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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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‘No economic development without democracy’

For some time now, people have been looking at Burkina Faso to see what has been going on there since ‘Rectification’ in 1987. Captain Blaise Compaorthe President of the Republic, told The Courier how he saw things there at the moment, starting with a question about the Government’s economic options.

‘Burkina’s economic options are very easily understood. For a start, just look at the way things are. This is an agricultural country with 90 % of the population working on the land in spite of the fact that the rainfall is so unpredictable. They are educationally backward, their level of instruction is low and their literacy rate is poor and so they don’t really know much about new farming and herding techniques. This is the background against which you have to try and understand the basis of what we are trying to do with our economy today’.

‘The main thing is to raise the standards of this 90 % of the population by developing agriculture and becoming as self-sufficient in food as we can. Once we have done that, we think, all the other economic activities in the secondary and tertiary sectors will take off too. What we have to do, in a nutshell, is make the people literate and give them education, build dams and sink wells, combat erosion and develop a spirit of cooperation in our rural areas to make sure more is made of the agricultural inputs. Those are the fundamentals of our economic policy. And all the other economic activities-including the infrastructure to conserve and trade our products-will go hand in hand with expanding agricultural production. The processing of these products comes at a later stage, when a proper light agro-industry should be set up... So there you have one very important side of our economic development’.

‘The second thing is mining. Burkina has various mineral resources-manganese and zinc, for example-and we are working with international companies to step up research and exploit the sector so that it can contribute to the general development of the nation’.

‘International cooperation can be a great help in the development of our resources, of course, although there is the problem of what practical contribution the Burkinabeople can make to it. We know’, the President said, ‘that international aid accounts for a very large percentage of development in Burkina at the present time. But we see it as a two-way thing-there is the cooperation we have as part of our relations with organisations such as the international financial bodies and our development cooperation under Lomnd there is that other sort of cooperation, NGO action, in which our people are involved more specifically. What the non-governmental organisations are doing in our villages and even our towns, which are often twinned with places in Europe, has to do with the everyday practicalities of living. They build schools, for example, and dispensaries and they help the people get organised and define their needs and the common means of achieving them-a whole range of things with immediate effect. The other, no less important, side of NGO action is that it encourages the people to be more forward-looking, so they are starting to think about the medium and the longer term - an approach which means that all the cooperation organisations are better informed about the population’s needs and which improves their contribution to the development schemes’.

Cooperation with the Community

‘The European Community’, President Compaoraid in answer to my question, ‘is very closely involved in a number of Burkina’s major development projects and programmes, mainly to do with agriculture, health and infrastructure, which are development priorities as far as we are concerned’.

Going beyond what he called the ‘very important’ economic aspect of ACP-EEC relations, ‘cooperation the Community’, he said, was also a ‘first-class framework in which to define and discuss discuss the ACPs’ development requirements. What we like about it is the acceptance of a dialogue between the partners about the development issues which concern us’. Captain Compaoronetheless pointed to problems in relations with the Community. ‘All that red tape.. which isn’t just our European partners’ fault. It’s usually the Africans’. The Lomunds-said to be inadequate-and the Stabex-said not really to make up for lost- export earnings-were not aims in themselves. ‘The essential thing, as we see it, is a proper framework for consultation in which we are free to say what we need’.

The World Bank and the IMF

‘There have been hard times in our relations with these two bodies’, Captain Compaoraintained, ‘because of a lot of misunderstanding, especially with the World Bank, which did nothing to}help Burkina’s development at all between 1985 and 1990’. But there is light at the end of the tunnel for cooperation with the Bretton Woods organisations. ‘Good contacts are being established at the moment’, the President indicated, heralding excellent relations and the imminent signing of a structural adjustment programme for economic recovery.

‘Development and democracy’

Economic reform means some degree of political reform, of course, and al though Burkina’s authorities still proclaim their ties with the revolution, they are nonetheless keen on ‘democratising’ the country. A democratic revolution, perhaps? This, at any rate, is what the Head of State could be aiming at when he says that there is ‘no economic development without democracy-i.e. without the masses being able to take initiatives within the framework of the management of political affairs’. This means having institutional structures to organise and govern the ‘great powers’ of the State, a ‘process of democracy’ scheduled to involve the adoption of a constitution in 1990. ‘And by the end of 1991, all the organisational structures which this fundamental law provides for the political and economic life of the nation should be set up’, maintained the President, who sees the constitution as ‘a way of taking today’s democratic achievements further’.

Democracy in Burkina, the President said, is not the upshot of the upheavals of Eastern Europe. ‘Those who have been following events here since 15 0ctober 1987 (the date of ‘Rectification’-see previous article) realise that we didn’t wait for the events in Eastern Europe to start proclaiming our own faith in political pluralism. Public opinion abroad has not really understood our approach, which takes our national realities and our political heritage into account’, he emphasised. ‘For us, the fundamental thing since Rectification is the proclamation of political pluralism, which is to be codified in the constitution’.

Human rights and cooperation

The human rights issue, long considered as outside the scope of ACP-EEC cooperation, has gained ground again with the changes in Eastern Europe.

Could the ACPs have stayed on the sidelines with such an international movement shedding doubt on all the convictions with which both sides postponed the inevitable? ‘No’, Captain Compaoraid. ‘When you are a leader and you want to make your people happy, it cannot be to the detriment of human rights and individual freedoms. So it is important for human rights to be seen to be of common interest in relations between the ACPs and the Community and the other cooperation organisations’. There is also the question here of ‘the confidence there has to be, at home and abroad, if we are to call for an effort by the people and an increase in the international resources we need for our development’.

There may well be disagreement about defining or respecting human rights, of course, ‘when there is an impression that political interference is actually defence of these rights’, Compaorointed out. ‘The principle is that no State should infringe the rights and freedoms of the individual and then do the rounds looking for international aid’.

Regional and inter-African cooperation marking time

Can African countries make an efficient job of international cooperation when they still have so few organised economic relations at regional or continental level? A good question, particularly since the driving force of trade and economies of scale on development needs no further demonstration. This is something the African countries are in fact well aware of, as they have set up a host of organisations to promote the policy and practice of African cooperation over the past 30 years, although without notable success. ‘Regional and inter-African cooperation is marking time, it is true’, the President said, for several reasons, ‘starting with the colonial heritage. The Balkanisation of Africa produced small States with sovereignty only in name and virtually no weight on the international or the economic scene. But diminished sovereignty is sometimes a particularly efficient way of stopping political and (for years) ideological barriers from coming down and enabling our economies to develop and integrate’, the President went on. ‘There are too many artificial obstacles hampering Africa’s cooperation and regional integration schemes. The States do not want to lose one iota of their powers to the technical organisations’.

Another reason, and a consequence of the first one, Captain Compaoraid, is that the States claim to want to cooperate without having the sort of behaviour or political will that will get integration on the move’.

However, he went on, West Africa may well get on faster than other parts of the continent here. ‘We are rationalising our institutions in ECOWAS, whose 1990-95 programme should lead to the complete liberalisation of our trade, to free movement of individuals and to a monetary community. Without economic integration, no African State can survive international competition from the vast units of Europe, the USA, the USSR and Latin America’.

The continent’s problems are regional problems. Be they the economic difficulties which international cooperation is trying to alleviate or the end of apartheid which Burkina’s President calls a ‘great victory for law and justice’, there are still many obstacles across Africa’s path to general progress. Over and above the short-term and historical problems of the apartheid kind, Africa has yet to find the approach which will enable it to build a society free from the scourges of disease, famine and illiteracy’, Captain Compaoraid. So the African nations and cooperation bodies (such as the OAU) have to reformulate their policies and revise their working methods. And the OAU, Compaoraintains, has to be ‘politically and technically able to give a decisive boost to the continent’s major political and economic issues’. Problems such as the debt and the fighting in Africa would perhaps have ‘evolved differently if the OAU had had the authority and the power to take political steps to get our ideas across better’.

Take the conflict in Liberia. At the Baujul meeting ‘Burkina was against any aid being given to (former Liberian President) Samuel Doe, because Doe had massacred almost 2000 people in 1985 and there had been no objections from any African Head of State... On what political or moral basis could Doe’s supporters ask for support for him in the OAU or the UN? Respect for the people is important when it comes to seeking acceptable solutions to conflicts of this sort... and the OAU could have been of some use if ECOWAS had called it in’, Compaoraid.

Despite obvious disappointment over such things as regional cooperation, economic development and the way the Liberian conflict was managed by some of his African opposite numbers, Captain Compaoras nonetheless optimistic about the future of his country and the continent.

Interview by L.P.