This Friday the president of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, stepped down from his office, allowing the national military to take over in his place in the interim between now and a future election. This follows days of immense, violent protests in the country’s capital of Ouagadougou, where the citizenry stood in opposition to Compaore’s 27-year rule. Before being ousted, Compaore expressed his desire for new elections within 90 days, and if the new leader, General Honoré Traoré, is to be believed, the country may very well return to order within the next year. Regardless of whether or not the military keeps power, however, change is coming to Burkina Faso, and its allies in the West may have cause for concern regarding stability in the region.
Burkina Faso, even among its neighbors, is an incredibly impoverished country, one of the poorest and least developed in the world. Its recently overthrown leader, Compaore, seized the government by force at the end of the 1980s from Thomas Sankara, leader of the Marxist National Council for the Revolution (CNR) government. Sankara, thought of as a Che Guevara-esque figure to those in Burkina Faso and Africa as a whole, was a progressive, if controversial figure. He was a leader in the AIDS crisis, a strong supporter of women’s rights in the nation, and even called upon other African nations —in true anti-imperialist style— to renounce their foreign debts. On the other hand, he was accused of human rights violations by Amnesty International, and was said to have executed those he thought to have been guilty of “treason.”
As expected, Sankara’s radical anti-western message and actions were ill received by countries like France and the neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, who still retained close colonial connections to Burkina Faso. It was this connection, among other reasons, that motivated Compaore to take control of the nation, resulting in Sankara’s assassination and the reversal of his policies. With this, Compaore claimed to seek a path to economic recovery by reestablishing the nation’s connection to the IMF and the World Bank. However, without any sizeable movement to industries outside of resource extraction, and a government that has violently repressed any internal opposition, Burkina Faso today has an HDI that barely squeezes ahead of Chad’s.
Despite all of this, countries like the U.S. and France rely heavily on the nation as a springboard for their efforts in the fight against terrorism in West Africa. Compaore’s efforts to benefit economically from the West may have failed, but recent agreements with the U.S. and France have contributed to Burkina Faso’s importance in the struggle against groups like al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. Airbases in the country allow the U.S to spy on these terror cells and assist French forces in operations in Mali and elsewhere. Without Burkina Faso’s support, these conflicts could spill over into countries like neighboring Niger and even Burkina Faso itself. If the U.S. and France want to ensure the survival of their security pact with this country in the future, they must continue to encourage a peaceful, yet expedient transition to a new administration that is fairly elected under the conditions of Burkina Faso’s constitution and that can begin to address the pressing issues that caused the people of Burkina Faso to revolt in the first place.