president Kafando Interim president Kafando and prime minister Zida (Image: Anadolu/Getty)

The outcome of the election shows the need for a grassroots movement, writes Explo Nani-Kofi

The uprising in Burkina Faso against the military tyranny of Blaise Compaoré, which masqueraded as a civilian constitutional regime, gave many of the democratic forces around the world much hope that the masses were bringing about change. This conviction was strengthened when the masses once again prevented a military takeover by soldiers close to the old regime, led by General Gilbert Diendéré, in September this year. Some progressive forces even started celebrating the fact that these revolutionary forces, in the tradition of Thomas Sankara, were now directing affairs in Burkina Faso.

In an article that I wrote in November last year, during the uprising in Burkina Faso, I expressed my worries as follows:

‘With the naming of Michel Kafando, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, as Transitional President, and his appointment of Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, who had earlier declared himself acting head of state, as Prime Minister, it appears as if a deal is being knocked together which tilts in favour of the old ruling class and not the masses of demonstrators.’

In the same article, I cautioned that ‘there is the danger of the military hijacking the struggle for which the masses have fought and even died for. To prevent this will not depend on just Burkinabés but all progressive Africans and the masses as well as all internationalists.’

On 1 December, Burkina Faso went to the polls. Despite the impression that Compaoré was finished and the forces close to Sankara had woken up to turn around the 27 years of French neo-colonialism under Blaise Compaoré, the elections seem to some extent to be a contest between the two figures. Many, especially friends outside, assumed that the victors would be followers of Sankara, as t-shirts with his pictures were very popular and people were chanting his government’s slogan during the uprising: “La patrie ou la mort, nous vaincrons!” (“Homeland or death, we will overcome!”).

Looking at this situation, I warned in my last article that ‘there doesn’t seem to be a way out as any rectification here seems to be channelled into legacy politics which is more about emotions than structure, principles and agreed programme.’

The Guardian’s Africa Network stated that ‘as the election day got closer news started trickling down that, although the elections were been fought around the two figures, long time associates of Compaoré were front runners in the polls.’

‘The two front-runners in the election were particularly close to Compaoré. Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was prime minister from 1994-1996 and one-time leader of Compaoré’s Congress for Democracy and Progress party, while Zephirin Diabre was finance minister and economic adviser to the former president.’

It also added that ‘Bénéwendé Sankara (no relation), one candidate in the election, is running on an explicitly Sankarist platform, advocating a return to the former leader’s radical socialist principles… He is not expected to win.’

Kaboré won the elections with 53% of the votes, which meant that it wasn’t necessary to have a run-off. Bénéwendé Sankara of Union of Rebirth/Sankarist Party had only 2.77% of the votes. Even during the presidential elections in 2010, under Blaise Compaoré, he had 6.3% of the votes with another Sankarist party also gathering 2.3% of the votes. There were other Sankarist parties that also took some votes.

However, now all the pro-Sankara forces have come together under one umbrella and only acquired 2.77% in an election following an uprising that was seen as promoting the Sankara legacy. They came third after the other Compaoré associate, Zephirin Diabre, who had 29.65% of the votes.

In the National Assembly elections, Union of Rebirth/Sankarist Party had only 5 seats but even a group contesting under the name of Blaise Compaoré’s party, Congress for Democracy and Progress, had 18 seats out of 127. My warning of the emotional attachment to legacy politics being taken out of proportion will have to be considered carefully as even the demonised elements of Compaoré’s party could gain more than three times the seats of the Sankarists.

The situation demonstrates how organised the establishment is, and the danger of overestimating the victory of protest without rooting ourselves in the population at large. In future articles, I will look at similar situations across the African continent.

Kaboré is the son of a minister in the immediate post-independence government in Upper Volta (the name of which was changed to Burkina Faso by Sankara). He was an associate of Sankara and Compaoré, but after Compaoré overthrew and murdered Sankara, Kaboré became Compaoré’s right-hand man and held various positions, including leader of his party. He was with him for 26 of the 27 years that Compaoré ruled. It was only in January 2014, when Compaoré decided to change the constitution and contest again that he sensed the unpopularity of the move and smartly pulled out to form his party – People’s Movement for Progress – together with others who didn’t want to go down the path of destruction together with Compaoré. He was educated in France and his roots are deep in the ruling class, in addition to having been part of the circle that has run Burkina Faso since the murder of Thomas Sankara.

We have to learn serious lessons from this and other similar situations across the African continent. The experience teaches us that unless we organise people around issues and are rooted in the population at large we will struggle only for the forces of the establishment to return to power.

This lesson has led to initiatives of a new type, where grassroots social movements are beginning to be built, such as Black First Land First (South Africa), Ghana Street Parliament Movement (Ghana) and similar efforts to ensure that a presence is built in the population at large. We must avoid a situation where only the different faces of establishment forces alternate in power.

Explo Nani-Kofi

Explo Nani-Kofi is Societal Affairs Analyst and Social Justice Practitioner. He was born in Ghana where he started his activist as a grass root organizer for popular democracy. He coordinated the Campaign Against Proxy War in Africa and the IMF-World Bank Wanted For Fraud Campaign. He is a member of Counterfire and Director of the Kilombo Centre for Civil Society and African Self-Determination, in Peki, Ghana and London, UK.

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