A recent mutiny over unpaid allowances of soldiers puts Burkina Faso on the edge of a serious political crisis
The trend of revolts against sit-tight African leaders has now hit Burkina Faso, the West African country. An army mutiny which started in Ouagadougou, the capital of the country, has spread to other towns as protesters express their disenhancement with poor living conditions after the 23- year rule of Blaise Compaore, Burkina Faso president.
It started with sporadic shootings on Friday, April 15, by guards at the presidential compound in Ouagadougou, and later spread to nearby army barracks. The soldiers were demanding that the government pay their housing allowances which had accumulated over the years. The police and the masses later joined the protests the following day to draw government’s attention to the rising food crisis and alleged human rights abuses by the government of Compaore.
Compaore seems to have lost control of his government. He fled the country immediately the army mutiny started. He later resurfaced in the country where he reshuffled his cabinet with the promise that the demands by the army and the masses would be addressed as soon as possible. Tertius Zongo, the Burkina Faso prime minister, has been replaced by Luc Adolphe Tiao, the country’s former ambassador to France. The army chiefs were also replaced by those who would be loyal to the government of Compaore.
The president has been facing mounting opposition against his rule. In 2008, about 184 people were arrested during a violent protest in major cities over increase in the prices of basic commodities. The protesters claimed that the government added taxes to basic goods which raised the cost of living in the country. But government denied the allegation that taxes were imposed on basic goods. Rather it said that the cost of living was reduced because duties were removed on some imported goods. Most of those arrested received jail terms that ranged from three to 36 months. From the World Bank report on the country in that year, inflation rose from 10 percent to 65 percent.
In March, students protested in several cities against the death of Justin Zongo while in detention. The government claimed that he died of meningitis, a disease he had before being detained. But human rights activists alleged that he died because the government maltreated him. The protests resulted in the burning of government buildings and the killing of six students. Also, in March a group of soldiers went on rampage and freed a number of their colleagues arrested for rape. During the protests, the house of the chief of staff to the president was burnt, some buildings and shops were destroyed including a pro-government radio station.
Opposition against Campaore is deeper than poor living conditions. It is suspected that he is preparing to change the constitution that would enable him remove limits to the number of terms a president can serve. If that is done, Compaore would be spending limitless tenure after 23 years in power.
Campaore came to power through a palace coup in 1987 against Thomas Sankara, his friend and comrade in arms. Sankara himself became the country’s leader in 1983, and adopted a policy of non-alignment and developed a good relationship with Libya and Ghana. He also change the country’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso which means “Land of honest men.” Campaore overthrew Sankara in 1987, and later organised election through which he became civilian president. Since then, he has won four presidential elections, the lastest being in November, 2010.
Born in 1950 and trained as a soldier in Cameroon and Morocco, Compaore served under Sankara as minister of state to the presidency. He did not only depose Sankara, he executed him. He succeeded in disarming local militias and despite his reputed left-wing leanings, embarked on a programme of privatisation and austerity measures sponsored by the International Monetary Fund, IMF.
Despite his indictment by the United Nations, over his role in the Sierra Leonean crisis, Compaore has become a regional power-broker within the West African region. The UN indicted him of supporting insurgents during the Sierra Leone civil war which ended in 2002, but he served as an envoy of the Economic Community of West African State, ECOWAS, both in the Ivory Coast political controversies involving Laurent Gbagbo, the ousted leader, and Alassane Ouattara, the elected president of Ivory Coast. He played a similar role towards the restoration of civilian rule in Guinea.
Compaore’s leadership of Burkina Faso has not benefited the economy of the country. It is still one of the poorest countries of the world with an average income per capita of €250 or US$300. More than 80 percent of the population rely on subsistence agriculture, with only a small fraction directly involved in industry and services. Highly variable rainfall, poor soil, inadequate communication and other infrastructure, a low literacy rate, and a stagnant economy are problems facing the country which the 23 years of Compaore rule has been unable to solve.
Many Burkinabe migrate to neighbouring countries in search of employment, and their remittances provide a substantial contribution to the balance of payments. The agricultural economy remains highly vulnerable to fluctuations in rainfall. Most of the population eke out a living as subsistence farmers, living with problems of climate, soil erosion, and rudimentary technology.
Eddy Erhagbe, senior lecturer, department of international studies and diplomacy, University of Benin, said uprising in Burkina Faso, is not a popular one like those of the Arab world. To him, the people of Burkina Faso are aware that the resources are not available to their government to speed up development, unlike the Arab world where leaders failed to use their abundant resources to develop the country but rather enriched themselves and their political cronies. But he has no doubt that it is capable of causing grave problems for Campaore through a coup by the armed forces.
Help Comes for Libyan War Victims
Cinderella Amos and Omoyeme Abumere
The UK has provided two million pounds to help civilians fleeing from Misrata, in Libya, by boat. This was spearheaded by Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary. Also, body armour and telecommunications equipment have been supplied to help the rebels.
The UK National Security Council have also decided that its team already in Benghazi would be given an additional military liaison advisory team. This contingent will be drawn from experienced British military officers.
These additional personnel will enable the UK to build on the work already being undertaken to support and advise the opposition National Transitional Council, NTC, on how to better protect civilians.
The team will advise the NTC on how to improve its military organisational structures, communication and logistics, including how best to distribute humanitarian aid and deliver medical assistance. This procedure was accepted by the Libyan ministers who had always ruled out foreign military action.
Although, many see what the UK has done as a huge favour for a fellow sister country, Menzies Campbell, former Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, warned that the UK should be careful to avoid being swamped down with the crisis in Libya, and avoid finding itself in a scenario which the United States experienced in Vietnam. “Vietnam began with an American president sending military advisers. We must proceed with caution,” he said.
David Winnick, a member of the parliament intensely criticised the deployment of British officers he said, although everyone despises the brutality of the Gaddafi’s clan, the fact remained that the British involvement in Libya, is for a mission. “There is a civil war in Libya and this is a big escalation of Britain’s involvement,” he said
The World Food Programme is helping with food supplies through a new humanitarian corridor into western Libya, with the first convoy crossing from Tunisia last week Monday. It was loaded with enough wheat flour and high-energy biscuits to feed 50,000 people for 30 days.
Unfortunately, the food supply will not get to Misrata, because the situation there is very critical and the food will not be sufficient to go round.
A Vote for Democracy
Hungary has taken a bold step towards democracy. The country’s parliament recently voted in favour of a new Constitution which will change the present totalitarian system of government to a democracy.
During the proceedings, 262 votes were cast in favour of the new constitution and 44 votes went against it with one abstention, reflecting the two-thirds majority enjoyed by Fidez, the governing party.
Prior to the proceedings, two of the three opposition parties namely-The Socialist and Green parties walked out of the chambers accusing the governing party of imposing a divisive right-wing ideology on the country.
The new constitution referred to as a basic law for the 21st century, has also attracted criticisms. Most controversial is the preamble which stresses Hungary’s Christian roots. Other criticisms include limits to the authority of the constitutional court and a reduction in the number of parliamentary ombudsmen. Another criticism is a paragraph on the protection of the unborn child. This part of the constitution has been regarded as having the tendencies of encouraging abortion.
Although opponents say the new constitution steadily undermines democracy, the government insists that it strengthens it. Hungary, home to Lake Balaton, a landlocked country, traces its history back to the Magyars, an alliance of semi-nomadic tribes from southern Russia and the Black Sea coast that arrived in the region in the ninth century.
It has rich traditions in folk and classical music and is the birthplace of numerous performers and composers, including Franz Liszt, Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly.
The country’s main exports are machinery and transport equipment, food stuff and production chemicals. Its president is Pat Schmitt and its prime minister is Viktor Orban who had previously served in that position between 1998 and 2002.
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