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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

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a bi-weekly publication of the Socialist Workers League, in the traditions of International Socialism. we stand for revolution from below! and our call is: workers & youths! unite & fight!

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