By Bhavya Kumar:
And one single night has drawn together
The history of an entire people,
And one single night has launched its triumphal march.
Towards the horizon of good fortune.
One single night has brought together our people
With all the peoples of the World,
In the acquisition of liberty and progress.
Motherland or death, we shall conquer.
Anthem of Victory
National Anthem, Burkina Faso
(Lyrics by Thomas Sankara)
These lyrics seem to reflect aspirations that cannot be fulfilled any time soon, and personally, I find certain nations fairly distant from theseÂ “horizon of good fortune”. Burkina Faso is a country where political stability is yet to be achieved, despite the country’s history of active demonstrations and movements. Not a lot has been won, and it’s hard to look forward to the future they long for, for a number of reasons. Mostly because of the indecisiveness of the country as to where to move to, and also because of the continuous foreign intervention in the polity of the country. Burkina Faso echoes the stories of many African nations that are facing similar crises of self-determination, self-governance and complete sovereignty. Many such struggles turned into full-blown civil wars. Very few leaders emerged in these countries at different times and occasions, and Burkina Faso was blessed with one such leader, called Thomas Sankara.
Called the “African Che Guevara” by admirers and observers, he led Burkina Faso’s first, and one of Africa’sÂ most significantÂ revolutions. A pan-Africanist, and of Marxist inclination, he willed to root out the economics interests vested in the country by their previous colonial masters and other Western powers. His concern about his nation was reflected in his strong opposition to the “aid” that would flow in from Western nations. The idea was to make Burkina Faso a self-reliant country. The economy was to be based on nationalization policies, driven by considerable, potential manpower and natural resources. In 1984, he renamed what was earlier called Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means “Land of the Upright People”. There is so much that can be said about him, and what he was fighting against. The land has seen bitter poverty during the colonial era, when the French used the place mostly for procuring labor for other French colonies. That’s not to say that other colonies were in a good shape. Exploitation was the basis of most European colonies. But there still are multiple ways to do so even if you have lost your authority as a colonial power. You can always make them indebted to you through various forms of “aid”, developmental loans and other policies and programs launched by international organizations. Sankara was against the intervention of IMF and World Bank, and the “aid” they provided to Third World countries, which he saw as a form of dependence.
During his short but significant term, basic things such as vaccination, to nationalization of important industries and resources were introduced. After four years of being in power, in 1987, he was assassinated by a close supporter called Blaise Compaore, who had different, rather opposite, ideas about this same country and how it should be managed.
With French backing, Compaore led a successful coup, and thus began a rule that was to last for almost three decades, until a few days ago. Economy took to a relative stable growth, but still, there were lapses to be seen. While there was a growth in industries such as mining, but the larger scenario still remains somewhat pitiable, where a huge section of the total GDP is occupied by agricultural production, the major produce being cotton. Though there are steady investments, and the growth rate is at about 6-7%, it doesn’t show in reality because investments are made in areas where the population isn’t engaged, for instance, mining. While mining has jumped up and yields quite a lot to the economy, it still composes about 0.7% of the whole GDP, with very little number of persons engaged in it. The manufacturing and the service sectors cannot absorb population into employment, firstly because they are not expansive enough. A massive proportion of labor force, about 80%, is engaged in agriculture, which contributes to something about 33% to the whole of the economy. Inflation is very high, and unemployment rate is about 77%. There is an evident depression, and not only in the standard and the quality of living. Infant mortality rate, for instance, is very high, at about 77 deaths per 1000 births. That tells us a lot about the affordability ofÂ and serious drawbacks in the health-care system, which is just one aspect to whatever is available to the society.
A lot can be said about Burkina Faso’s poverty and anyone writing about the country would love to embellish the whole piece with statistics because they are very important to illustrate the state of economy of the country. Problems like corruption are there, but most of all, the country’s agendas are changing from time to time from government to government, and most of all, even a 27-year old stable rule wasn’t enough to determine the sort of structure that will actually suit the needs of the nation. The country has a weak industrial base, and infrastructure is poor. Landlocked, lacking in energy resources, and many other factors become catalysts to the condition of the country. However, looking at the political history of the country, it becomes clearer that political instability is another factor which has been a problem since its independence in 1960.
About six days ago, on the first of November, amid massive protests against Compaore for allegedly planning to extend his term, a military coup was successful pulled off, and a certain military commander, Lt Col Isaac Zida, took up the post of an interim head of state, that too after overruling the claims made by military chief General Honore Traore to head the interim government. Rumors of United States having to do with his accession of power are being circulated. There is a call by nations to restore civilian rule in Burkina Faso, including from the US itself. The opposition parties demand democratic transition to the new government that they desire should succeed Compaore. However, it’s not clear if the military will yield to it at all, since the constitution and the legislature have been done away with.
The leadership in Burkina Faso lacked the element of contact with the larger masses, due to which it suffered in the forms of protests and strikes, and finally, a dispossession, though not conducted by the same masses. They lack representation, and more than that, they lack the motivation to seek representation. Sankara is still the leader many Burkinabes wish to resurrect for their cause.