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Burkina Faso Modern History

After independence in 1960, Burkina Faso was characterized by economic problems, political crises and coups. After Blaise Compaoré took power in a military coup in 1987, he led the country toward multi-party systems and market economy. The once powerful military lost influence, while holding down the political opposition. Compaoré and his party CDP dominated the entire state apparatus until 2014 when a revolt forced him to resign.

From World War II onwards, domestic political parties were formed in the French colony of Upper Volta (see Older History). When the country gained independence in August 1960, Maurice Yaméogo, leader of the Voltana Democratic Alliance (UDV), was elected president. However, he was unable to solve the country's financial problems and, over time, became increasingly authoritarian. He was deposed in a 1966 military coup.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Burkina Faso. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The new president, General Sangoulé Lamizana, managed to get the economy back on track. In 1970 elections were held in which the UDV won. But when devastating drought caused mass violence and livestock death in Upper Volta and neighboring states in the early 1970s, the UDV government failed to deal with the crisis. In 1974, it was ousted by President Lamizana, who banned all parties and appointed a government consisting of military personnel. But neither did the new military regime succeed in ordering the economy and trade union protests began to grow strong.

A new constitution was adopted in 1977 and after the new election the following year a civil government was formed, dominated by the UDV. Lamizana was re-elected president, but in December 1980 he was overthrown by the military following a major strike and new trade union demonstrations. The constitution was revoked and the parties banned. A new military-civilian government led by Colonel Saye Zerbo continued the attempts to quell the unions.

Contemporary History of Burkina FasoSankara's African "Cultural Revolution"

The military leadership was divided and in 1982 Major Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo took power. He appointed a young captain, Thomas Sankara, as prime minister but soon imprisoned him because of a conflict. The imprisonment of Sankara caused his allies to revolt against Ouédraogo. Sankara was released but the uprising spread and in 1983 Sankara himself took over the presidential power.

Sankara was admired across the continent by young Africans who were tired of the old leaders. He tried to implement an African "cultural revolution". Around the country, revolution committees were formed to replace the chieftains and municipal assemblies. Revolutionary People's Tribunals put the men of the old regimes in charge of corruption and abuse of power. The salaries of officials were lowered and officials were forced to account for their financial assets. On a few occasions, the ministers were sent on agricultural work and only those who endured the penalties could count on a new government post.

In the ruling Revolutionary Council (CNR), which consisted of both military and civilian and supported by Communist parties, the median age was about 30 years.

On the anniversary of the takeover of power in 1984, Sankara renamed the country to Burkina Faso, the land of the indomitable men, in an attempt to complete decolonization and strengthen the self-esteem of the people. Sankara's policy also included favoring the peasants at the expense of city dwellers.

Compaoré seizes power, Sankara is murdered

After dismissing his opponents in the government and executing officers accused of coup attempts, Sankara felt confident enough to pardon almost all political prisoners, including former presidents and ministers.

But Sankara's attempt to reduce the unions' power and create a one-party state caused a schism within the Revolutionary Council. In October 1987, Sankara and 13 of his employees were killed in a coup led by his closest husband, Blaise Compaoré. The Revolutionary Council was dissolved and replaced with a "people front" and Compaoré spent the next few years wiping out the traces of Sankara. The new economic policy was called "the facilitation" and advocated foreign investment, private enterprise and negotiations with the IMF, which Sankara had strongly opposed.

Compaoré's policies led to new teardowns within the government and in 1989 Compaoré executed the last of the core revolutionaries. A new democratic constitution was adopted in a referendum in 1991. Compaoré left the army and in December 1991 was elected president in an election boycotted by the opposition.

In the 1992 parliamentary elections, Compaoré's party gained its own majority, and in 1997 the ruling party, under the new name of the Democracy and Progress Congress (CDP), took 101 out of 111 seats. The opposition and independent judges accused the government of electoral fraud. President Compaoré was re-elected by a large majority in November 1998.

Journalist murder leads to political crisis

The month after the presidential election, a murder occurred that brought the country into a prolonged political crisis. The government-critical journalist Norbert Zongo in the journal L'Indépendent and three other persons were found murdered, and the suspicions fell on the president's bodyguards and, by extension, the president's brother François Compaoré. Human rights organizations, the trade union movement and opposition parties were united in a wave of protests across the country. The demonstrations included the murder of Zongo, but also the lack of legal security and democracy, as well as corruption and growing social injustice. A commission that the government saw compelled to appoint identified six bodyguards as suspects of the murder. Only one of them was prosecuted but the prosecution was eventually dropped.

The government was accused of trying to protect those guilty of what was generally perceived as a political murder. The protests continued for several years, forcing democratic reforms: proportional electoral systems were introduced, the president's term in office was shortened and changes were made in the judiciary.

The 2002 parliamentary elections gave the usually divided opposition significant successes. The CDP lost almost half of its mandate but gained a scarce majority in the National Assembly and was able to form government. Before the presidential election in 2005, the Constitutional Court ruled that President Compaoré was allowed to stand again (see Political system). He won with over 80 percent of the vote.

The CDP consolidated its dominance in the 2007 parliamentary elections and increased its mandate, while the largest opposition party Alliance for Democracy and the Federation-African Democratic Assembly (ADF-RDA) declined.

Popular dissatisfaction is growing

After the election, the government was met with growing social dissatisfaction. In 2008, protests were held in several parts of the country against rising food prices. Strikes and crowds followed, and police and soldiers also participated in the protests. In 2009, the National Assembly passed several new electoral laws despite strong opposition from parts of the opposition.

The 2010 presidential election was another big victory for Compaoré. According to official data, he received more than four-fifths of the vote, but the losing candidates accused the regime of electoral fraud.

Prior to the election, Compaoré had promised a number of reforms, including expanding the National Assembly with another chamber, a Senate. A more controversial change that the regime wanted to make was to abolish the restrictions on how many times a sitting president can be elected. Thus, Compaoré could also stand in the 2015 presidential election.

Protest wave flushes across the country

In 2011, dissatisfaction developed into a wave of protests and strikes. One important reason was sharply rising food prices as a result of a serious crisis in neighboring Côte d'Ivoire which hit hard on Burkina Faso's economy.

The protests came from broad community groups but were triggered by student demonstrations at the beginning of the year since a high school student was reported to have died in police custody. As in the so-called Arab Spring in North Africa, young Burkinis used Facebook as a means of communication, and the anger of a corrupt and powerful elite drove tens of thousands of people into the streets.

The students were supported by the trade union movement and even within the military, dissatisfaction was stirred. In April 2011, a mutiny of gunfire erupted at the presidential palace. The mythists were reassured with promises of better financial compensation.

A shaken President Compaoré dismissed the government and replaced the army chief and head of the presidential guard, who participated in the uprising. Compaoré himself took over the post of defense minister and former UN ambassador Luc Adolph Tiao was commissioned to form government.

Military revolt is fought down

But unrest continued, especially in the city of Koudougou west of Ouagadougou. Peasants also participated in the protests and teachers went on strike for better wages and working conditions. In the military, discontent continued, especially in the country's economic capital, Bobo-Dioulasso. In June 2011, elite forces fought against the insurgent soldiers, several deaths were required and many soldiers were arrested.

With the exception of this strike, Prime Minister Tiao sought to address the uprising with dialogue and promises of reform. Tiao, who was previously a journalist, held press conferences with various ministers every week. He traveled around the country himself to talk with local government officials, opposition politicians, trade unionists and student activists.

In response to the protests, the government also lowered income tax and promised lower prices for basic commodities such as rice. It also promised to bring corruption-suspected civil servants to justice, as well as people suspected of human rights violations.

Compaoré faced strong opposition to its attempts to abolish the limitation on how many terms a person may be president. A consultative council led by a CDP politician stated against the idea and suggested that Parliament's power be strengthened vis-à-vis the presidential office.

The protests gave the opposition hope for the December 2012 parliamentary elections, but the CDP won a large majority of the mandate.

The popular opposition to Compaore's rule grew, not least criticizing his attempt to change the constitution to allow him to sit for another term.

When Parliament was to convene in October 2014 to decide on a constitutional amendment, mass protests erupted. Protesters stormed Parliament and burned down parts of the building. A number of people were reported to have been shot dead by police. The broadcasts on state TV were interrupted after the building was taken over by protesters.

After a day of unrest and pressure from the outside world and the army leadership, Compaoré decided to resign. The army leadership then announced that it had seized power and that a provisional government would lead the country to a new election.

Transfer gate

The unrest and political confusion continued for a few weeks. Following pressure within the country and from the outside world, a civil-military commission in November appointed the former foreign minister and UN ambassador Michel Kafando as provisional president. Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida was appointed to lead a Provisional Government.

A Provisional Parliament was established. It was led by a civilian president elected from among its members. Parliament consisted of a total of 90 representatives of the opposition, civil society, the military and the previous government. No member of the transition board was allowed to stand in the elections scheduled for the end of 2015. The military command announced that the constitution had been re-established.

In September 2015, just a few weeks before the announced elections, the appointed leaders were ousted by a group of officers from the presidential guard. One day before the coup, a parliamentary commission had recommended that the presidential guard be dissolved, as it was judged to interfere in the work of the transitional government.

A military junta took power. It was led by a close ally of Compaoré, General Gilbert Diendéré, former head of the military intelligence service. The Presidential Guard was Compaoré's most important power base and was still considered loyal to him.

Kaboré and MPP win the parliamentary election

But after the coup leaders received the regular army, the governments of all neighboring countries and the general public opposed them, they gave up after only a few days and returned power to the transitional government. At its first meeting after the failed coup attempt, the interim government decided to dissolve the presidential guard. In October, the coup leader Diendéré was charged with murder and threats to the security of the kingdom.

A few weeks late, the promised general elections could be carried out in late November. Winners with a good margin in the presidential election became former Prime Minister Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, who broke with Compaoré in protest of his attempt to extend his power holdings.

In the parliamentary elections held at the same time, the People's Progress Movement (MMP), formed in early 2014 by former supporters of Compaoré, won. Among the CDP politicians who then switched parties were Kaboré. The second largest party was the Union for Progress and Change (UPC), followed by the old power party CDP.

Shortly after the election, the coup maker Diendéré was also prosecuted for participating in the murder of Thomas Sankara in 1987. The same month, three soldiers were indicted for the 1998 murder of journalist Norbert Zongo. In addition, a court issued an international arrest warrant for Compaoré, who moved to the Ivory Coast.

 
 

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