Mon, Nov 17, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Burkinabe must keep allies close

By James Baron and Viviane Bayala

When THEN-Burkinabe president Blaise Compaore and his ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party were swept from power at the end of last month, Burkina Faso found itself on the front pages of newspapers around the world. The west African nation seldom makes the headlines.

Burkina Faso has long been seen as a bastion of stability in the restive Sahel region, particularly for its assistance with anti-terror operations. Say what you want about Compaore’s plutocratic regime, it maintained peace and order for decades, whereas violence and disarray reigned over its borders. There simply has not been much to report as far as the foreign media are concerned.

Like other African strongmen before him, Compaore was seen by the West as a safe pair of hands. His rule was relatively benign and he was quite happy to open the doors to foreign investment in mining and telecommunications, as long as he and his cronies were taken care of. In the end, it was a combination of growing frustration over the economy and his latest attempt to manipulate the constitution ahead of next year’s elections that sent Compaore packing.

As has been observed in the international coverage of Compaore’s ouster, the specter of his predecessor, former Burkinabe president Thomas Sankara, which has never disappeared from public consciousness, loomed large. Many of those who took to the streets of the capital, Ouagadougou, demanding Compaore’s resignation were not old enough to remember “Africa’s Che Guevara” as Sankara was dubbed. Yet Sankara’s image and slogans were prominent in the protests.

Whatever they thought of Compaore, most Burkinabe are proud that he was allowed to leave office unharmed. They feel it is a testament to the spirit of the movement that violence was kept to a minimum. The mass clean-up of the streets by the aptly dubbed “Citizen’s Broom” movement in the aftermath of the protests led one US diplomat to say he had never seen anything like it during his many years in Africa.

Burkinabe have largely eschewed an unconstrained mob-rule response in favor of grassroots civil agitation. Yes, there have inevitably been some transgressions, but they have been remarkably few. Among many Burkinabe, there remains a yearning for justice premised on a hope that Compaore and his cabal could yet face extradition and due legal process for their alleged complicity in Sankara’s murder in 1987.

Along with the West — particularly the US and Burkina Faso’s former colonial ruler France — Asian countries will be keeping a close eye on developments in Ouagadougou. Singapore is the biggest importer of raw materials from Burkina Faso, with India and Thailand among other notable trade partners in Asia.

As ever, the situation for Taiwan is more nuanced. As one of Taipei’s three remaining diplomatic allies in Africa, Burkina Faso is the recipient of millions of dollars in development aid from Taiwan annually. Cooperation between the two countries stretches back more than half a century when the first technical missions were dispatched from Taiwan.

Notable achievements involving Taiwanese agricultural know-how include land-reclamation projects in the Kou River District in the late 1960s and the Bagre in 2002. These turned barren regions of desert into lush rice paddies, greatly improving the lives of thousands of Burkinabe.

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