The Coup in Burkina Faso


Source: Socialist Action, No. 173, October 23, 1987, p. 9.
Transcribed: Zdravko Saveski, December 2022.

THE government of Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso has been overthrown in a bloody coup, which will have major implications for the entire Sahel region of West Africa and beyond. Sankara was killed along with three other members of the government. A further 100 other people were killed as forces of coup leader Blaise Campaoré advanced on the presidential buildings.

A NIGHT curfew has been imposed and national holiday declared to prevent the possibility of supporters of the Sankara government organising opposition.

Blaise Campaoré - who had been Sankara's deputy in the revolutionary CNR (National Council of the Revolution) government - sought to justify the coup by branding Sankara a 'traitor' and an 'autocrat' who was leading the country back to 'neocolonialism.'

The reality was quite different. Under Sankara's leadership, housing and transport have been improved through programmes of house, rail and road building and vaccinations.

Women's rights have been promoted. Women won the right to own land, borrow money and choose their method of birth control, and equal pay.

The benefactors of the 1983 revolution have been the country's peasants, the overwhelming majority of the population and the small working class. Infant mortality and illiteracy have been substantially reduced. Land has been protected from the advancing Sahara desert by major tree planting programmes. Agrarian reform was instigated nationalising the land and beginning its redistribution, and curtailing the rights and privileges of the traditional tribal chiefs.

In the Non-Aligned Movement, Burkina Faso collaborated closely with Cuba. The weekend prior to the coup, the capital, Ouagadougou, was the scene of a major international anti-apartheid conference.

Burkina's anti-imperialist stance brought it into conflict with French imperialism and its regional clients. In 1983 [1985], shortly after the revolution, Mali invaded. Last year, France's President Mitterrand publicly criticised Sankara.

The attitude to relations with Mitterrand appear to have been a key point of difference between Sankara and Campaoré, with the coup leader said by Guardian writers Lyse Douset and Paul Webster to be 'an admirer' of the French president. They also describe Campaoré as 'pro-Soviet'.

One of the first acts of the new regime was to release from prison Souman Le Touré [Soumane Touré], a union leader detained in May following a strong attack on the government. Touré is a leading member of Lipad, the Burkinabe organisation with close relations to the French Communist Party.

Another difference appears to have concerned the relation between the government and the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs). Whereas Sankara always stressed that the revolution's power was rooted in the CDRs, Campaoré stated as early as 1984 that 'the grassroots level many criticisms and suggestions at us, but it is the top, the leadership which decides and the grassroots have to submit'.