To retrace the economic, social and political development of Burkina Faso since 1960 is a real challenge. It was understood that the option of an approach based on long chronological sequences would in no way satisfy the demand for an in-depth historical analysis.
The Republic of Upper-Volta, renamed in 1984 Burkina Faso which means ‘The Land of Men of Honor’ was declared on 11 December 1958. First a member of the Franco-African Community initiated by General De Gaulle, in order to discourage the vague stirrings of independence movements in new African states coming from colonization, Burkina Faso achieved independence on 5 August 1960.
Under the presidency of Maurice Yaméogo, the ‘Father of Independence’ the claim to sovereignty would make up one of the main features of the First Republic’s foreign policy (1958-1966). Despite the Cooperation Agreements with France binding the former colonies to the ex- Metropole, the new Volta State would refuse French military bases to remain on national territory. However, on the domestic front the building of the Nation was somewhat marked by the continuation of debate between the new élite from the struggle for independence. The RDA (African Democratic Assembly), the main political party on the eve of independence was divided into rival factions organised around dignitaries of the Party. Amongst the other political groups, Professor Joseph Ki-Zerbo’s MLN (the National Liberation Movement) would constitute one of the main poles of opposition, through its strong links with the trade-union milieu. Indeed, the main characteristic of this political configuration on the eve of independence was that of the strong position occupied by trade-union groups of workers and students. In this context of learning about the political autonomy process, where the large majority of the population was on the margins of political discussion, and excluded de facto by the political elite, trade-union groups were to be a real opposing force. Whilst the political and economic management of the country, under the direction of an elite more concerned with conspicuous spending and personal enrichment, would lead to a deep social and economic crisis, the trade unionists would be the main architects of a popular rebellion movement against the government, resulting in the president, Maurice Yaméogo being forced to leave on 3 January 1966.
Resignation by the President of the Republic, or a coup d’état by Lieutenant Colonel Sangoulé Lamizana? The date, 3 January 1966 continues to fuel the polemic on the real nature of this political upheaval. Whatever the interpretation, this event marked the subsequent course of the country’s long-term political history. On the one hand it appeared as the first large-scale demonstration by the people to reject the political elite in power since independence, and on the other, it would mark the start of a political rupture in Upper-Volta in a new era of management of state power, dominated by military regimes. During the period covering 1966 to 1991, notwithstanding the interludes of the 2nd and 3rd Republics, the management of power bore the military seal with of course, considerable variants in the concept, management and political direction of the State. Swept to the power as the head of State following the popular movement of mistrust against President Maurice Yaméogo, Lieutenant Colonel, then General Sangoulé Lamiza got down to putting into place an economic austerity policy to deal with the economic crisis. In this effort, emergency and constitutional regimes alternated one after another. After a military regime from 1966 to 1970, a new Constitution was declared on 29 June 1970 establishing the 2nd Republic. This was suspended on 8 February1974 following a political crisis within the RDA. A second period of emergency regime began which would last until 13 December 1977, date of the promulgation of the a 3rd Republic’s Constitution that was suspended 3 years after, following a coup d’état by Colonel Saye Zerbo on 25 November 1980.
Like an enormous tidal wave with long-lasting whirlpools, the first military regime marked a decisive turning point in the country’s political history with the official arrival of the military on the political scene. Colonel Saye Zerbo’s CMRPN (Military Committee for Reform and National Progress) would be succeeded by Medical Commander Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo’s CSP (the People’s Salvation Council) 2 years later on 7 November 1982. During this period marked by coups d’état, the struggle between the military for control of power relegated the concerns of development to second place. These were on the agenda after another coup d’état putting an end to the CSP; that of 4 August 1983, led by a group of captains, including Thomas Sankara and Blaise Compaoré, who proclaimed the Democratic and Popular Revolution (RDP). Under Captain Thomas Sankara’s leadership, a charismatic leader and fervent patriot, the CNR (Revolution National Council) would be recognized as one of the emergency regimes whose results as part of economic development proved to be largely positive with numerous achievements that transformed notably the country of hommes intègres. Although enjoying large popular support, the main criticism always cast against the CNR was that of attacks on political freedom and human rights. In assessing the gains and failures of the revolutionary regimes (1983-1987), however, there are also diverging concepts of liberty and rights which are at odds with each other.
These opposing concepts would be what remained of the origin of the halt to the revolutionary process on 15 October 1987, initiated by revolutionaries on the fringe with Captain Blaise Compaoré at its head. The official justification of the coup d’état was the necessary ‘rectification’ of a Revolution that had deviated from its prime objectives. Thus, the Popular Front who succeeded the CNR would look for a new political orientation, initiating a series of rapprochement between yesterday’s revolutionaries and political forces quite recently excluded from the political arena. This ‘broad assembly’ would lead to the adoption of a new Constitution whose promulgation on 11 June 1991 would open the era of the 4th Republic in the wake of what was known as African ‘democratic renewal’.
If the democratic opening-up begun since the adoption of the 4th Republic’s Constitution in 1991 aroused much hope, the actual application of this new political contract was the subject of numerous criticism. It was about what certain observers called the ‘closed opening-up’ to describe the progressive entrenchment after the moment of euphoria, of power around an initial cadre. The fiercest criticism was of the unparalleled development of racketeering, corruption and embezzlement of public funds by high-ranking politicians, and finally the return at times of the demons of periods of emergency, and political violence. As an example, up until now the major event of the 4th Republic would indisputably be the assassination on 13 December 1998 of the journalist director of the weekly newspaper ‘L’Indépendant’, Norbert Zongo who had denounced the abuse of power, economic crime and blood crimes the basis of his leader articles. The massive and violent popular protest against this assassination would testify that he who so much love for this ‘immortal homeland’ had succeeded in sowing in the heart of the Burkinabe people, the seeds of a demand for more freedom, dignity and justice for the people in the heart of the Burkinabe people.
Prof. Basile L. Guissou (CNRST)
Habibou Fofana (Ouaga II University)