Burkina Faso Coup: Major Setback to Revolution


Source: Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, No. 75, February 1988, p. 10.
Transcribed: Zdravko Saveski, December 2022.

When a corrupt, pro-imperialist regime was overthrown in the former French colony of Upper Volta on 4 August 1983, it soon became clear that this was no mere palace coup. The group of junior army officers led by Thomas Sankara established a National Council of the Revolution (CNR) which, having changed the name of the country to Burkina Faso - 'Land of Dignity' - launched programmes of land reform, education, health care and popular power, organised through Committees for the Defence of the Revolution.

French and US imperialism, and their local puppets, were alarmed by Burkina Faso's entry on the road of socialist development. Financial and political pressures culminated in a full scale invasion of the country by forces from neighbouring Mali in December 1985. It was a fiasco.

On 15 October 1987, Sankara was overthrown and killed in a military coup, and power seized by a 15 October Popular Front (FP 15) headed by former Sankara aide, Blase Compaore.

Compaore blames Sankara for ordering the arrest of a prominent trade union official; Sankara's supporters allege that the official in question had been putting his sectional interests above those of the revolution as a whole, by pressing excessive wage demands. Compaore claims that Sankara was plotting to murder most of the leadership of the revolution. The charge is identical to that made, equally without foundation, by some supporters of Bernard Coard to justify the overthrow and murder of Maurice Bishop in Grenada in 1983. Several of Sankara's ministers have been arrested, including leaders of the Union of Communist Struggle - Reconstructed.

Compaore's supporters have also described Sankara's active solidarity with the anti-apartheid struggle as a diversion from the needs of the Burkinabe people. The CNR was an outspoken supporter of the struggle of the Kanak people of New Caledonia, and helped to get their case put on the agenda of the UN General Assembly. By the time it came to a vote, a few weeks after the coup, the FP-15 delegate abstained. This was an insult to the Burkinabe people who identify with the struggle against French imperialism.

The people are clearly unhappy with the new regime. Many wreaths have been sent to Sankara's grave with the words 'Thomas Sankara cannot be murdered by traitors', and 'the people will never forget you'. The FP-15 has forbidden a funeral to be held for Sankara, lest it turn into a display of mass opposition to the coup; by contrast, a demonstration of support for FP-15 had to be cancelled because hardly anyone turned up.

Condemnations of the coup came from Cuba, Nicaragua and Ghana. The first statement of support came from the French puppet regime in Togo. Sankara's death is considered a great loss by progressives throughout the region.

Despite the criminal manner in which it came to power and its rightward shift on the struggle in South Africa and New Caledonia, the FP-15 says it remains committed to the programmes of the revolution. If so, it dearly needs reconciliation with Sankara's supporters: the vast majority of the people of Burkina Faso.

Mike Webber