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close this bookThe Courier N 126 - March - April 1991 - Dossier: AIDS - The Big Threat / Country Report: Burkina Faso (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)
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View the document‘Develop the economy’, says the Popular Front
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‘Develop the economy’, says the Popular Front

All was quiet in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, at the end of 1990, as it no doubt was all over the land. Since ‘Rectification’, as they call the revolution of 15 October 1987, the Burkinabave gradually been learning to live once more at the natural pace of the Sahelians, that slower but more majestic pace of a river flowing across flat country. Most of the slogans of the revolution are still in evidence of course, wishing you welcome, bidding you farewell and reminding you as-ever, of Burkina’s basic political option- revolution. The population, or, to be more precise, ‘the people’, in the name of whom everything is done, watch the changes in the nation’s particularly eventful political life, in which they rarely take any direct part, almost from a distance.

The Burkinabormerly Voltaic- people were always conciliating and of course still are and, from the first attempts at pluralist democracy in the 1970s to the revolution of 1983 and the ‘Rectification’ of today, they have withstood sharp shocks with great resilience and without becoming resigned. The Sankara revolution, as the rme of Blaise Compaor146;s former companion-in-arms is known in Ouagadougou, which set out to liberate Burkina from colonialism and neo-colonialism and give every citizen ‘progress in freedom’, ended on 15 October 19X7 in a bloodbath, to the great surprise of neither the Burkinabor the foreign observers of African political life.

The shattered dreams of the ‘Silmimoga’ captain

The illusions that came with independence were soon to be replaced by the long-lived dreams of the distant philosophies which had served as the main props of socio-political movements in Europe. The dream of Sankara, the young Silmimoga captain from the Burkinabrmy, was the product of two-internal and external-pressures. The former Head of State, as a Silmimoga, was said to be hampered by the Mossi image of the Peuls, from whom he was descended, as servants; this image was worsened by the tacit alliance which the colonials always forged with one section of the population (in Burkina with the Mossi) to the detriment of another section. This, they say in Ouagadougou, gave Thomas Sankara problems.

But there is also the fact that he kept Burkinabociety itself at a distance, failing, for example, to defer to the traditional chieftains as he might have done, especially when they talked to him with their heads covered. The treatment his People’s Revolutionary Tribunals meted out to civil servants accused of embezzling public monies amounted to virtual humiliation for some of the people they judged. One so-called prosecutor, for example, asked a polygamist who had stolen public funds if he had ‘two sex organs to cope with two wives’. ‘To us, as Africans, this was beyond understanding and an insult coming from a rme that claimed to be a people’s movement’, recounted a middle-aged man, visibly embarrassed-particularly telling since, like many Burkinabhe was neither anti-Sankara nor especially pro-CompaorAnd the sport for the masses which the whole population was expected to join in once a week ultimately created a real gap between the people and Sankara, who was said to be the indirect cause of miscarriages when women were ‘forced to do what the President said’. These apparently anodyne anecdotes show just how serious the widening gap in relations between the former President and his people was.

Sankara also liked to go in for symbolic acts of a spectacular kind-ordering small cars with no air conditioning for the Ministers, for example. And he was fond of words, to the point of courting the risk, some say, of putting the way they sounded before the truth.

‘The dear departed’, as he is still called, was so taken up with his image abroad that he was blind to the deteriorating situation at home, they say in Ouagadougou, and ‘the people had long been bewildered by a whole series of incoherent reforms of doubtful usefulness’ which did more harm than good when it came to solving everyday problems. But in the absence of any opposition or any measure of public opinion, he was ill-placed to sense the people’s chronic weariness which might have led him to decree a period of respite in the process of reform. He determinedly pursued his revolutionary dream when his doctrinal references across the world were running out of steam and the whole thing foundered on a number of national and international economic and social values and constraints on 15 October 1987, leaving the way clear for Rectification under Captain Blaise Compaorhis former companion-in-arms.

Reliable sources suggest that Captain Sankara was preparing for a period of ideological moderation shortly before his tragic end, but his time ran out. ‘When tension is extreme, problems get worse, complaints increase and explosions happen’, they say in Ouagadougou to explain the sordid outcome of a man who was genuinely liked and admired by young people beyond his frontiers.

Getting the economy: off the ground again

President Compaoraid that the idea of Rectification is to give the revolution proper economic and social meaning, as defined in Sankara’s famous Political Policy Speech of 1983. The ‘biggest mistake’ of the CNR (the Government) was to give the economy the sort of design and practices which ‘ignore the law of supply and demand’, so the People’s Front (the executive), which replaced it in 1987, is anxious to ‘get the economy off the ground again with a series of technical and psychological incentives to regenerate confidence in the operators’. The national economy, which was particularly badly handicapped by drought and the ‘hesitancy and improvisation’ of the Sankara decisions, the authorities now say, should be taking off again soon, thanks to structural reform, better targeting of public and private investment and a bigger effort with the building of the communications infrastructure

On the production front, agriculture should continue to be the main basis for growth-in spite of a 2 % decline which began in 1988 after the positive 1985-87 period when GDP expanded by 7 % thanks mainly to farm produce and (to a lesser extent) manufactures and mining products (see profile).

When it comes to communications infrastructure, the Yako-Ouahigouya road should facilitate a number of agricultural and livestock development, including 500 ha on the Sourou plain north-west of Ouagadougou and 300 ha of lowland rice fields, plus the sinking of wells to supply water and encourage people to settle in rural areas. This infrastructure, much of it financed by the European Community (ECU 44 million from the 6th EDF), will also be accompanied by a social scheme to provide a range of training and literacy courses and some public health improvements.

Despite the World Bank’s projected deterioration of around 8 % p.a. in the trade and services balance, there is expected to be a medium-term (1990-94) improvement of about 6 % p.a. (3 % in volume) in Burkina’s exports, mainly on the commodity (cotton) side, although a decline in mineral products (gold, in particular, will probably be 10 % p.a. down on 1987-89) is on the cards.

Although Burkina’s medium-term economic projections are fragile, the People’s Front still thinks that the new political guidelines, which reduce the ideological pressure on the people, will enable a start to be made on a properly productive economy. ‘Developing the economy is the prime objective of the People’s Front’ is the message from Ouagadougou.