In 1987, Blaise Compaoré overthrew Sankara and took over the presidency. 27 years later, Sankara’s ghost may be coming back to return the favour.
Thirty years ago, on August 4, 1984, the former French colony of the Upper Volta was re-baptised as “Burkina Faso” amidst a revolutionary process that proved to be one of the most inspiring, yet ultimately tragic, episodes of modern African history.
In 1983, the young Captain Thomas Sankara had come to power in a popularly supported coup d’état and − with broad support from leftist political parties, students, women and peasants − initiated a range of ambitious projects, including the country’s name change, that aimed to make the country more self-reliant and free of corruption. Sankara also sought to decentralise and democratise power in order to facilitate more participatory forms of governance, though elections for national offices were never attempted.
By many measures, this visionary project was enjoying a number of promising successes, but on October 15, 1987, Sankara’s experiment and life were cut short when a group of fellow soldiers, led by his former close ally Blaise Compaoré and backed by foreign powers, murdered him. Compaoré promptly took the reins of government effectively ending the revolution.
In the 27 years since Sankara’s overthrow, Compaoré has managed to keep a hold of power and largely ruled with impunity, though there have been periodic protest movements. Most notably, there were widespread demonstrations in 1998 after the journalist Norbert Zongo was killed, while 2011 also saw a marked rise in protests and mutinies.
And now, over the past year, the political opposition has reorganised itself once again and sharpened its message in anticipation of the presidential elections due in November 2015. So far, the most heated dispute has erupted over the issue of term limits. In 2000, the new Article 37 of the constitution reduced presidential terms from seven to five years and imposed a two-term limit. Since then, Compaoré has been re-elected twice meaning that he would not be eligible to run again in 2015, but the ruling party is now calling for a referendum on the article.