Burkina Faso: France, the US and the spirit of Sankara

by Ann Garrison

KPFA Weekend News broadcast Sept. 27, 2015

Paul Sankara says the Burkinabe army is supporting the people against the coup plotters. Dr. Gnaka La Goke says that anyone who thinks the presidential guard would attempt a coup d’état without the knowledge and complicity of the U.S. and France is refusing to see how things are done in the 21st century.


KPFA Weekend News Anchor Anthony Fest: Burkina Faso’s Presidential Guard, a military elite created by longtime dictator Blaise Compaoré, seized power nearly two weeks ago, but a popular uprising including the Burkinabe army has reversed the coup and restored civilian rule.

Burkina-flag, Burkina Faso: France, the US and the spirit of Sankara, World News & Views These events unfolded nearly 11 months after hundreds of thousands of Burkinabe filled the streets of the capital, set the Parliament Building on fire and forced Blaise Campaoré to step down. He ruled Burkina Faso for 27 years and is infamous for organizing the assassination of the country’s revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara with the help of France and the French-backed government of the Ivory Coast.

KPFA’s Ann Garrison has the story, including the voices of Paul Sankara, Burkinabe democracy activist and younger brother of the late Thomas Sankara, and Dr. Gnaka La Goke, African history professor at Montgomery College in Maryland. Here’s that story.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: Between 10 and 20 citizens of Burkina Faso were killed and more than 100 were wounded when the country’s presidential guard fired on them during their uprising against the coup. In a decisive moment, the Burkinabe army of 11,000 surrounded the capital and demanded that the elite presidential guard behind the coup disarm. Here’s Paul Sankara on that moment:

Paul Sankara: Yeah, it was very patriotic what they did. The story of Burkina Faso, when we read and we learn a little bit how people do things in Burkina Faso, it’s not a surprise that Thomas Sankara was born in Burkina Faso or Thomas Sankara came from Burkina Faso.

Let me tell you something that many people may not see. When Thomas Sankara came to power on Aug. 4, 1983, he was imprisoned after he resigned from his position of prime minister. The same thing that we saw today, the same thing happened in Burkina Faso in 1983. Those who wanted to go and free Thomas Sankara, they were being helped by the population.

Thomas-Sankara, Burkina Faso: France, the US and the spirit of Sankara, World News & Views
Thomas Sankara, president of Burkina Faso 1983-1987

So this was not like a regular coup d’état. The military intervened after a popular uprising, after mass protest in Burkina Faso, people chanting and singing, “Free Thomas Sankara. Free Thomas Sankara.” It was after the “Free Thomas Sankara” protests that the military – most stood up – were going to be part of the process.

KPFA: Negotiators from ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, brokered a deal in which both the army and the presidential guard stood down until power had been formally restored to the transitional government.

French President Francois Hollande warned all parties in Burkina to heed the ECOWAS draft agreement, which would have allowed the presidential guard to return to their previous authority despite having attempted a coup and would have allowed the party of deposed dictator Blaise Compaoré to participate in upcoming elections. These elements of the agreement were very unpopular with the people of Burkina Faso, who took to the streets with signs reading “No Amnesty for Assassins” and told the BBC that they had no use for ECOWAS. As soon as the transitional government was restored to power, it invoked African Union principles and the will of the Burkinabe people to disarm and disband the presidential guard and exclude coup plotters from the upcoming election.

Burkina Faso hosts both U.S. and French special forces and has served as an important military ally of both France and the United States in West Africa. Dr. Gnaka La Goke said that anyone who thinks that the presidential guard would attempt a coup d’état without the knowledge and complicity of the U.S. and France is refusing to see how things are done in the 21st century.

Dr. Gnaka La Goke: If you want to talk about how things are, the different buildings in Burkina Faso, from the presidential palace, there’s the presidential guard, a military base, then the American Embassy. So this is one thing.

Second thing. Two weeks before the coup d’état, I heard that the State Department sent a warning to its citizens, telling them that if they go to Burkina Faso, they should be cautious, they should not go out at night, they should avoid some locations because something could happen in Burkina Faso. I was surprised. I said, “What is going to happen in Burkina Faso?”

So it means that everyone was watching. But at the same time in Ivory Coast, people were trying to take to the streets. A few people were already killed, but the State Department did not issue that warning.

And third, in February 2015, there was a military training of some officials, of African military officials, to fight against terrorism. Gilbert Diendéré was – I don’t know how they did it – but he was there representing Burkina Faso and then with the training with the American military experts. That was February 2015. And then there are other sources that say that he has some close ties with the French secret service.

Burkina-Faso-map-in-Africa, Burkina Faso: France, the US and the spirit of Sankara, World News & Views So, if somebody wants to tell me that Gilbert Diendéré just decided to do this on his own, or that Blaise Compaoré supported him, or that France and America did not have anything to do in that coup d’état, I think that the person is either expressing bad faith or the person does not want to look at the reality, and the person does not want to see how things are done in this world of the 21st century.

So, based on everything that I just said, I believe that they knew that this was going to happen, and they thought that it was going to succeed. It was when they saw the mobilization of the people, then they decided to turn coat as usual or to change their position to show to the world that they are on the side of democracy.

KPFA: The coup d’état in Burkina Faso now appears to be the second African coup backed by the U.S. that failed this year, after it became clear that there was too much popular will against it. The first was in Burundi in May.

For Pacifica, KPFA, and AfrobeatRadio, I’m Ann Garrison.


Sept. 28: The New York Times and other major outlets reported that the Burkinabe presidential guard [Régiment Security Presidential, or RSP] had refused to disarm. A transitional government statement said: “This handful of die-hards has taken hostage not only members of the former RSP who wanted to rejoin the side of reason but also officers of the national armed forces tasked with disarming them. But even more seriously, the government knows that they have called foreign forces and jihadist groups to their rescue to realize their dark scheme.”

Sept. 29: The BBC reported that Burkina’s national army had surrounded the presidential guard base, that gunfire had been heard and that the Ouagadougou airport had been closed.

Sept. 29: Reuters reported that the Burkina army entered the presidential guard base and met little resistance but that coup leader Gen. Gilbert Diendéré escaped to an undisclosed location.

Sept. 29: The Guardian reported: “The army launched an assault on the barracks of the presidential guard (RSP) after the putschists refused to give up their weapons” and that the presidential guard stood down after the army fired on them. Also that “The government issued a statement hailing the ‘liberation’ of RSP camps by ‘our valiant defence and security forces’ and urging the public to now work together to boost national unity.”

Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at anniegarrison@gmail.com. In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.