Burkina Faso on the brink- what are the issues at stake?

Dimeji Macaulay

In 2022 alone, Burkina Faso suffered two military coups. The first one was in January and the second one in October. Sandaogo Damiba came to power in January, installing himself as leader of the country’s 16 million people, after accusing the elected president Christian Kabore of failing to beat back the Islamic fundamentalist armed insurgency in the country. On September 30th, 2022, another coup removed Damiba under the same pretext. Ibrahim Traore took over as interim leader and is now trying to stabilise his rule.

Each time there is a coup in any African country, there is a barrage of international condemnation from France, the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The African Union has suspended Burkina Faso from all its activities in response to last year’s military coups, effective until constitutional order is restored. 

But this type of condemnation is hypocritical; the leaders of most African governments are puppets of the French, British or US imperialists. The imperialists don’t show the same sensitivity when ordinary people suffer under the boot of regimes that are pro-western. 

In the case of the Sahel region, the Islamic insurgency that has plagued Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad among others, keeps spreading as a result of grievances against corrupt capitalist elites that have been in power for decades.

Anti-French, pro-Russian

On January 22nd, 2023, the military government of Burkina Faso asked the French government to remove its troops from the country. As a former French colony, Burkina Faso has had strong ties with its former colonizer. The French government reluctantly accepted to relocate its special troops, which were there in order to “assist with the battle against ISIS”in neighbouring Niger. 

This policy of the Burkinabè government is in line with a number of popular mobilisations against the presence of French troops in the country. 

During the coup in October, protesters attacked the French embassy in the capital Ouagadougou, while some days ago, in January 20, 2023, a mass protest took place where protesters set fire to French flags or used them to collect rubbish. At the same time, Russian flags were raised during these events.

French president Macron said during a news conference in Paris that the message from Burkina Faso was “confusing”. He accused Russia of having a “predatory” influence in African countries. Maybe he thinks that people will buy the story that the French influence is guided by humanitarian interests? 

The truth of the matter is that the colonial past of France weighs heavily on recent developments, but there is also the recent record of France in the region.

In fact, the French military operation in the Sahel (called “Operation Barkhane”) was a complete failure. The number of terrorist attacks has in fact grown, while Islamist groups (ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc.) gain more territories. As a result, before Burkina Faso the French were also forced to leave Mali, citing “disagreements with the regime”, while popular anger against them was rising.

At the same time, Russian influence in the area is expanding. The Russian private military company Wagner Group was employed in Mali to fight the terrorist forces, something that the Burkina Faso regime is also considering. Wagner Group is run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Vladimir Putin.

Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo claimed last month that Burkina Faso has already hired mercenaries from the Wagner Group to fight the insurgency, since French troops have failed in this task. 

After a meeting between Burkinabe Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyelem de Tembela and Russian ambassador Alex Saltynov, the latter stated  

“We will develop a roadmap for bilateral co-operation. And from this, we will see what Russia could bring to Burkina Faso within the framework of security and the fight against terrorism.” 

The Burkinabe Prime Minister replied

“Russia is a reasonable choice in this dynamic,”

It is clear that the geopolitical balance of forces is changing.

Dire situation

Burkina Faso faces an extremely dire situation. More than 40% live below the poverty line, while the country ranks 184th out of 191 countries in the 2021-2022 UN Human Development report, which measures the “well-being” of countries.

Neo-liberal policies, by elected governments or dictatorships have worsened the situation for ordinary people. The armed Islamist insurgency has made life unbearable, leading to water and food shortages, mass killings and the displacement of 1,7 million people – 10% of the population.

There is a need for community defense committees by the people in regions which are threatened by the armed militias. The resources of the country must be used to the benefit of the people and not local corrupt elites, Islamic terrorist groups or imperialists, be it French, American, Chinese or Russian.

Burkina Faso has a long history of working-class struggles. From the legacy of Thomas Sankara, to the recent strike of the Burkinabè employees of Sitarail. Workers of the country must unite and try to build an independent voice. They should also extend a call to all workers in Africa to unite in the fight for an exit from misery, for improved living conditions and for a breaking of the imperialist chains.

In both Francophone and Anglophone countries of Africa, ordinary people must unite to fight for socialism and a socialist confederation of Africa, where the abundant resources of the continent will be used to meet the yearning and aspirations of the people. We fight for a better world free from war, inequality, hunger, poverty and injustice.

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