By Osuolale Alalade
Blaise Compaore, the Burkinabe despot ousted late October 2014, was famously notorious as the assassin of continental hero Thomas “Che” Sankara. By this act, he nipped a budding revolutionary moment in Burkina Faso. He was also the accomplice of Houphouet Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire in destabilizing the sub region and keeping West Africa divided. Together, Boigny and Compaore ushered in a long period of instability in West Africa. It is a paradox that one of Compaore’s last acts in his twenty seven years in office was igniting a decade of war in Cote d’Ivoire just only to put that country back on Boigny’s neo-imperialist willing servitude. Compaore is thus only just another normative African villain whose ouster from the political landscape has complex consequences for West Africa to deal with.
In the wake of intermittent protests by civilians and the military in the last three years and the implacable frustration of long suffering Burkinabes that boiled over in October, the announcement of the agreement by political forces for ex-Foreign Minister Michel Kafando to steer the nation to a constitutional order within a year is a reassuring signal. He was sworn in Tuesday, 18 November, 2014 as interim president. Although Burkina Faso thus avoided apprehensions that it was sliding toward a Captain Moussa Daddis Camara scenario as in Conakry some six years ago, when Daddis Camara seized power in a military coup d’état. This followed the death of long-time dictator Lansana Conté in Guinea on 23 December 2008. But the land of people of integrity is not completely out of the woods yet, with the lingering traces of the ambitions of the military. This ambition is expressed in the outcome of the negotiations that kept Lt Col. Isaac Zida, the head of the Compaore presidential guard, as the Prime Minister. He would have control of the day to day administration in the interim period. The ultimate outcome of the 1994 interim arrangement in Nigeria with an ambitious General Sanni Abacha initially behind the throne of the interim President is haunting. The consensus in Ouagadougou for a civilian interim president initially doused fears that early infighting among military loyalists that was won by Lt Col. Isaac Zida was a good indicator of the immediate trajectory of post Compaore Burkina Faso. That initial confidence has now been tampered.
Meanwhile, Compaore’s ouster has significant implications for Cote d’Ivoire that has remained a fragile state since 2010. The prospects of peace in Cote d’Ivoire in the medium to long term would be impacted by policy choices, continuity or realignment of the Compaore preferences on Abidjan, of the transitional and/or expected post Compaore democratic dispensation. While in the opposition, major Burkinabe political forces were against the expansionist adventurism of Compaore in Cote d’Ivoire. His departure therefore leaves Allasane Ouattara exposed. It also deprives France of a neighborhood ally whose forces could deploy in continuing proxy role of protecting the overseer of French interests in Abidjan. Recent riots by the barely reformed Forces Nouvelles, with significant Burkinabe elements, who were transformed into the Forces Republicaine du Cote d’Ivoire across the country is not good news to Ouattara. It is also a bad time as a faction of the Front Populaire Ivorian (FPI) has presented Laurent Gbagbo as candidate for the 2015 presidential elections.
Compaore and entourage of family as well as close hangers-on now live in the presidential palace of his protégé president of Cote d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara. As Ouattara has strong and controversial Burkinabe antecedents, Blaise Compaore may be truly at home in Cote d’Ivoire. Some in fact construe post Laurent Gbagbo Cote d’Ivoire as no more than greater Burkina Faso. In this opinion, the irony is that Ouattara is president of Cote d’Ivoire only because with Compaore determined to die as president of this neo-colonial state in the heart of the Sahel, there was no vacancy at the state house in Ouagadougou. The alternative was to create space somewhere else. Abidjan fit the bill and with France in tow, some arrangements were made to spring the Sergeant I.B. Coulibaly led mainly Burkinabe Forces Nouvelles rebels against the neo-nationalist Gbagbo administration in Cote d’Ivoire. When he became too noisy after leading the stalemated military operations in September, 2002, Sergeant I.B Coulibaly was kept in the cooler by the French establishment on some trumped up charges. He resurfaced late 2010 to lead the urban guerilla war unleashed by the Compaore controlled Forces Nouvelles in Abidjan.
I.B. Coulibaly became expendable after accomplishing his assigned role in Cote d’Ivoire. He was assassinated by his so called allies in the Compaore controlled Forces Nouvelles. The conventional narrative is that Compaore was West Africa’s leading mediator. That was the case until the October spatula “2nd Sankara” revolution in the Sahel. On the face of it, that reputation is not exactly false and it is consistent with the personal trajectories of many African villains. They almost always cover their claws dripping in hot blood. In many instances the world has been fooled.
But as just another run of the mill African despot who exploited the legendary apathy and the hypocrisy of the national society to feather his personal nest for almost three decades, the cushioned landing of Blaise Compaore is instructive of the character of the African public sphere. With friends in the West, France and the United States in this particular instance, Compaore was assured a soft landing. For a man who came into the limelight as a political murderer, he did well for all his bosses and for himself. On 15 October, 1987, Compaore assassinated his mentor, brother, friend and comrade in arms, Thomas “Che” Sankara. Sankara, also known as “Che of Black Africa”, was inspired by the Cuban revolution. Sankara sought to adapt the principles of that revolution to the daunting socio-economic challenges in one of the poorest countries in the world. He disagreed with the panaceas promoted by Bretton Wood institutions. He paid the supreme price.
Sankara’s memory stands as a stout monument to the indestructibility of that flicker of hope and spirit of emancipation and the steely tenacity of the integrity of a true revolutionary impulse that is possible even in Africa. Sankara’s immediate crime was a simple one. In a bilateral negotiation, he admonished France to respect the contributions of Burkinabes to the French economy even if all they did was clean the streets of France. By this challenge Sankara antagonized France’s local prefet and overseer of France’s interests in the sub region, Houphouet Boigny. Boigny, operating from Abidjan, had to put this revolutionary gadfly in his prefecture in line. Compaore was the choice hangman. On 15 October, 1987, Compaore deployed murderous elements of the Charles Taylor led National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) that were hibernating in Ouagadougou, to assassinate Sankara. The NPFL Liberian rebels had camped in Ouagadougou on returning from their training base in Libya and were waiting for the green light and the required military supplies from Houphouet Boigny in Abidjan to invade Liberia through Ivorian territory.
Compaore’s elimination of Sankara in 1987 was only one element of a long term strategic plan to retain West Africa solidly in a conservative mould. A decade earlier, on 13 February, 1976, Nigeria’s radical national leader Murtala Mohammed was murdered and removed from the scene. Nigeria has yet to recover from the devastating impact of the truncation of its most revolutionary moment of its national history. No leader in Nigeria has elicited the kind of unadulterated national adoration that has since been accorded Murtala Mohammed. His assassination followed a pattern that entailed the ousting of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana on 24 February, 1966. Before then Togo’s President Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio was cut down on 13 January 1963 for being too friendly with Anglophone West Africa and proposing to build a sea port in Lome. The plan to build a port in Lome ran counter to the decision of France to have only one port in Cotonou.
Sekou Toure was the luckiest of the early radicals as he survived a Portuguese invasion in 1970. Touré was inflexible in his defence of the liberty and dignity of Africans from foreign domination. He was a champion of the ideal of African unity and collective self-reliance. Touré was a patron (militarily and otherwise) of national liberation movements on the continent, including in Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, and South Africa. To undermine this, the Portuguese launched an attack upon Conakry in 1970. The aim ostensibly was to rescue Portuguese Prisoners of War, but really the invasion was to overthrow Touré’s regime and destroy PAIGC bases. They succeeded in everything other than overthrowing Touré’s regime. The outstanding leader of the Pan African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), Amilcar Cabral, arguably Africa’s finest revolutionary theorist and practitioner, was shot dead by Portuguese agents in Conakry on January 20, 1973. These were the heroes of Sankara. His killing was thus an element of a grand scheme that had unfolded long before he came unto the scene. Compaore was also a direct executioner of the plans to take out Samuel Doe. Doe had managed to offend Col Muammar Gaddafi and his mentors, the United States, were fed up with his murderous reign in Monrovia. As always, Compaore was ready. Sergeant Doe, fronting for the United States and returning to Monrovia from a 1986 Non-Aligned summit meeting in Harare had unwisely challenged Muammar Gaddafi to deadly physical duel over Ronald Reagan’s United States Invasions of Grenada in 1983. Compaore provide an initial rear base for Taylor’s NPFL and furnished critical materiel. Through this support, Compaore was complicit with Boigny in tearing apart the peace and social stability of West Africa. Taylor went on the collaborate with Fonday Sankoh’s so called Revolutionary United Front (RUF) that caused mayhem hacking off arms and limbs on innocent civilians in Sierra Leone. Of this ungodly trio, only Charles Taylor was brought to justice at the Sierra Leonean International Criminal Court, ostensibly for his atrocities, but actually for turning his back on the United States that had connived in bringing him to power.
The real and only ill luck for Compaore is that because of the circumstances of his overthrow, France would be hard put to reward him with a peace prize named after him in the manner that it had done for the good services of Houphouet Boigny. But one never knows. A survey of the continental landscape is full of the Compaores who kill to get to power, kill to stay in power and kill on their way out. They are often protected by the powers that be, as long as they live by the rules of the playbook of their handlers. Compaore eminently did. He has, accordingly, gone the way of all such out of luck villains by proceeding to live his last days in Morocco. Rabat, a steadfast ally of France, is fast gaining the reputation of being the graveyard of out of season francophone dictators- a la Mobutu Sese Seko of defunct Zaire.
In the final analysis, Compaore was just another common criminal tool in the hands of very visible forces determined to continue with the ruination of progressive Africa. It is noteworthy that the first executive act of interim President Michel Kafando was order the identification of the unmarked grave of Thomas Sankara and to ascertain his remains through a DNA test for a proper burial. The symbolic act of the rehabilitation of national hero and continental icon Sankara hopefully represents the beginnings of national healing and redemption from the Compaore induced 27 year national trauma.