Henry Sebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
The trials and tribulations of some countries never seem to end.
Take the case of the West African state of Burkina Faso, the former French colony once known as Upper Volta.
This landlocked country of 274,200 square kilometres, with a population of more than 17 million people, is one of the poorest places in the world. It contains more than 60 different ethnicities.
In the late 19th century, European nations were engaged in carving up Africa into various colonial holdings. The French proved victorious in Upper Volta, though they had to subdue the followers of Samori Touré, founder of the Wassoulou Empire, an Islamic state in the region.
It took almost two decades, but they finally prevailed, with the help of non-Muslim ethnic groups chafing under Touré’s rule. (About 60 per cent of the country is Muslim.)
Under French rule, the country remained poor. Colonial officials tried to promote the growth of cotton for export, but the policy failed, and revenue generated by the colony stagnated.
So disappointed were the French that between 1932 and 1947 they parcelled out its territory to neighbouring French colonies.
In 1960, as part of the wave of decolonization in French Africa, Upper Volta attained full independence from France.
The first president, Maurice Yaméogo, soon created a one-party state; after six years, he was overthrown in a military coup d’état, handing power to General Sangoulé Lamizana.
A new constitution passed in 1970 provided for a four-year transition to fully civilian leadership but Lamizana remained in office (ostensibly winning an election in 1978) until he was in turn ousted in 1980 by Coloel Zerbo Saye.
Two more coups followed in quick succession, and when the smoke cleared, a left-wing regime under Thomas Sankara was in control. He changed the country’s name from its colonial designation to Burkina Faso.
A Marxist firebrand, Sankara sought closer ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union, created a youth program (the Pioneers of the Revolution) for educating children about Marxist ideals, and began a campaign to weed out suspected “anti-revolutionaries.”
This didn’t go over too well with Burkina Faso’s neighbours, nor with France, and in1987, Sankara, along with twelve other officials, were killed in a coup organized by Blaise Compaoré.
He moved the country back into the western camp, and won four elections of doubtful validity between 1991and 2010. But his attempt to amend the constitution to extend his 27-year term caused his removal from power in 2014 by a series of demonstrations and riots, and he fled the country.
An interim military regime charged him with treason and announced it would prepare the country for elections to be held this coming Oct. 11.
But on Sept. 16 the elite presidential guard --- Compaoré supporters – under General Gilbert Diendéré took the country’s interim leadership hostage in an attempted coup.
Presidential guard soldiers clashed with anti-coup protesters on the streets of the capital, Ouagadougou, until they were finally defeated. The African Union referred to the soldiers behind the coup as “terrorists” and the unit has been disbanded.
It remains to be seen whether the transitional government will now allow Compaoré’s allies to contest the elections, should the balloting even go ahead as planned.