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06.12.2022 Author: Vladimir Danilov

What does the future hold for Burkina Faso?

It is deeply regrettable but it should be stated that the topic of Africa has been largely ignored by the world political elite in recent times whose attention has been predominantly occupied by other themes. Although it is on this continent that the most horrific misfortunes of mankind are unfolding with mass starvation of the population, incessant terrorist activities of radical Islamists and numerous gangs, poverty which remains in many countries of the Black Continent, as well as lack of drinking water and access to modern medicine due to which thousands of inhabitants are losing their lives.

240 million people, constituting 20% of the African population, are constantly hungry. They do not have enough food due to low income and lack of assistance from the state and international agencies. Sub-Saharan countries are particularly hard hit. It should be recalled that one of the worst crises in the past 25 years was the famine in East Africa in 2011-12, when 260,000 people, including 133,000 children, died of malnutrition in war-torn Somalia alone.

Nevertheless, recent events in several African countries that are trying to change their fate are attracting more and more attention, and not only at the regional level. And here, first of all, the following countries stand out: the Central African Republic, Mali, and Burkina Faso, who have collectively decided to put an end to the long-standing domination of France and pursue a policy independent of Paris.

All three countries are former colonies of France. In Paris they were considered to be “suitcases without handles.” The Central African Republic gained worldwide fame not through France’s desire to improve the socio-economic situation of this country, but due to the terrible uncontrolled, including on behalf of Paris, rule of the “cannibal emperor” Bokassa. Rampant terrorism and numerous bandit formations in Mali and Burkina Faso (formerly called Upper Volta) for many years did not prompt Paris to provide proper security for the population of these countries. And France’s long-term declarations about “military assistance and the training of local army units and law enforcement forces to combat terrorism and crime” turned out to be fiction, due to which, along with a complete lack of results in these spheres, France was forced to leave these countries.

The policy of international organizations with regard to the African continent and its problems has not been either active or effective. Even the fight against hunger advertised by the UN and participation under its aegis in concluding an agreement on the Black Sea corridor for allegedly exporting grain from Ukraine to “starving Africa” turned out to be different as the ships with grain from the unblocked ports of Ukraine sailed not to the poorest countries in Africa, but to other regions of the world, mainly to Europe. And, in fact, there has been no reaction to the coups d’etat in African states that took place in these recent times. UN Secretary General António Guterres usually limited himself to condemning the coups and calling for “restraint and negotiations on all sides” – standard language bordering on indifference. There was no discussion of the reasons that led to this or that coup d’état and of ways to prevent them in the future.

Under these conditions, it is not surprising that on September 30 in Burkina Faso, a group of military men led by 34-year-old artillery captain Ibrahim Traoré carried out a coup d’état, removing from power Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who himself took over the government this January by staging an armed coup. The new coup has a strongly-pronounced anti-French direction. Former President Damiba is accused by the population of the country for irresponsibly relying in his policy on cooperation with France, which, in general, has not shown its interest in any fight against Islamists and terrorists.

 It should be recalled in this connection that the population of Burkina Faso is approximately 20 million. The Burkinabé are warlike and freedom-loving, and during half a century of independence they have staged 11 military coups, fought with Mali and intervened in internecine conflicts of all neighboring countries. Taking into account the militant mood of the Burkinabé, they always helped the French in fights with the population of other neighboring states. However, France itself, did not pay anything for such loyalty, continuing only to exploit the population and natural resources of Burkina Faso.

Due to the predominance of the Mossi ethnic group in the country, which developed in the lower reaches of the Niger from a mixture of Mande and Bantu, who came to the land of Burkina Faso in the 11th century, there were no civil wars here, and the coups were essentially “silent”. The ancestors of the Burkinabé successfully resisted Islamization, Christianization, colonization and slave traders.

Since 2017, this African country has become the epicenter of terrorist activity by Islamist groups in West Africa, primarily through the fault of two large international terrorist groups operating here: the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (part of the Islamic State banned in the Russian Federation) and Ansar ul-Islam (also banned in Russia). Due to the ongoing attacks by militants from among Islamic radicals on the civilian population, more than 1.7 million Burkinabé have left their homes and become refugees. In this regard, the ineffectiveness here in the fight against terrorism over the past many years of the former French colony has become the main engine of the protest movement in Burkina Faso and prompted the local military to stage a coup d’état for the second time this year and abandon any “attachment” to France.

Although the standard of living in this country is low, nevertheless it is the third after Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa. 90% of the country’s population is employed in subsistence agriculture. Burkina Faso is a major supplier of gold to Western Europe, although its inhabitants remain poor. Almost 80% of Burkina Faso’s exports consist of gold (amounting to $2.36 billion a year – about 50 tons), which mainly goes to Switzerland.

The military officers, who seized power in Burkina Faso on September 30, announced the dissolution of the government, the suspension of the constitution and all political activity. The 34-year-old artillery captain Ibrahim Traoré, who led the coup, is now in charge of the country’s highest executive body – the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration. According to Ibrahim Traoré, as quoted by the media, if circumstances permit, then the return of Burkina Faso to the constitutional system and the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections can occur even before the date previously agreed with the Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) – no later than July 1, 2024.

In his speech on November 11 to representatives of political parties, Ibrahim Traoré gave a clear picture of the catastrophic state of the security situation in the country and spoke in detail about the living conditions of the inhabitants of the northern regions, which had been abandoned for far too long. He stated that the priority task of the new government was to intensify the fight against armed terrorist groups responsible for the deaths of 10,000 Burkinabé since 2015. According to him, another equally important task is the restructuring of the country’s economy, especially in the field of agricultural production. He also announced the need for special efforts to be made in education, which should meet Burkina Faso’s current demand for qualified personnel for the economy and for the repurposing of culture in order to counter the loss of vital and ideological focus by the youth. Furthermore, he announced the intention of the authorities to develop the road network and the healthcare system in order to cater to the urgent needs of the population. Among the proposals put forward by the new authorities of the country, there was a call for citizens “to better manage society by creating local committees for verification and development (CLVD), which would allow them to take responsibility for their own destiny.” The country’s new prime minister suggested starting work on a new constitution that would meet the current challenges of building a progressive society in the country.

The recent demonstrations in Burkina Faso showed the support of the country’s population for the new government and its mass rejection of France’s intervention. Focusing on positive advances even during a short period of cooperation with Russia by neighboring countries – Mali and the Central African Republic – the inhabitants of this country are calling for developing and intensifying relations with Moscow, having declared that the people of Burkina Faso “want to go with Russia.”

Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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