Burkina Faso: Long Live the Popular Uprising!

Down with the Military Regime! Advance the “Sub-Saharan Spring” to an Authentic Revolution of the Workers and Peasants!

Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 4.11.2014, www.thecommunists.net


1.            After twenty-seven years of brutal rule, the dictatorship of President Blaise Compaoré of the West African state of Burkina Faso has been overthrown. Compaoré was toppled by a popular uprising after he attempted to modify the country’s constitution to allow him to be “re-elected” for a fifth term in office. When the ruling party – the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) – tried to push such a bill through parliament on 30 October, hundreds of thousands of people occupied the streets in protests. After demonstrators stormed the parliament and set parts of it on fire, Compaoré resigned and handed over power to General Traore. However, the protests continued, leading the army command to seize power, and on 1 November it named Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, former deputy commander of the presidential guard, as head of state. While the new rulers promise to “hold elections within 12 months,” this hollow commitment is merely a reactionary attempt to suppress the ongoing popular uprising.

2.            The deeper roots of this democratic revolution are the popular outrage against the authoritarian and corrupt regime of Compaoré. His more than quarter century of rule was characterized by a thoroughly reactionary dictatorship in the service of imperialism. After coming to power via a military coup in 1987, Compaoré liquidated most of the progressive social and economic achievements of his predecessor, Thomas Sankara. He privatized most of the nationalized enterprises and succumbed to the dictates of the IMF. Unsurprisingly, Compaoré’s coup was supported by the country’s former colonial power, France. During the past decade, Compaoré was one of West Africa's most important leaders and served as a lackey for French and US imperialism in their conflicts in the Sahara and Mali. According to the Washington Post, Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, is home of “a key hub of the U.S. spying network.

3.            Today, Burkina Faso is one of the poorest nations on earth, the UN Human Development Index ranking its average per capita income as 183 among 187 countries! Life expectancy is less than fifty-six years. Nearly 45% of the country’s 17.5 million inhabitants have to live on less than $1.25 a day and 38% of all children between the ages of five and fourteen are forced to work. Burkina Faso’s economic plight is the result of super-exploitation by imperialist monopolies, while the West’s military presence in the country was authorized by the local lackey dictator.

4.            Currently, the main danger for the insurgent workers and peasants is the attempt of the old ruling elite to retain the political and social order established by Compaoré, only without Compaoré. Consequently, the central challenge for the protestors is to continue their mass mobilizations and overthrow the military regime which is trying to contain and ultimately suppress the popular uprising.

5.            However, in addition, the mass movement also faces a number of obstacles from among its own ranks which might hinder the achievement its goals. The leaders of the movement Balai Citoyen (“Citizen Broom”) – the reggae musician and radio host Sams’k Le Jah and the rapper Smockey – may sympathize with Thomas Sankara’s ideas, but lack a concrete program for revolutionary transformation. Opposition parties like the recently formed People's Movement for Progress are dominated by former officials from the Compaoré’s CDP who resigned from this party earlier this year. They have no interest in any profound rupture with the old order. Naturally the imperialist powers as well as other – equally corrupt and authoritarian – African regimes will also intervene in order to keep submissive rulers in power. There is a real danger that if the masses succeed in removing Lieutenant Colonel Zida, they may nevertheless be defrauded by a government composed of such bourgeois opposition politicians.

6.            Many progressive activists in Burkina Faso, as well as other African countries, admire Thomas Sankara who led a coup d’état in 1983 and held power until he was murdered four years later by his former partner Compaoré. Sankara’s popularity among many demonstrators participating in the current mass mobilizations reflects their desire for a revolutionary and socialist transformation. Authentic revolutionaries can best support the struggle of the vanguard by explaining the limits and dangers of Sankara’s political program. All revolutionaries should express their respect for Sankara’s honesty and dedication to the cause of improving the lives of the popular masses. Compared to the corrupt and slavish rulers in other countries, he was a saint. It is no accident that he is often called “Africa’s Che” in allusion to Latin America’s most famous revolutionary Che Guevara. His program for nationalization of land and natural resources, his public health and education programs, and his desire to improve the social status of women were all extremely progressive. However, Sankara was a revolutionary petty-bourgeois nationalist and had no understanding of a socialist transformation led by the working class. As a result, he came to power not via mass mobilizations of the workers and peasants, but by a military coup. He had repeated clashes with trade unions. As a result, when he was murdered by his former companions during the coup d’état in 1987, there was only little popular resistance. Today, revolutionaries can best honor the progressive and radical goals of Thomas Sankara by choosing the Marxist path of organizing and mobilizing the workers and peasants, and by seizing power by an armed insurrection under the leadership of a revolutionary mass workers’ party.

7.            It is vital that the heroic masses learn the lessons of past revolutions which failed to achieve their goals, like the recent uprisings in the Arab world. The RCIT has repeatedly warned that the revolution must not be satisfied with simply replacing individuals at the top of the state apparatus. Rather, the workers and peasants must orient themselves to founding new, popular, council-based democratic organs to replace the old dictatorial state apparatus which remains fertile ground for corruption and abuses. Such councils should be based on regular assemblies of the workers in their places of employment and of the popular masses in their neighborhoods and villages, in which they can discuss and vote on the most urgent issues facing their society. These assemblies should elect delegates who will then form city, village, and regional councils. Ultimately, out of such direct, democratic organs a government should be elected. All delegates – including the elected government – must be accountable to and recallable by the regular grass root meetings. Such a government could never act against the people, since it would immediately be voted out of power. Such a workers’ and peasants’ government would rely not on the old and corrupt army but on the armed power of popular militias. Such a government would break Burkina Faso’s dependency of the imperialist monopolies. It would nationalize the key industries and banks under workers’ control. It would also nationalize the land in order to promote voluntary agricultural cooperatives and to distribute land to the poor and landless peasants. Such a set of transitional slogans could open the path to a socialist revolution where the workers, with the support of the poor peasants, expropriate the capitalist class and create a workers’ and peasants’ republic.

8.            Given the lessons of past failed uprisings, the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) calls upon workers and peasants to organize in action committees in order to advance the struggle against the new military rulers. Such action committees should establish armed self-defense groups to protect the masses against the army. They should try to win over the rank and file soldiers to their side so that the latter turn their guns on their generals. Equally they should call for the dissolution of reactionary army units like the presidential guard. They should mobilize to seize the assets of Compaoré and his collaborators. In order to prevent a handover of power which would keep the old corrupt order, the workers and peasants should mobilize for a revolutionary constituent assembly.

9.            The news agency Reuters recently quoted a university student who commented on the popular uprising in Burkina Faso: "This is a sub-Saharan Spring and it must continue against all the presidents who are trying to hang on to power in Africa." Indeed! To achieve this, revolutionaries in Burkina Faso should join forces to build a new party which is independent of capitalists, imperialist institutions, and bourgeois parties. Such a party should be based on the working class and should fight for a socialist revolution. It should orientate itself to unite the struggle with those of workers and the oppressed in other countries – from Palestine and Egypt, to Brazil, China, Greece, and the USA. To do this, this party must be part of the Fifth Workers’ International.


International Secretariat of the RCIT