By William Whitlow:
Burkina Faso shaken by widespread protests
26 April 2011
The West African country of Burkina Faso has been hit by growing popular protests as well as dissent in the army. Bordering the Ivory Coast, the landlocked country has faced rising food prices, which have been exacerbated by the civil war in the Ivory Coast and French/United Nations intervention.
Supplies have been disrupted by the war and thousands of Burkinabes, who traditionally work in the Ivory Coast cocoa plantations, have fled home to this impoverished country.
Burkina, with a population of 16 million, is rated by the UN as the third poorest country in the world. Life expectancy for men is only 53 years. According to some estimates, the per capita annual income is just US$300. This is less than the average for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. The loss of wages from the migrant cocoa workers has been a severe blow to both household incomes and the national economy.
President Blaise Compaore is increasingly under threat. He has sacked his government and top military chiefs, and taken over the post of defence minister himself. He recalled Luc Adolphe Tiao, Burkina’s ambassador to France, and appointed him prime minister. Former colonial power France has warned its citizens not to travel to Burkina.
Following the changes at the top, opposition politicians are expecting a clampdown on protests. The deputy general secretary of the CGT-B trade union federation, Bassolma Bazie, said, “This is quite clearly a sign that we are dealing with a government of repression.” He said the unions would call a demonstration May 1 if the government did not address grievances such as low pay and high taxes on essential goods.
Two weeks ago, the capital Ouagadougou saw the largest protest so far, with tens of thousands of people protesting against the high cost of living. Protests have built up since the beginning of the year in various parts of the country, with students communicating by Facebook in the pattern of Tunisia and Egypt.