of the Nigerian People on Fuel Price Increases!”, was issued. Radical civil society organisations and activists were at both sessions and extracted a promise that the strike would not be called off without such all embracing meeting which would include civil society as well as the NEC members of both federations. This was based on fears from the trade unions suspension of earlier general strikes over the last twelve years.

The strike paralysed the country for the eight days it lasted. Across the length and breadth of the country, workers downed tools, in the public and private sectors as well as in the informal economy. Small scale employers and apprentices were not left out.

It was only in the South Eastern state of Ebonyi that workers in the public sector dejectedly went to work even as private sector employees joined the strike. This was after the state governor declared that there would be no pay for public servants who joined the strike. In Nigeria the “no work, no pay” rule is always declared by employers during strikes (including this recent general strike) but the trade unions undermine this through insertion of a “no victimisation” clause in agreements reached when grievances are deemed resolved. The Ebonyi state governor had however enforced this anti-workers principle in the aftermath of a local strike there in September.

It was not just the strike that was a resounding success. The mass protests and demonstration of solidarity across ethno-regional and religious divides that went with it were such as the nation had never witnessed before. In more than 50 cities, over ten million Nigerians marched in one accord. Non-Muslim protesters surrounded Muslim protesters in defense when they held their prayers, and in several cities in the North such as Funtua in Katsina and Minna in Niger, Muslims organised themselves into bands that surrounded Churches in protection on Sunday, in response to the earlier proclamation of Boko Haram that it would unleash violence against Christians in the northern parts of the country.

In Lagos, the various rallies and processions centrally and in various local theatres of popular activity involved no less than a million citizens. In Abuja where no mass procession had ever had more than 5,000 citizens, the first day witnessed some 20,000. It doubled the next day and for the rest of the week, despite the fact that many had to trek from far distances as there were very few buses on the roads, no less than 50,000 citizens marched in resistance behind the banner of organised labour.

Why then were the mass protests called off on January 17 and less than 24 hours later the strike called “suspended? This is a question that many find difficult to find any answer to other than “treachery”. The answer might not be that simple though; the trade unions primarily represent the working class but are trapped within the rubric of “collective bargaining” ideology with its penchant for middlegrounds & compromises, in a pluralist approach.

It is apt to look at the reasons organised labour gave for its action though. These were threefold. First, the security situation had degenerated, with increased tension in the land. Second, the state had accepted to probe the subsidy regime and the general state of corruption in the oil industry. And third, while labour still “rejects” the mere reduction of the hike instead of a reversal that still represented (partial) victory.

The state and its friends; contradictions and “consistency”

The FGN was obviously thrown aback by the upheaval that greeted its hike in the price of fuel. Since the year 2000, barely a year after the restoration of the Republic, fuel prices had been increased no less than 7times. Each time, there were general strikes and mass protests in response and after a few days; it would announce a “reduction” which actually amounted to significant increases over the status quo ante.

While Nigerians always called for full reversals and organised labour would echo this as it commenced general strikes, the new price would be accepted as a compromise position, the trade union centres would call off the strikes and the masses would grumble that labour had once again “sold out” and then we would all continue to live, even if not happily, ever after, until another round of increases.

Many Nigerians had come to cynically believe that the FGN actually raises the price of fuel beyond its target with this scenario in mind to then negotiate downwards to its earlier goal!

This time around, the matter was not that simple. The world as a whole is in a tumultuous state of flux and Nigerians are living witnesses to how regimes have been overthrown and millions are in movement to realise the possibility of another world. This influenced the fight back of the masses and this resistance led to the deepening of the contradictions within the circles of the state. But it still maintains a coherence of its anti-people line, even if it through its legislative arm in particular, it seemingly genuflects to people’s power and goes through the routine of a prologue for change.

We have seen the lies and subterfuge that preceded the fuel price hike. The extent of deceit and fraud on “subsidy” management would however not be revealed until during the on-going public session of the House of Representatives ad-hoc Committee constituted to look into the “subsidy” regime. Scandalous discrepancies emerged in the figures presented by; the ministry of finance; ministry of petroleum; central bank of Nigeria; petroleum products pricing agency &; Nigerian Customs.

While the Minister for Petroleum claimed that only private operators import petrol, the Nigerian Customs showed that up till December, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was a major importer of the product. As if this was not bad enough, its records showed that the mother vessels with which NNPC imported this were more often than not berthed in the waters of Togo and Benin Republic. With this, the Comptroller General of Customs rightly pointed out that the problem was not so much one of “smuggling” of “subsidized” petrol meant for Nigeria to neighbouring West African countries, as it was a case of “diversion”.

Interestingly, the FGN had always claimed that the quantum of petrol consumed daily in the country was 35million litres (this in itself is a big laugh! More objective analyses put the figure at between half and two third of this. Besides, this amount includes locally refined PMS which the PPPRA earlier said accounts for 20% of consumption). But the PPPRA Executive Secretary, one Reginald Stanley who had signed the New Year announcement of fuel hike further informed the House committee that what the FGN had been paying for was 59million litres pay day, leaving 24million litres unaccounted for, as the Farouk Lawan the committee chair made explicit. Lies, fraud, deception, roguery & barefaced thievery in high places were clearly hallmarks of the subsidization of corruption in the oil sector, which the masses are now to pay for.

But before this revelations which actually hardly strikes most Nigerians as suprising, the state as “the executive committee of the ruling class” showed itself not only in the form of coercion, but as well that of deception, in the heat of the strike.

The National Assembly made what many consider an “historic” decision when the House of Representatives cut shut its recess to pass a resolution moved by Tajudeen “TeeJay” Yussuf, a seasoned activist from his student day at UniJos, that the FGN revert the price of petrol back to N65 per litre. This was on the eve of the General Strike. During the strike & protests, the Senate passed a similar resolution. The leadership of both chambers played mediatory roles between labour and the FGN which was now presented as being solely the state by being the executive arm of government, as if the state and its apparatus of governance do not include the legislature and judiciary as much as the executive arm! More importantly, when the FGN rather reduced the price to N97, there was not so much as a whimper from our honourable and distinguished legislators despite this being clear disregard of not just their resolutions to the contrary, but indeed their legislation that the 2012 budget year start only on April 1.

The FGN on its part tried its utmost to use “propaganda”, blackmail and attempts at divide and rule, as much as it could. The labour unions were alleged to be in the pay of the so-called “cabal” which benefits from the “subsidy” to the detriment of the masses! Wrap around lines of trash in black and white espousing how pious and good intentioned the state is with its deregulation policy could be found on every single major daily newspaper and weekly magazine.

Shadowy groups such as “Nigerian Youths Coalition for Fuel Subsidy Removal” comprising lumpen elements that were paid the pittance of a mere N1,000.00 in a nearby alley, after attacking Labour House on January 6 were constituted to support such avowed captains of industry like Agedo Peterson a member of the presidential economic team who is also CEO of both Stanbic Bank and Cadbury Nig. Plc, in singing nonsensical lullabies of the el-Dorado Nigerians would blissfully enter with the magic wand of fuel hike.

As if this were not enough, conscious attempts to manipulate ethno-regional differences were made by the ruling class particularly by its cabal of “elders and leaders” from the Niger Delta region which President Jonathan hails from. They claimed Jonathan as their son who must be protected against the country and sang to the high heavens about his sincere motives which the masses who feel the pinch were merely too dumb to see, without a word about the patronage they live on, which has not brought about any visible improvement in the lives of Niger deltans through industries and job opportunities that they never created of course, despite the millions if not billions of naira they are worth, without any entrepreneurship.

Taking a cue from them, (ex-)Niger delta militants barricaded the same oil rigs they once used to blow up, to protect these against being shut down by the oil workers unions (this was a major reason why PENGASSAN could not shut down the flow of oil as it was made clear to them that any attempt to do such would be met with bullets from the “militants”).

All these could not stop the genie of working people’s power which like a fearsome spectre stalked the land for 8days. Even in Bayelsa state, the heartland of the Niger delta and Jonathan’s state of origin, while mass protests on the streets were not possible due to threats by the elders and militants alike, the strike was still total with offices and businesses under lock and key.

The final card of the Presidency and indeed the ruling class as a whole, despite the mimicry of support for the popular rage by a number of its representatives was that of unveiling its ever present (more or less covert when it could be, brazenly overt when push gets to be shove) teeth of dictatorship; deploying troops to the streets. Residents of Lagos, Kano, Abuja and other major cities where the battles between incipient revolution and disgraced reaction had raged for two weeks woke up to find soldiers, anti-riot police men and even sailors and air force personnel totting mean looking rifles and with armoured tanks, on the streets. That same morning, by 7.00am, President Jonathan addressed the nation. He claimed very much like Hosni Mubarak had done, that, miscreants and hoodlums had “hijacked” the strike and mass protests. For good measure, he also accused partisan forces of seeking to turn the mass anger against the fuel price hike to one for regime change.

With jackboots and artillery to enforce “acceptance” of N97/litre, the state, in its war against the people had won reprieve for a while for the ruling class. Law and order had been restored and an end brought to the beginning of the seething revolutionary situation in Nigeria. There would still be a few skirmishes in Lagos, Abuja and Kano, with Octogenarians tear gassed and occupier youths dispersed, but this would be footnotes to that chapter which closed with the “suspension” of the mass strike. All signs though point at this chapter being more of a prologue.

The friends of President Jonathan and his cabal in government are not limited to other members of the ruling class in Nigeria. Madame Lagarde of the IMF was in Nigeria a few weeks before the price hike promoting the suppossed veracity of a creed whose god is dead; neoliberalism which lies de-legitimized, shamed & shaken across the world even if the biceps of the old worn out but cunning man which capitalism is, still props this its most apt incarnation.

The chief priest of the shock doctrine, Jeffrey Sachs was more explicit in commending the FGN for daring to whip Nigerians with the scorpion of hike in fuel price. The views of citizens & the killings of no less than a score of human beings during protests against the shocking hike meant little to this suppossed democrat who would alleviate poverty.

Some of the friends of the FGN came as wolves in sheep clothing to the masses of Nigeria. Probably the most prominent of these was Barak Obama, President of the United States of (part of) North America. He loudly expressed the view that protesters had the right to demonstrate. But of course was silent on his position with regards to the price hike itself. Western imperialism learnt its lessons fast from the slow motion with which it almost got its foot in its mouth on the way down for Ben Ali & Hosni Mubarak. It had to seem to be on the protesters side from the onset in Nigeria, incase that would signal the spread of revolutions in sub-Saharan Africa.

While being one with its local quislings that rule Nigeria and other countries in the periphery of global capital, it has to seem to be our friend so that if -in its view, but when, in ours- we win, it could be relevant in giving direction as it now does in Libya (& this is no plus for Gaddafi either). The United States has not stopped at its prankish support of our right to protest (but not our protest itself). Barak Obama also expressed its concern about the menace of Boko Haram. A few days later, the Nigeria-US Commission signed an agreement of cooperation the contents of which remain largel obscure. This poses grave danger for the masses of this country & must be exposed for what it is. Everywhere the yankees have gone suppossedly to make the country better & more peaceful became worse & terribly blood soaked.

In pointing out the contradictions on the FGN’s side & its friends of the same plummage, we can actually see a bizarre constistency. It is that consistency of placing profit over people, the greed of the few over the needs of the many & of the dictatorial disposition of a bunch of elite over we, the immense majority of the population, even within “democracy”.

In lieu of a conclusion

The troops have been called off the streets as I write this piece. The Inspector General of Police has equally been replaced in the wake of the Boko Haram massacre in Kano. The Joint Action Front and other groups still maintain their stand on total reversal to N65/litre. Even the trade unions did not accept the mere reduction nor call off its strike, rather “suspending” it as they foresaw a stalemate.

What possibilities could lie ahead, & what lessons could we draw from the first dash in what could well be much more than a sprint of resistance & revolution?

It is quite certain from the current situation that without system change, chaos will continue & indeed deepen in Nigeria. The revelations from the House committee’s public sessions are enough to justify full reversal of petrol price to N65/l, at the very least, & to earn not a few persons extensive stays in prison yards. But these exposes in themselves will not bring about these drastic steps. It will take mass mobilization & recapturing the moment of January 1, which might have been lost in its pristine form.

Here could probably lie a major problem of fixation in the perspectives of many who seek alternative pathways for society, in the country. The issue of fuel price is indeed quite critical in so many ways in our country. It is not impossible that the next round of eruption might still be around it. It is very likely that many battles still lie around it in the future. But the chances of it fueling the immediate next chapter of unfolding in the country might be slim. The inflationary trend it has already sparked up is more likely to set of a wild fire of strikes for wages increment.

But this fixation in perspective flows from a deeper problem, the near collapse of radical alternative politics on any significant scale before the popular dam of rage burst. However, while the best time to have planted a tree was 20years ago, the next best time to plant it, if it has not been planted, as the Kanuri say, is now.

It would equally entail a lot of joint work, as well as the transformation of how a organisations & united fronts work. Not a few of these on the sidelines have rather amusingly tried more to frame roles and actions in the past few weeks in appropriative ways than to deepen organising.

Deepening organising would entail the transendence of fighting against power to fighting for power. Establishing organs of mass power from below is crucial for a genuine revolution as we saw a year ago in Egypt. It is however not enough to guaranttee taking decisive steps towards system change.

A new form of partisans politics would be required of the period we have entered, where the streets & workplaces take the main seat from electoralism as the road to power.

Meanwhile, the trade unions in Ghana are poised for a general strike to protest a 20% hike in petrol prices on December 28. This is quite instructive as it is a major indicator of the spread of revolutionary pressures across sub-Saharan Africa as the whole world gets ready for a year of worsening economic realities, political disillusionment with the old order & the the drawing of ever expanding numbers into the arena of contestation of power on the way forward. We would have to express our solidarity with our comrades in Ghana, just as working people & youths across the world expressed their solidarity with us during our recent struggle.It is also now necessary for both political and practical reasons that we raise the demand for a working people’s Republic of West Africa. Apart from such issues of “diversion” or “smuggling” of petroleum products making sense only with the sub-continent carved into several states, this would be a step towards a new Africa based on workers’ power and the establishment of a global socialist order.

The January awakening in Nigeria is part of the global movement of working people & youths against the system of capitalism which fosters our exploitation & oppression. It is in this light that it is equally the opening chapter of what would most likely be a long drawn class war between the ruling class of cabals in the country and the masses, the movement of the people.

 

NO TO FUEL PRICE HIKE! Time for System Change; REVOLUTION NOW!

The Federal Government set the country ablaze with its over 100% increase of petrol price on January 1. In a matter of days, massive demonstrations have rocked more than a dozen cities, shaking the country to its foundations; and this is just the beginning! NLC & TUC have declared an indefinite general strike & mass protests from January 9, if the increment is not reversed.

Unfolding before our eyes is a revolution with which we would change our fate, breaking the bondage of our oppression by the elites who feed fat on our sweat and the spoils of the land. The increase in fuel price is an attack on us all, sure enough, but it is more of an ignition of the anger we have bottled inside us for years, as we suffer and yet can hardly make ends meet.

Deregulation of petrol prices and all forms of deregulation, privatisation and so-called “public sector reforms” that lead to the worsening of the lives of working people ad youths are all part and parcel of the same capitalist system. The cabal that has been fleecing billions of naira from the supposed subsidy are equally part of the capitalist class that Goodluck Jonathan, his executives, the legislators and law enforcement agencies/army represent. Thus, under capitalism, either way, we the working people and youth suffer exploitation, oppression, and marginalisation.

The capitalist elites use our ethnic, regional, religious, etc identities to keep us divided. We are also made to believe that the capitalist system cannot be changed and that they and not we, the 99% who create the social wealth should determine our own fate as a people. In revolutionary times like this though, through our bold actions to resist such provocations as the hike in fuel prices, we come to realise the strength that collectively we have. We become bold enough to see in action that we can indeed build a new society based on solidarity with no regards for differences in religion, age, ethnic background or where we come from!

This is the greatest lesson from the Arab Spring which has spurred waves of revolutionary upsurges across the world. The unfolding revolution in Nigeria is part of the global awakening of the 99%. Different immediate causes have served as triggers in different countries. But the masses have had to generalise their anger and resistance, including but going beyond such immediate triggers. We demand the reversal of petrol price back to N65.00. But we want even more: WE WANT FREEDOM from exploitation and oppression of all forms! We want to build a society where power resides with us the people, and where the fullest development of all is both the goal and the basis of national & world development.

We know the capitalists have stolen and are stealing billions. We know that Nigerians, in the only national debate ever held on what sort of society we want to build (during the IBB regime) declared for socialism, and we also know that our struggle is one with that of working people and youths all over the world, together with whom in victory “we will bring to birth a new world on the ashes of the old”. And now, we have stopped agonizing and started organising. Our organising MUST NOT be limited to the legitimate and popular demand for the reversal of fuel pump price. This is the time for us to organise for our own self-emancipation.

What is to be done? Support the General strike; spread the mass protests and reclaim the streets; form General Assemblies and popular action committees as organs of people power, and MAKE THE REVOLUTION NOW!

 

Issued by Socialist Workers League © January 5, 2011. JOIN US NOW! Call:  08120128487 or 07037273343

Email: socialistworkersleague@gmail.com; or visit us online @: http://socialistbulletin.wordpress.com

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