Change of power in Burkina Faso: Africa’s Che Guevara urgently wanted

Change of power in Burkina Faso: Africa’s Che Guevara urgently wanted

A person carries flags of different colors on a busy street

Flag parade on the 35th anniversary of Thomas Sankara’s death Photo: Olympia de Maismont/afp

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. The recent coup brought Ibrahim Traoré to power. He is seen as a beacon of hope.

Dhe Russian flags have disappeared from the streets of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Four weeks ago they caused a lot of criticism in Europe. Young men in particular held up the flags in white, blue and red during demonstrations and loudly shouted “Russie, Russie, Russie”. The protests accompanied the ouster of Paul-Henri Damiba, the president who had only come to power in a coup at the end of January. He was succeeded by a captain by the name Ibrahim Traore.

Anger at France, the former colonial power, has built up in the capital of Ouagadougou, which has a population of two and a half million. Never since Burkina Faso gained independence 52 years ago have tires burned in front of the French embassy. The cultural institutes had never been attacked before. Works by Burkinabe artists were also destroyed in the process. None of the facilities will reopen in the foreseeable future.

Traffic rolls along the Avenue de Burkina as usual. The tenth coup in the history of the country has hardly changed everyday life. Along the four-lane road are ministries, the state broadcaster and the memorial for Thomas Sankara, who was president in the 1980s until his assassination in 1987 and is revered as the Che Guevara of Africa. Vendors sell books, old photos and t-shirts with Sankara’s likeness on them. A woman has set up cool boxes and a wooden table. “Buy energy Sankara” roars from a loudspeaker. Sankara is not only suitable for national heroes. It has also become a popular advertising medium.

Nestor Poodasse suggested the monument as a meeting point. He is involved with the organization Planet of Young Pan-Africanists (PJP). One of the organization’s goals is to get rid of “colonial money” – the exchange rate of the franc CFA, the currency of eight West African countries, was pegged to the French franc and is now pegged to the euro. Poodasse wants to boost local production and ban foreign military bases across the continent. “They are attacking our sovereignty,” he says.

Nestor Poodasse from “Planet of Young Pan-Africanists” in Burkina Faso

“France has to go. French shall disappear”

From the monument, Poodasse went to a small café very close by. Large mature deciduous trees muffle the noise of the street. A few friends who think just like him are sitting around him on white plastic chairs. They introduce themselves as young activists fighting neocolonialism. They like to nod to Poodasse and then say under their breath: “France has to go.”

They have to speak French, of all things, since it is the only language that the young men share with each other. They would prefer it if one of the country’s 68 native languages ​​was the connecting element. “French should disappear,” says Poodasse, who is getting louder and louder.

Criticism of France can be heard everywhere, sometimes as clearly as with young activists in a café, sometimes more differentiated and quieter than with those who studied in France decades ago. The protest really began a year ago when demonstrators blocked the French military a good hundred kilometers north of Ouagadougou. The convoy was on its way to Niger and Mali, where the Barkhane anti-terrorist mission, which has since ended, was based at the time.


Ibrahim Raoeré is the youngest head of state in the world Photo: Kilaye Bationo/ap

In Burkina Faso, too, the project is considered a failure, since the terrorist groups associated with IS and al-Qaeda have long since spread beyond the borders. As a result of local Islamist allies and criminal gangs, the state in Burkina Faso now controls only 60 percent of the country. This power is exercised in part by militias such as the Koglweogo. They decide for themselves how to deal with suspected perpetrators and carry out vigilante justice.

Many hopes rest on Traoré

Hopes are now pinned on Ibrahim Traoré, who was appointed the new interim president in October. After graduating from high school, he studied geology and belonged to an association of Muslim students. In 2010 he joined the army and was commander of an artillery regiment until the coup. Ironically, his predecessor Damiba, who was fired today, only promoted him in March. During his performances, Traoré likes to wear a beige mask, which he pulls over his mouth when not speaking.

Like Nestor Poodasse, Traoré’s family comes from Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina Faso. “His mother sells fruit and vegetables there. We bought from her sometimes,” says Poodasse. Many people no longer assume that the 34-year-old is just a puppet of older military personnel. Traoré is described as intelligent and determined, as someone who does not bother with trivialities but acts.

Along with his name, a second one comes up in almost every conversation: Djibo. For decades, the city in the northwest of the country was an important trading center for livestock and grain. Beginning ten years ago, Djibo took in thousands of people from Mali, most of them Tuareg, who had fled the jihadists. Travel to Djibo increasingly encountered difficulties.

Terrorists from Mali infiltrated the region and Malam Ibrahim Dicko co-founded Ansarul Islam the first domestic terror force. In recent months, Djibo has been increasingly cut off from the rest of the country. At least 35 people died in an attack on a convoy in early September. The assassination is considered one of the triggers for the September 30 coup d’état.

People celebrate with a Russian flag

For Russia, against France: protesters in Ouagadougou, late September Photo: Sophie Garcia/ap

“Traoré managed to bring food to Djibo. Why didn’t his predecessors do that?” is often heard. In early October, the Ministry of Defense agreed that 70 tons of food would be flown to Djibo by helicopter. This is a clear message not only for the residents of the besieged city. Many in the capital also think that the new President Traoré is serious and is acting quickly. “Something has to change quickly in this country. Everything is in a state of emergency,” was one of his messages broadcast on television.

The desire for a hero

The wish that Burkina Faso finally has a great hero again is widespread. Someone like Sankara, the socialist revolutionary of yore, who refused to repay debts from Africa to the West and turned the country upside down with his health and women’s policies. The hope is that Ibrahim Traoré could grow into such a character. What connects them? “They both came to power at the age of 34,” says Alain Siasso, director of research at the National Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters in Ouagadougou. Traoré is currently the youngest head of state in the world.

But that’s where the similarities end. Traoré has also declared war on corruption and called on the authorities to do their work more quickly and not to ask for any additional money. “This time, however, the security situation led to the coup d’état,” says Siasso.

Sankara’s assumption of power in 1983, on the other hand, was ideologically motivated. He was a self-confessed Pan-Africanist, criticized Africa’s dependence on Europe and announced that Burkina Faso would decide for itself which way to go in the future. Traoré, on the other hand, has a clearly defined task: he must bring security back to the country. Debates about the possible future design currently have no place.

What good is democracy without security?

Painted on the light brown walls is the slogan of West Africa’s best-known civil society organization: “Our numbers are our strength”; plus their logo, a fist raised in the air with Burkina Faso’s national flag on the wrist and a hint of a broom. We are in the office of Balai Citizens, the broomstick. Exactly eight years ago, the members and thousands of sympathizers achieved the seemingly impossible: After weeks of protests, long-time ruler Blaise Compaoré, who was involved in the death of his predecessor Sankara, had to resign.

The youth organization finally wanted to achieve democracy and free elections, but by no means wanted to trigger a series of new coups. But national coordinator Zinaba Rasmane says: “What do you want? Living in a democratic country where the security situation is unbearable? Acceptance of democracy also includes good governance.”

Burkina Faso did develop into a democracy, with a presidential election and the re-election of Roch Marc Christian Kaboré in 2020. “But the security situation has deteriorated enormously,” says Rasmane. And the problem could not be solved purely militarily.


Awa Simopé is not interested in politics. She wants to feed her nine children Photo: Katrin Gaensler

Women begging, their babies and toddlers tied to their backs, stand at traffic lights in central Ouagadougou. They are internally displaced people who mostly come from the north and no longer feel safe in provincial capitals like Ouahigouya. Two million people are displaced in Burkina Faso.

However, poverty and a lack of prospects are not just a result of the security crisis. Burkina Faso always occupies one of the very last places on the United Nations development index. The country is currently number 182 out of a total of 189. 70 to 80 percent of the more than 20 million inhabitants live from subsistence agriculture. Population growth and the increasingly poor agricultural cultivation opportunities due to displacement and climate change are exacerbating the crisis.

First meal of the day at noon

Awa Simporé did not escape. The 45-year-old lives on the outskirts of Ouagadougou. It’s just before noon and she’s cooking rice on a small wood stove. It’s the first meal of the day, says the mother of nine. Five of them live with her in the tiny house. One of them has drawn a grimace on the wall of the house with chalk. The family owns a bicycle as a means of transportation. Awa Simporé has to fetch water in large, yellow canisters.

She nods to the right. Luckily there is a fountain right next door, which saves her tedious ways. Again and again women come by, balancing the heavy canisters on their bicycles.

“Life is very exhausting,” says the slender woman. Often she doesn’t know how to find enough food for the family. A future for the children? She points to the small wooden stand opposite the house where she sells soap, tomatoes and used canisters. In the week you bring in the equivalent of between 15 and 30 euros.

Awa Simporé is not interested in the coups d’état, nor in the name of the person currently in power and whether he was elected or comes from the ranks of the military. She pulls the corners of her mouth down and shakes her head disparagingly. “The only thing that interests me is to have someone finally take care of the country and fight the social problems.”

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