Up to today, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso featured on a tongue-in-cheek Facebook chart called ‘Africa Presidents’. Timeline that dates this particular old man’s rule back to the introduction of the cellphone (1988): a bit after Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (the walkman, 1979) and a bit before the ‘old fat white chicken’ Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia (the DVD, 1994).
But he is finally, finally gone now, Compaore, ‘le très françafricain’ as the French website Survie calls him, the always faithful vassal of French interests in Africa. The man who in 1987 rose to power after the murder of the first really independent postcolonial leader of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara; the man who had Sankara buried in a commoners’ grave. Ever since then, Compaore maintained a pretense of democracy as a screen for the securocracy that cemented his power. He stayed president through a series of ever-legalistically-renewed legal mandates allowing him to run for office again, and again, and again. He armed the militias of Charles Taylor in neighbouring states Liberia and Sierra Leone, and participated in their diamond traffic. Investigative journalist Norbert Zongo was murdered on Compaore’s watch in 1998. When the War on Terror was entamed by the US in Mali and North Africa, Compaore immediately availed his country for use as an American military base, too.
Burkina people have been protesting increasingly in recent years. First, in 2008, they rallied against the high cost of living in a country where much more could be done by its leaders to eradicate poverty; then there were mass protests against his autocratic rule in 2011; and now it seems as if every single Burkinabe has come out in the streets to kick him out once and for all.
Comparisons with the Arab spring, however, seem a bit off. These protestors are not a mixed bag of progressives and traditionalists, as was the case in the countries further north. The only ‘good old days’ Burkinabe seem to long for are those of Thomas Sankara in 1987, when murder cut off a much-desired new future. It is that future that the millions out in the streets, and in Ouagadougou’s many Sankara-portrait selling market stalls, are now looking forward to with renewed enthusiasm.