From the land of the upright people to the land of uprisings; Burkina Faso’s case shows Africa not done with coups yet


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Pandemonium hullabaloo has once again engulfed West Africa’s ‘land of the upright people’ after Burkinabe army toppled president Roch Marc Kabore in world’s latest coup.

Burkina Faso, known as Upper Volta until 1984 was renamed by Thomas Sankara, Africa’s Che Guevara, on the first anniversary of coup that had brought him to power.

He changed the country’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, roughly rendered as land of the upright people, in Mossi and Dyula, the country’s two most widely spoken indigenous languages.

Burkinabe army announced on Monday January 24, that it had ousted president Roch March Christian Kabore, suspended the constitution, dissolved government together with the national assembly, and shut the country’s borders. Kabore came into power in November 2015 after comfortably beating former Economy and Finance Minister Zephirin Diabre.

In a communique signed by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, the army cited deteriorating security state in Burkina Faso coupled with Kabore’s inability to foster unity in addition to his failure to address Islamist insurgency bedeviling the West African nation.

According to Sandago, the takeover was peacefully carried out and that detainees are safe. Islamist militants, who have remained a thorn in the flesh of the Burkinabe, have established fiefdoms in which they force residents to kowtow to their harsh version of Islamic law.

Recently, the ousted Kabore is said to have faced waves of remonstrations over wanton killings of civilians and soldiers whose links can be traced to Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

The land of uprisings

History reveals that the land of the upright people is not new to uprisings. Army putsches have deposed governments since independence from France in 1960. Six years after independence, the independent president Maurice Yameogo was toppled in a military coup under the command of Sangoule Lamizana following what was termed as discontent over government austerity programme.

The 1970 constitution which had been approved in a national plebiscite would then allow Lamizana to stay in power until 1975, when he was to be replaced by a democratically elected president Gerard Ouedraogo appointed prime minister. Unfortunately, Lamizana ousted Ouedraogo and dissolved parliament in 1974.

Lamizana would later be toppled in a coup hatched by Saye Zerbo in 1980, who also suffered a similar fate after being overthrown by Jean-Baptiste following industrial unrest in 1982.

In 1983, Captain Thomas Sankara ascended into power after toppling a corrupt military leadership and adopted radical left-wing policies for which he earned the sobriquet Africa’s Che Guevara.

After his gruesome murder in a violent coup d’état by suspected to have been perpetrated by his close ally Blaise Compaore’ on 15 October, 1987, the latter took over and stayed in office until October 2014 when mass protests against proposed constitutional changes -giving the president another five years -turned messy and chaotic and forced President Compaore’ to flee.

Much as Burkina Faso is riddled by uprisings, in the assessment of my teacher Daniel Kazungu, it produced one of the most inspirational figures on the continent of Africa who achieved unbelievable feasts for his hitherto unknown West African country: Sankara. At 33, he became president marking the start of the buoyant four years that Burkinabe look back with profound nostalgia.

If not about coups, Africa is grappling with leaders who want to remain in power for eternity. Colonel Gaddafi of Libya seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1969. Dos Santos of Angola assumed presidency in 1979 and the war with Unita rebels that ended in 2002 is indelibly inked in our minds.

Dennis Sassou Nguesso of Congo Republic seized power in 1979 coup but lost to Pascal Lissouba, a scientist. He regained the presidency in 1997 after a civil war. In Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo toppled his uncle Macias in a palace coup in 1979.

Hosni Mubarak of Egypt became president of the Arab world’s most populous country after the 1981 assassination of president Anwar Sadat by Muslim militants angered by his foreign policy and domestic repression. The list goes on and on and paints a worrisome picture comparable to what Ken Saro Wiwa describes in his magnum opus Africa kills her sun.

Africa does not suffer from absence of constitution. Her greatest undoing his lack of constitutionalism. The giant continent famed for its rich tangible and intangible heritage can regain her lost glory through her social and humanistic ethic as propounded by Desmond Tutu, Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere among other Ubuntu stalwarts.

An author once commented that the great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift has to come from Africa- giving the world a more human face.

The writer is a communications specialist


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