What are the prospects for Burkinabè politics now?



From New Left Review:

In late October 2014, hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the streets of Burkina Faso, incensed by Blaise Compaoré’s bid to change the constitution and seek a fifth presidential term. Many of their placards displayed photographs of Thomas Sankara, Compaoré’s revolutionary predecessor. Others simply read: ‘Blaise, Get Out.’ Pressure had been building all year among citizens of the impoverished West African state, and by October the mood had hardened. Compaoré clung on, sometimes defiant, sometimes pleading: suggesting reforms, appealing for stability, issuing reminders about the importance of the rule of law. The protests continued nonetheless. Police lined the streets. Many demonstrators were injured; at least thirty were killed.

A group called Balai Citoyen (‘Citizens’ Broom’) played a key role in the protests. Balai was founded by prominent musicians: Smockey, a rapper, and the reggae artist Sams’K Le Jah, whose music helped to energize the mainly young crowd—60 per cent of Burkinabès are under 24. As well as Balai Citoyen, other social movements mobilized, among them the Mouvement Ça Suffit (‘That’s Enough’), along with trade unionists and established opposition politicians such as Zéphirin Diabré and Saran Sérémé, who had formerly been members of Compaoré’s ruling party. Sérémé and her colleague Juliette Kongo organized a major women’s protest in the capital Ouagadougou on 27 October. Thousands marched, holding wooden cooking spatulas and megaphones in the air. Eventually, on the 30th, a huge crowd—the opposition claimed it was a million strong—marched on the parliament building and breached its security cordon. Ordinary citizens sat in the chairs of the National Assembly. Compaoré’s regime came to an end that day. After 27 years in power, Compaoré admitted defeat around noon on 31 October 2014.

The mobilization against Compaoré was one of the most important popular movements in Africa since the end of the Cold War, and its regional reverberations are likely to be felt for years to come. Although they have not attracted anything like the same attention in the Western media, the Burkinabè protests bear comparison with the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt—not just in their scale and militancy, but in their equivocal outcome: some of the old regime’s functionaries could soon be found at the head of Burkina Faso’s post-Compaoré government. The text that follows sets out to make sense of these events against the backdrop of modern Burkinabè history, with particular attention to the meaning attached to the language of ‘democratization’ today. The images of the revolt against Compaoré that reached an international audience showed a youthful popular uprising that articulated a palpable scepticism towards the existing, institutionalized modes of democracy in Burkina Faso, seeking to nurture alternative forms of participatory citizenship. Many concerns of the protagonists echoed those of an earlier anti-colonial period in African intellectual history. I will place this moment of popular resistance in context by giving a historical account of the Compaoré regime and the ways in which it sucked virtually all meaning from the procedural architecture of Burkinabè democracy, and by tracing the alternative traditions of dissent and protest on which the recent upheaval drew. Finally, what are the prospects for Burkinabè politics now, after an election in 2015 which suggested no real rupture with the past?

“New Broom in Burkina Faso?”, Alexandra Reza, New Left Review

Photographs of Ouagadougou by Enrique Mendizabal and Thoralf Gutierrez