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Burkinabe people have a history of revolutions – once the social and political engine started, it could not be stopped, says Dr. Gnaka Lagoke and Paul Sankara, brother of revolutionary Thomas Sankara

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Over 30 people have been killed in what some are calling a second revolution in Burkina Faso. On October 31, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso was brought to his knees and forced to resign by his people. The pivotal and final act that pushed the people to their brink was that Compaoré was seeking a change in the constitution to extend his rule. After 27 years as president of Burkina Faso, the Burkinabé people had enough. When they took to the street, 1 million people gathered. They torched the parliament and brought an end to Compaoré’s rule.

Soon thereafter, the country’s military decided to appoint Lieutenant Colonel Zida to lead an interim government. But this further angered the people and sparked further protest. They insisted on a civilian transitional government.

Joining us today in our Baltimore studio are Paul Sankara and Gnaka Lagoke.

Paul is the brother of the late president of Burkina Faso Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary Burkinabé military captain. Paul Sankara studied at the University of Ouagadougou and lives in Washington, D.C., now.

And Dr. Gnaka Lagoke is a specialist in African political affairs, development, and pan-Africanism. He also founded the Revival of Panafricanism Forum.

Thank you for both for joining us today.

GNAKA LAGOKE, FOUNDER, THE REVIVAL OF PAN-AFRICANISM FORUM: Thank you very much for the opportunity.


PERIES: Paul, let me begin with you. Some million people turned out to ensure that the president was going to end his term. Tell me about the class nature of the million people that showed up on the streets.

SANKARA: Okay. What’s happened to Burkina Faso brings us to pay a tribute first to the people who have been assassinated–more than people 30 people, as you pointed out. And we just want to join to their family and say that they didn’t die in vein.

In 1966, in a few details’ difference, grassroots, led by a trade union, mainly, first revolution, so to speak, happened in what we used to call the former Upper Volta. So the third revolution, we should say, in Burkina Faso last October is not a sudden movement. It’s a summary of what the social, political fabric has been done decades and decades before, where it is students, trade unions, leftists, military officers, and the civil society combine it to the willing of Blaise Compaoré’s regime to change the Constitution, after seven years, to be a candidate in 2015. On top of that, people were fed up also because of the really expensive level of living in Burkina Faso, except for quite a few people–Blaise Compaoré’s families and those who surround and–or a member of his regime. So it’s the combination of all these factors that’s led the youth, mainly, joined by political organization, to say enough is enough to Blaise Compaoré’s regime.

Now I guess nobody can claim that they really through their analysis saw the pace and the speed that the [denouement will (?)] occurred. So we were really surprised in terms of how quick and how fast it happened. But, yes, at the same time, we knew that something will happen, because he reached the deadline the–really the way that people cannot accept it.

PERIES: Were you really surprised? I mean, you are someone who’s very connected to what’s going on. A million people don’t come out on the streets just unannounced. Somebody was organizing. You must have known about it.

SANKARA: Yes. But let me tell something that I’ve often heard about Burkinabé in general. They’re really not quick to react, taking time, like a slow engine. But when it’s started, this social engine, political engine, nothing can stop it. And it looks like they give me the proof of the evidence that people have been–study on the population or the sociology of the Burkinabé. And yes, I was really surprised. I knew something will happen, because they said no to the–Blaise Compaoré has a new candidate in 2015, after 20 years in his power. They didn’t say no to his political party, the organization; they said no to himself as a new candidate for next year.

PERIES: Gnaka, what is the makeup of the people that are turning out? What’s the class base?

LAGOKE: Okay. Like Paul said, Burkina Faso has a history and a tradition of revolutions. So January 1966, January 3, I believe,–

SANKARA: Correct.

LAGOKE: –and the second one August 4, 1983, of Thomas Sankara. And now we have the October 2014 Revolution. This one, it was done by various groups in Burkina Faso, political parties, which was–the [arena of (?)] political parties was reinforced by people who defected from Blaise Compaoré regime in the beginning of the year 2014 [incompr.] more than 100 people left his political parties, among whom: former prime minister, former president of the parliament, even the leader of Blaise Compaoré’s ruling party.

PERIES: What caused the exit?

LAGOKE: Because people were suspecting Blaise Compaoré to maneuver through the constitutional change to extend his time in power, but at the same time to choose his brother as a successor. So other people who have supported Blaise thought that after Blaise Compaoré, they will have an opportunity for them to become president after him. But they realized that he was doing everything for himself and for his brother, who is François Compaoré. Okay. So this is, I think, the pivotal act that pushed them to react, and then, later on, they joined the opposition to denounce constitutional change, because, they say, it was a threat to democracy and stability. So the opposition–.

PERIES: Are there term in the Constitution for the president?

LAGOKE: Yeah, there’s term /kɑːnkɑːnʃədɪk/ The first, what I could call the [consensual (?)] constitution in Burkina Faso, June 2, 1991, that limited the presidential terms in two. At that time, the presidential term was supposed to last seven years. And later on, in 1997, Blaise Compaoré changed the Constitution this time so that he can be in power for eternally.

And then, after the assassination of a journalist, Norbert Zongo, in 1998, there was, like, a public uproar in Burkina Faso, and the people forced Blaise Compaoré to this time accept constitutional change to bring back the limitation of terms. This time, the term was to be five years. So all that process was supposed to end in 2015. And now we saw Blaise Compaoré, for the last two years, trying to maneuver again to change that limitation of term for him to be in power eternally. And this time, the people of Burkina Faso said, enough is enough.

And then, to answer your question, they [did it (?)] groups of people–political parties, unions, women, and farmers–all of them were part of the process of the protest against Blaise Compaoré.

But among that galaxy of protesters, we have to put emphasis on the youth movement. They called them the Children of the Revolution. Many of them were pioneers when Sankara was alive. And some of them, they never knew Thomas Sankara. They’ve–through books or documentaries, and they learn about him. And then they were educated by some people who have a political consciousness but who are singers. Smokey is one of them. He’s a rapper. Sams’K Le Jah–he’s a reggae singer. And many others. They made songs on Thomas Sankara and to promote his values and doing concerts. So it was a buildup. It did not happen like that overnight.

And last year, they created The Civic Broom movement–the broom, which is the symbol to sweep the nation from the corruption and from corrupt leaders. And then they were touring the country, going to different parts, and doing community organization and community engagement. And this is how the people of Burkina Faso, with the struggle of political parties and different people, they decided to react this time. And it happened in October, the very month in which Thomas Sankara was assassinated in 1987.

PERIES: Paul, do you think that–the youth were obviously learning from Thomas Sankara’s history. But do you think Arab Spring had something to do in terms of that inspiration?

SANKARA: Without doubt, ’cause that’s a global level of this impact in what’s happened in Burkina Faso last October. They have to add something on the numerous titles of these revolutions–Black Springs, the Children’s Revolutions, Sankara’s Children’s Revolutions, even where one–the Facebook Revolution, Facebook and Rastas Revolutions. So, yes, they’re traveling. They have satellites in the countryside in different countries in Africa, including Burkina. They have Facebook and Twitters.

And so what happened in Tunisia and others’ country have, yes, an impact. As long as conduct by youth organizations, they can say, okay, we can do that too, for the sake of the freedom for the whole population. So, yeah, it is not–there’s somehow a connection.

LAGOKE: Quickly, something I wanted to add that I forgot to say in my answer. The youth movement in Burkina Faso, the rappers, they drew the movement from a similar movement that ended with Abdoulaye Wade, former president of Senegal, desire–or they’ll stop his desire to change the constitution to extend his time in power, and then to choose his son as a successor. And that movement in French, we call it Y’en a Marre. In English, it is “we are fed up”. So it’s similar things, and then the people of Burkina Faso, because of the connection they have with those people. So before the Arab Spring or beside the Arab Spring, they drew also from the similar movement in Senegal.

And the difference between their movement and that of the Arab Spring or that of Senegal is that they have an inspirational figure who is a hero to millions in Africa, who is the pan-Africanist and who was the leader of the revolution, Thomas Sankara. And then these values came as as a catalysis in order to bring different groups of people together. And that’s why that revolution has a particular echo, and also because Blaise Compaoré was the puppet of the imperial system, and because of the weight he had in the region. And being demoted or being ousted was a very important thing. That’s why there is so much buzz about Blaise Compaoré.

PERIES: And tell me about the discontent of the youth. What are they facing? What are some of the realities? Is there joblessness? What is compelling them into action?

SANKARA: You name it. It’s–the first thing, it’s jobless with and without degrees. And Burkina Faso is a landlocked country without a lot of resources compared to certain countries in the same continent of Africa. But at the same time, the gap is huge. Coming from people that are public servants by definition, you should shoulder, as it’s happened during the four years of revolution with Thomas Sankara, you should give the first–the sacrifice and show the example.

It was not the case that Blaise Compaoré’s brother and mother-in-law of his younger brother and such of what couple of hundreds people used to live in front of people like they don’t belong to the same country. You’ve got people who don’t have access to drinkable water, their electricity constantly cut off because we don’t have any energy. But they are in a city called Ouaga 2000, which is a ghetto–that’s how I call it personally–ghetto for rich people built in 2000, as the name indicated, Ouaga 2000, Ouagadougou 2000. And by ten blocks or a little bit further than that, they have people as I said earlier, that don’t have water or electricity.

So this kind of a conflict, of social conflict, economic, whether you know somebody in the power or whatever you have, like, talent or knowledge or degree or diploma, you cannot have a job.

So they organized themselves and said, okay, the country’s for ourselves. Let’s put equality–equal justice, social justice, and no one is above the law. Gnaka pointed one of the–the crisis in 1998, with the assassination of the journalist Norbert Zongo. We had pretty much the same crowd–or a little bit less, but anyway, that thus was in the same mind of organizing themselves to say no. And he succeeded, Blaise Compaoré and his regime, to calm the anger that took place for two years in Burkina Faso. So it’s combined. And they didn’t fix anything that can put a social justice or a balance between the different social layers. It’s: What’s your name? Are you a member of Blaise Compaoré’s regime, organization, his party, or not? Otherwise, you’re out of the system. That’s why a million people said, okay, no, we need justice, social justice, and we need equality.

PERIES: What does the opposition party look like? What are the politics of it, their alliance with the people in this revolution? What is the nature of that relationship?

LAGOKE: You’ve got different–you have different political party in the whole galaxies, to use the term that Gnaka used, those who are in the right wing, sort of speaking, and the leftist one. They have contact with the people. But, honestly, the real organization that had been few years contact at least with the youth and the rest of the people, that’s The Broom of the Citizen (Le balai citoyen, in French), through their talent, as singers–and don’t forget the third one, who is a lawyer, three leaders (and maybe more) from this organization–through their talent, they talk to people with their songs and went to Thomas’ quote-unquote grave, because, by the way, nobody didn’t see the body, Sankara /ʃwɑːmənɪz/; neither his wife nor the rest of the family saw the body of Thomas. So we don’t know who is in the grave. So they went there and did some video and have young people. And recently they went to a hospital, clinic, clean it up, and gave to a couple of women who gave birth some basic gifts. Those women belong to really low-income families. It showed what kind of action, political action, The Broom of the Citizens done before Blaise Compaoré fall.

PERIES: I understand that one of the things that the people are calling for is really an investigation of sort into Thomas Sankara’s death.

SANKARA: Yes. The family–and over the family, because Thomas Sankara doesn’t belong anymore to just the biological family. He’s the one who first said that you can assassinate me, but–you can kill me, but more than 1,000 Sankaras will reborn. I understood that at that time that it was Sankaras in spirit and by heart. And indeed, today we have more and more Sankaras to have the–the /wɜr/, of course, for the simple reason [that] it’s a human approach. Somebody in a family has been assassinated. Nobody’s received or see the body. We need to see exactly where are the remains–and then, by the way, go through a DNA process to make sure that it is indeed Sankara who is in such and such a tomb in Burkina Faso in a cemetery. And the third reason: it will help, probably, the scientists to determine what’s the cause, the cause of Sankara’s death, because the family has been given a piece of paper on which it said–

LAGOKE: A death certificate [crosstalk] death certificate.

SANKARA: Yeah, the death certificate: died from natural causes. So for all these reason, yes. And the last, but not least, thing that the youth, the political organization, and including for the interests of any government, you have to make some–how you say it?–to put some light, truth, and justice for many cases like Thomas Sankara’s cases, Norbert Zongo the journalist, and such and such, because Blaise Compaoré’s–and this is statistics recognized by everybody in Burkina–has more than 200 crimes in term of killing people. I’m not talking about economic, bribery, and corruption. And that’s–and it’s above and beyond the small country Burkina Faso, involving Ivory Coast crisis, in Angola, the diamond, Liberia, with Jonas Savimbi, the gold, and such and such, Sierra Leone, the coup d’état in Mauritania, etc., etc.

LAGOKE: Liberia.

SANKARA: Liberia. So it’s hard for him to find after Ivory Coast, because I’m pretty sure for the internal political reason, the government right now in Ivory Coast won’t keep him longer than a few months.

PERIES: We will definitely be continuing this discussion–both about Burkina Faso itself as well as the region–at The Real News, and I hope both of you will join us in that journey.

LAGOKE: Thank you very much, Sharmini.

SANKARA: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

PERIES: Thank you.

And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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