On October 28, demonstrators in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso’s second biggest town, pulled down a statue of president Blaise Compaoré. The statue was toppled as a part of mass gatherings in opposition to plans by the president to extend his term of office by changing the term limits. As a result of the protests, Compaoré announced his resignation on October 31 and called for elections within 90 days in a statement broadcast on national television.
Of course the downing of the statue did not spark as much media attention as it would have been if Western countries were involved in the demonstrations, but even less attention was paid to the statue next to the one of Compaoré that the angry crowed left intact – the statue of Muammar Gaddafi.
Compaoré and Gaddafi might have been only a few meters away from each other in brass, ideology-wise they could not be further apart. It was Compaoré’s predecessor, Thomas Sankara, who followed in the footsteps of his role model Gaddafi by making his country practically self-sufficient in its demand for basic needs. Sankara accomplished this by, inter alia, creating an industrial base for the dominantly agrarian Burkinabe economy, by supporting private businesses and by improving the country’s infrastructure. During the revolution Sankara led between 1983 and 1987, all land and mineral wealth were nationalized and the rural poll tax was abolished. Like Gaddafi, who called the Earth his Mother, Sankara had a warm heart for nature and launched a campaign to plant 10 million trees to slow the Sahara’s advance. He furthermore changed the country’s name from the colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, meaning “Land of the Incorruptible” or “Country of the Honorable People”.*
Because of the lack of significant oil reserves as discovered in Libya in 1959, Burkina Faso had to work at least ten times harder than Gaddafi and the Libyan people to become self-sufficient. Perhaps Sankara wanted too much too soon. We will never know how much of his revolution would have turned out to be viable in the long term. Because after four years as president of Burkina Faso, Sankara was killed at the orders of one of his oldest “friends”, then Minister of Justice Blaise Compaoré, on October 15, 1987.
On that same day, Compaoré assumed the presidency. A villager’s assessment of him says:
France gave Blaise money [to get Sankara assassinated]. I don’t know exactly how but they did. And when you have money in Africa you can do anything. The trade unions have been bought off, for example – the president gives them money so that they’ll shut their mouths. He’s our President, we agreed to that – but his policies come from France. Every order comes from France and he never asks the Assembly’s opinion.*
Compaoré has been quick to abolish many of Sankara’s revolutionary achievements. For instance, salaries of civil servants, reduced under Sankara, were increased and the special tax that forced them to contribute to health and education projects was scrapped.* The personal differences between Sankara and Compaoré are also more than significant. While Sankara refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabes, one of Compaoré’s early acts was to buy a presidential plane to reflect his personal prestige.* This way Sankara once again followed in the footsteps of Gaddafi, who told his parents that they would continue living in their tent until every Libyan had been allotted proper housing.
As ironic as it is that colonial puppet Compaoré and anti-imperialist freedom fighter Gaddafi have -had- their statues placed next to each other in Bobo Dioulasso, there was nothing ironic, or ambiguous, about the respectful safeguarding of Gaddafi’s statue when Compaoré’s one was pulled down on October 28. Twenty-seven years after the death of Sankara, the Incorruptible, Honorable People of Burkina Faso showed that his spirit is still alive. Just like Gaddafi, he lives on in the hearts of millions.