The situation in Burkina Faso has been moving at lightning speed since the revolution erupted on Thursday, October 30. Not only did the revolutionary masses overthrew the hated Blaise Compaoré, but also his handpicked successor, General Honoré Traoré, just a few hours later. Since then the regime has been reeling. Meanwhile, the military tops, some reactionary elements within the opposition, and the major imperialist powers have been scrambling to hatch some kind of a deal to pacify the masses and restore some sort of bourgeois normality.
The overthrow of Blaise Compaoré
Late on Thursday, October 30, after the masses burned down the parliamentary buildings and had the politicians fleeing in all directions, it became clear that time for Blaise Compaoré was running out. He desperately tried to cling to power by handing over the day-to-day running of the government to General Honoré Traoré while he put himself in charge of the “transitional” period.
As his first act, the general ordered a nighttime curfew. But the masses could see through this deception and defied both the curfew and the state of emergency. On that same night, the masses packed the Place de la Révolution (renamed from Place de la Nation by the revolutionary masses). It was clear that Friday, November 1 was going to be decisive. Huge mobilizations resumed anew with the determined masses marching through the streets and gathering in the Place de la Révolution, and in front of the presidential palace.
These continued mass mobilizations proved to be crucial. As late as Thursday night, Compaoré was still adamant that he would not relinquish power. However, the pressure from the streets was just too much. Subsequently, the regime tried to preserve itself by cutting off one of its rotting limbs. The message came out from the presidential palace that an announcement was soon to be made. Blaise Compaoré then appeared on television, announcing his resignation: “In order to preserve the democratic gains, as well as social peace, I declare a power vacuum to allow the establishment of a transition leading to free and fair elections within a maximum of 90 days,” he said. Afterwards, reports came out that he was traveling in a 30-vehicle convoy toward the Ghanaian border. Subsequent reports confirmed he is actually in Yamoussoukro, the capital of Ivory Coast.
Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, the deputy commander of the elite presidential guard, then announced Compaoré’s resignation in the Place de la Révolution. As the news came out about Blaise Compaoré’s departure, the streets of Ouagadougou erupted into wild celebrations. A massive roar came from the Place de la Révolution. Unbelievable scenes of euphoria played themselves out in the dusty streets. There was spontaneous singing and dancing. Some youths aimlessly ran down the streets. Others burst into tears. The hated Blaise Compaoré, the murderer of Thomas Sankara and the only ruler the majority of the masses have ever known, was gone, overthrown by the masses. One protester said: “Blaise Compaoré has gone away, he is running away and we are very happy. The words are not coming so easy because I’m very happy. My children will now know another president.”
Scenes like this are present in the early stages all revolutions when the masses have achieved their initial victory. All the pent-up feelings of living in a class society are released in one collective outburst of emotion. Soon after, experience teaches the masses that although they have achieved a great victory, the rotten ruling class remains, and they are forced back onto the revolutionary road. The remarkable thing about Friday’s events was just how quickly this realization came.
In what can only be described as an emotional roller coaster, the mood once again swung back to anger, even rage, once the masses realized what had actually happened: although Compaoré was gone, he had handed over the reins to Traoré, also a hated figure and a close confidant of the deposed leader. The mood darkened again and the atmosphere was thick with rage as the revolutionaries were now gunning for Traoré.
A second ruler overthrown
Media reports described what happened next as a “power struggle” between Traoré and Zida. General Traoré, as the head of all the armed forces, released a statement saying: “In line with constitutional measures, and given the power vacuum, I will assume as of today my responsibilities as head of state.”
However, in the an early morning radio address on Saturday, Zida announced that he had now taken over. “I assume from today the responsibility of head of this transition and of head of state,” he said. For extra effect, the media reported that “heavy gunfire” was heard near the presidential palace just before Zida’s announcement. All of this the media reported as a struggle between the head of the armed forces, Traoré, and a commander of the elite presidential guard, Zida, with the latter coming out on top.
But what the media did not report was what was happening in the streets while this supposed “power struggle” was playing itself out. After the immediate euphoria of Compaoré’s overthrow, the mood in the central square in Ouagadougou changed drastically. Reports came in of young men mobilizing with the aim of pouring out of the Place de la Révolution and heading for the military headquarters and the presidential palace. After what had happened just the day before when similar scenes resulted in parliament being stormed and burned down, the army tops had to act quickly. It was then that Traoré was replaced with Zida. In their haste to describe what was happening as a struggle inside the military, the media briefly mentioned that the subsequent statement issued by the military hierarchy was actually signed by the Joint Chief of Staff, Traoré! As far as the gunfire incident goes (if it really happened), there is no evidence that it had any significance whatsoever. All indications are that this was just a localized incident. Let us be clear: General Honoré Traoré was not ousted as a result of a power struggle among army officers. He was overthrown by the masses just hours after they had overthrown Compaoré!
The masses turn against the military
If the military chiefs thought that their maneuvering would help to pacify the situation on the ground, they were sorely mistaken. The opposite happened. After Zida announced his takeover, the anger immediately turned against the army tops. On Saturday, in the streets of Ouagadougou protesters voiced rage that they had driven out Compaoré only to have another soldier imposed on them. Reuters reports the comment of a protester: “It’s ridiculous. It’s just replacing Blaise with a little Blaise. The presidential guard opened fire on the crowd. If we were able to get rid of Blaise, then he (Zida) will not be able to stop us. He is going to go, too!””
The coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups, which nominally leads the revolution, met late on Saturday and issued a statement in which they described the army takeover a confiscation of people’s victory. “The victory of the popular uprising—and consequently the management of the transition—belongs to the people and should not in any way be confiscated by the army. Our consultation reaffirmed that this transition should be democratic and civilian in character,” it said in a statement. They also announced a demonstration at Place de la Révolution for Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, also on Saturday, Zida was doing his best to “win the hearts and minds of the people.” He went on television saying: “This is not a coup d’état but a popular uprising. I salute the memory of the martyrs of this uprising and bow to the sacrifices made by our people.” The problem for him was that nobody believed him. This was proved on Sunday, when tens of thousands of people again flooded the streets to protest against attempts of the military to steal their revolution. The masses vehemently spoke out against the actions of the army. The BBC quoted one man as saying: “This morning we came out, because up until now the situation is not clear. We still don’t have a clear leader for our country. We don’t want the army to be in power, especially the special presidential regiment.”
The comment about the presidential guard is significant. A careful examination of the events shows that since the start of the revolution, it has been this elite regiment which has been used almost exclusively by the army while the ordinary troops have been held at arm’s length. This is significant given the country’s history. Burkina Faso has a history of lower ranking officers and rank-and-file soldiers siding with the the masses. Thomas Sankara is the most prominent example of this. Therefore, the army tops have been careful to keep them away from the main battles. If they dare try to use the troops against the people, they risk breaking the army up along class lines.
The situation was still very tense. Carrying banners and placards, those who turned out denounced the actions of the military. Thousands of protesters demanded that the military give up power, chanting slogans like “The soldiers have stolen our revolution,” “Zida get out!”, and “Zida is Judas.” Unfortunately, the gatherings and marches on Sunday were not as big as the ones on Thursday and Friday because of the actions of the leaders of the opposition. When there were just over one thousand people inside the Place de la Révolution, presidential guard troops then arrived and started firing in the air and drove around, clearing the square of protesters and then barricading it.
What needs to be understood is that the opposition consists of many groups and factions, each with their own agenda. The most revolutionary wing and the spearhead of the revolutionary uprising is Le Balai Citoyen (The Citizens’ Broom), centered around the rapper Smokey and the reggae musician Sams’k Le Jah. The reference to the broom harks back to the revolutionary regime of Thomas Sankara which initiated neighborhood cleaning campaigns. It is used today as a symbol of sweeping away all the rottenness and filth that set in after Sankara’s murder.
However, there are also some reactionary elements in the opposition movement, organized mainly around the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP). These are people from Blaise Compaoré’s party and close allies, with which he has fallen out over Article 37, the proposed change in presidential term limits which sparked the revolution.
The limitations of the leaders of the opposition was evident over the weekend. On Saturday, when Zida announced that he was taking over, the opposition did not work to set up action committees, nor did they call for mass rallies immediately. Instead people were encouraged to clean the streets!
The leaders of Balai Citoyen, that have played a crucial role in mobilizing the youth in revolutionary action against the old regime, also revealed the limitations of their outlook. In a press conference they announced their support for Zida, with the argument that, if not the military, who would take power in the transitional period? Clearly, their campaign was one which had a single clear aim: to get rid of Compoaré; but they did not have any idea of what he should be replaced by or how.
The call for mass rallies only came late Saturday evening. This was bad enough, but having called the rallies, one of the opposition leaders made a radical speech the next day against the army tops but ended his speech by calling on the masses to disperse peacefully. It was after this, with the square emptying, that the presidential guard had the chance to clear the square and barricade it.
This caused outrage among the masses. The BBC interviewed an ordinary protester who was visibly upset at the opposition parties and summed up the mood of the masses with brilliant insight and extraordinary revolutionary consciousness:
“I am very angry at the opposition parties. Last night they told us to come out and protest this morning at eight. I had things to do, you know. I have a family to feed, I have five kids. But still I came out, but they did not have anything to say. I had to go home and try to get some news, so they could have just gone and talked to one of the local radio stations then.
“In all our families, there are problems, but when things get hot, we want to see the head of the families. Where are they now? Even if they are threatened, even if they have problems, they should be there with us on Revolution Square. A political struggle is a fight to change the balance of forces. If the military know they have troops, then political parties know they have militants. So they should have been here with us and we would have marched together towards the presidential palace, and that way Zida would have known that they are people backed by the opposition. But if opposition leaders stay home, if they are nowhere to be found, how will they deal with the power struggle?
“Today, we are angry at them, because they are the ones who made this possible for the military. But we, the people, we won’t be silenced.”
A third ruler on his way out
At the same time as the masses were hounded by armed soldiers, Zida was having behind-the-scenes meetings with the rest of the army tops, reactionary elements of the opposition, and diplomats from other African countries, as well as with the imperialist powers, USA and France. Those present were opposition leader Zephirin Diabr (a traitor from the start), former Foreign Minister Ablassé Ouedraogo, former Premier Roch Marc Kaboré, and Benewende Sankara. After the talks, an army spokesman said that an interim body would be formed of “broad consensus” from all stakeholders. It was clear that this “broad consensus” meant the involvement of everyone in a desperate attempt to avoid power falling into the hands of the revolutionary masses.
On Monday, November 3, it became clear what the outcome had been of those backroom dealings. Zida announced to the same gathering of diplomats that he would give executive powers to a “transitional government.” “We are going to move very fast, but be careful not to make a mistake that might damage our country. We are not here to usurp power and sit in place and run the country, but to help the country come out of this situation,” he said. He added that a new head of state, most probably a bourgeois civilian, would be “chosen” following consultations with various groups. A civilian “transitional” government was to be installed.
If this comes to fruition, it would mean that the masses have actually overthrown three rulers in a matter of four days!
The hypocrisy of the imperialist powers absolutely knows no limits. US and French imperialism, in cahoots with the weak and pathetic African Union (AU) and the United Nations, have been making around-the-clock calls for the military to step down and give power to some “civilian authority.” The US State Department on Saturday condemned the Burkina Faso military’s seizure of power and urged it to transfer power immediately to civilian authorities. Washington says it could freeze military cooperation if it judges a coup has taken place.
The African Union took the same position. “The Chairperson of the African Union Commission . . . stresses the duty and obligation of the defense and security forces to place themselves at the disposal of the civilian authorities who should lead the transition,” it said in a statement. The fact that the weak, servile, and toothless AU should take up an identical position to Washington is no surprise. After all, they are only the local office boys of their imperialist masters. When the imperialists say jump, they shout “how high?” This is the same African Union who went along with Nato’s criminal bombing of Libya in 2011, which resulted in misery for the Libyan people. 72 Libyan civilians were killed by Nato’s “smart bombs,” a third of them children, after it said its aim was to protect civilians from Gaddafi. They have backed murderous Libyan warlords like the National Transitional Council (NTC) which, according to the UN, are holding 8000 people without trial, have massacred 30,000 black Libyans in the town of Tawergha, and are daily engaging in rampant torture and ethnic cleansing for which the AU—and those African governments which sit on the UN Security Council, which approved the bombings—is liable for. The AU consists of many equally despised despotic leaders who are now suddenly defending “democracy.”
US imperialism has supported every rotten and despotic regime in existence, including the current regime in Burkina Faso. In fact, according to a spokesman for the US Africa Command, Colonel Zida has received special US counterterrorism training on at least two occasions.
All these attempts by the imperialists and their stooges in the AU are self serving. They can see that the military in Burkina Faso is too weak to resist the advance of the revolution. They are now desperately trying to forge some deal which involves the military nominally stepping aside for some “civilian” authority in a transparent attempt to pacify the masses. In other words, they are preparing a counterrevolution with a democratic face.
One of the great lessons of the Burkinabè revolution is how incredibly mobile it is. The revolutionaries have been moving up and down the streets, from the presidential palace to the Place de la Révolution and from building to building. This is a great lesson for revolutionaries across the world. The revolution is never static. Although the Place de la Révolution is the epicenter of the revolution, it did not limit itself to remaining there. Furthermore, once the revolutionary masses had reached their destination, they were not afraid to cross the threshold. They did not just demonstrate in front of a building. They actively moved in and chased out all the bourgeois politicians and reactionary elements. These are the the reasons for the extraordinary successes they have achieved in just five days.
On Monday, November 3, the streets of Ouagadougou were relatively calm, although tension was still in the air. This is a direct consequence of the actions of the leaders of the opposition, who were quick to enter into a deal with the regime. It looks like the army, some within the opposition, and the imperialist powers have all entered into a deal where the army is to hand power over to a civilian body which will lead the country to elections.
The revolutionary masses in Burkina Faso have achieved miracles in just under a week. But it is clear that they are being hampered by a lack of revolutionary leadership. This is confirmation of what Marxists have been saying all along: a revolutionary leadership must be patiently build beforehand.
We have to see what transpires next. But if the ruling class thinks that this rotten deal will satisfy the masses, they are bitterly mistaken. The people are seeing straight through them. They are also learning about the nature of their leaders through bitter experience. On the other hand, they are very confident, having overthrown three rulers in four days. At the moment they are watching events unfold very keenly and are learning and absorbing the lessons of the past five days. None of their basic problems have been solved. Very soon, probably within a matter of days, they will be out again with renewed vigor.