by Austin Thompson
MAY 5, 2011
Youth movement militancy rises in face of repressionAfter two successful youth-led revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, yet another imperialist-backed African dictatorship is in crisis. Decades of injustice and repression are now being confronted by a courageous and inspiring youth movement in the West African country and former French colony Burkina Faso. The victory of the youth there will have significant consequences for the West African struggle for peoples’ democracy and true independence from foreign control.
After a Burkinabe student activist was murdered on Feb. 20 in an apparent act of police brutality and the circumstances of his death covered up by the government, the pent-up frustrations of Burkinabe youth erupted into an unquenchable fire for justice. Peaceful demonstrations demanding accountability for the murdered student activist were met with fierce repression from the government, and several deaths ensued. Since then, leaders of student unions have gone missing, and the systematic violent repression of youth protests has reinforced the barbaric nature of the regime.
French and American authorities continue to back the Burkinabe government and have so far reiterated their support for President Blaise Compaoré even as their militaries mount a vicious bombing campaign in Libya in the name of ”human rights.”
The unpopular president of Burkina Faso, Compaoré came to power in October 1987 in a counter-revolutionary coup that culminated in the assassination of legendary Burkinabe visionary Thomas Sankara. Decades later, Compaoré and a small ruling clique of reactionaries remain in power with Western support.
Compaoré has been a go-between for European and American corporations and their war machines. In a continent plagued with weak leaders dependent on the patronage of Western powers, Compaoré is one of the African leaders most closely aligned with the grand neocolonial theft of Africa’s natural resources and its prostration before the feet of foreign companies. Using his connections to the Western powers, rigged elections, constitutional changes and outright repression, Compaoré has maintained a firm grip on power to the detriment of Burkina Faso’s working people and especially its youth.
Burkinabe people suffer an unemployment rate of 77 percent, and about half the population lives below the official poverty line. The high cost of living, including food, electricity and housing, have left young people desperately poor in Burkina Faso even as elites have made fortunes from lucrative contracts with transnational corporations.
The neoliberal reforms initiated by Compaoré since 1991 eliminated most government support for the population. While in recent years, governments in poor countries like Bolivia and Nicaragua have seen rapid progress in increasing literacy rates (the ability of adults to read and write), Burkina Faso remains the country with the lowest level of literacy in the world. Life expectancy is at a low of 53 years old. The only reason for these lagging outcomes is that social development is simply not a priority of the neocolonial government in Ouagadougou.
Despite the repression and harassment of the authorities, the youth movement took an increasingly militant character as young people burned police stations and ruling party office buildings and targeted regional authorities in several cities, including Ouagadougou, Koupéla, Leo, Dori and Gower. Many youth leaders demand a complete end to the autocratic regime itself, which likely unnerves Western governments that have lent support to the worst dictatorships on the continent when it serves imperialist interests.
In order to reduce tensions and avoid an Egyptian- or Tunisian-type revolution, the Compaoré regime established a committee of elders and traditional leaders to meet with student associations and de-escalate the growing youth movement.
Today, however, the Burkinabe youth are still in the streets. The success of their movement rests on whether their fervor for change spreads to other sections of the population and regions of the country. Like their counterparts in North Africa, it is only a matter of time before the Burkinabe youth are victorious against the Western-backed Compaoré dictatorship. The people of the United States must stand with and defend the Burkinabe youth in their struggles and demand an end to the U.S. government’s support for reactionary regimes in the African continent.
Long live the spirit of Thomas Sankara! Victory to the youth of Burkina Faso!