Revolution in Burkina Faso
In the beginning of the 1990s international geopolitics pushed the government of Compaoré to start the transition to multiparty democracy and a free market economy. Burkina Faso is now presented as one of the World Bank and IMF’s best pupils but is still one of the poorest countries in the world (181 out of 187 countries in the 2013 UN Human Development Index) with 46% of the population struggling to exist beneath the poverty line. Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, this situation of neoliberal structural adjustment led to great inequality. One in ten Burkinabe now own half of the countries riches. There is high unemployment, especially for the two thirds of the population that is under 25 years old.
In the first half of 2011, a powerful popular movement erupted with demonstrations and strikes (but also military mutinies). Strikes took place in many work places such as 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 any more, 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 solidarity. These mass actions came close tobringing the Arab Spring to sub-Saharan Africa and toppling Compaoré. His authority was shaken as his authority rested on the army and especially the presidential guard – which mutinied on 14 April 2011. At this stage the government gave in to many popular demands (for example, the teachers), but once order was restored the regime returned to repression against the first group of workers to strike – workers in the Ministry of Finance. In August2012, 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.
But who takes over is also mportant. The leader of the opposition has 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 governments economic policies. Tolé Sgnon, secretary general of CGT-B a major trade union centre explained this problem saying “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.” But the lack of an organised socialist opposition with a clear view of the need for the self-emancipation of the working class means that these protests can often be contained within the limits of current society and so do not result is 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 clear socialist organisation with mass support to fuse the power of the small organisedworking class and the poor majority of the population. As the opposition were organising another demonstration at the beginning of November last year they said,
“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.”
The struggle in Burkina Faso continues.