Compaore and A Season Of African Tragicomedies

Compaore and A Season Of African Tragicomedies

Monday, November 17, 2014 4:13 pm


By Osuolale Alalade

Blaise Compaore: an African tragedy

Blaise Compaore: an African tragedy

All said and done, there is no profound meaning to the fall of Blaise Compaore. The claim of the Burkinabe despot to fame lies in his notorious role as the assassin of continental hero Thomas “Che” Sankara, as the accomplice of Houphouet Boigy of Cote d’Ivoire in rendering asunder the social fabric of the sub region and keeping West Africa divided. Together, acting as proxies of extra African powers, Boigny and Compaore ushered in a long period of instability and superintended the failure of sub regional initiatives to achieve social cohesion across colonial frontiers in West Africa. It is a paradox that one of Compaore’s perfidious last acts in his twenty seven years in office entailed igniting a decade of horrendous conflagration in Cote d’Ivoire just only to put the country back on Boigny’s neo-imperialist willing servitude. Compaore is thus only just another normative African villain whose ouster from the political landscape has complex consequences for West Africa to deal with.

In the wake of the demonstration of the power of long suffering Burkinabes to assert their sovereign will, the failure of negotiations among the political forces to produce one trusted Burkinabe to head a civilian transition is a tragic commentary on Africa’s political class. So, Burkina Faso is stuck with another jack boot insistent on ruling, hopefully for only one year as it says. The evolved situation in Ouagadougou is a throwback to the Captain Moussa Daddis Camara scenario in Conakry some six years ago, who seized power in a military coup d’état on 23 December 2008 following the death of long-time President and dictator Lansana Conté in Guinea. Apart from uncertainties about the immediate trajectory of post Compaore Burkina Faso, his ouster has significant implications for Cote d’Ivoire that has remained a fragile state since 2010. The prospects of peace in Cote d’Ivoire in the medium to long term would be impacted by policy preferences, continuity or realignment, of the transitional and/or expected post Compaore democratic dispensation to emerge from the forced departure of the historic Judas of Burkinabe national life.

A barely sweaty Compaore and entourage of family and close hangers-on leisurely strolled into the Ivorian political capital Yamassouro two weeks ago. They now live in the presidential palace of his protégé president of Cote d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara. As Ouattara has Burkinabe antecedents, Blaise Compaore is truly at home in Cote d’Ivoire. Some in fact construe post Laurent Gbagbo Cote d’Ivoire as no more than greater Burkina Faso. The irony is that Ouattara is president of Cote d’Ivoire only because with Compaore was determined to die as president of this neo-colonial state in the heart of the Sahel. Accordingly, there was no vacancy at the state house in Ouagadougou. The alternative was to create space somewhere else. Abidjan fit the bill and with France in tow, some arrangements were made to spring the Sergeant I.B. Coulibaly led mainly Burkinabe Forces Nouvelles rebels against the neo-nationalist Gbagbo administration in Cote d’Ivoire. When he became too noisy after leading the stalemated military operations in September, 2002, Sergeant I.B Coulibaly was kept in the cooler by the French establishment on some trumped up charges. He resurfaced late 2010 to lead the urban guerilla war unleashed by the Compaore controlled Forces Nouvelles in Abidjan.

Mission accomplished I. B Coulibaly became expendable and was conveniently brutally assassinated by his so called allies in the Forces Nouvelles. That’s the name of the game for Compaore. Compaore has since remained the local ton-ton (the Godfather is always at the Elysee in Paris) of the Ouattara administration and in particular of Guillaume Soro, former Secretary General of the Forces Nouvelles. Soro currently presides over the Ivorian National Assembly. In spite of this heavy baggage or garbage of dreadful meddlesomeness, Compaore donned the toga of a statesman. The conventional narrative is that he was West Africa’s leading mediator. That was the case until the October spatula “2nd Sankara” revolution in the Sahel. On the face of it, that reputation is not exactly false. The tragedy is that it is consistent with the personal trajectories of many African villains. They almost always design convenient gloves to cover their claws dripping in hot blood. In many instances the world has been fooled. A few of them are in Nigeria.

But as just another run of the mill African despot who exploited the legendary apathy and the hypocrisy of the national society to feather his personal nest for almost three decades, the cushioned landing of Blaise Compaore is instructive of the tragicomedy that has come to characterize the African public sphere. Compaore even pretended to be the fix all political handy man in the West African sub region. In this he was hand in gloves with Africa’s true nemesis- the unhidden hands of principally France and, as and when convenient, the United States of America. And, paradoxically, for good measure, he counted former Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi as an associate. He did well for all his bosses and for himself. On 15 October, 1987, Compaore assassinated his mentor, brother, friend and comrade in arms, Thomas “Che” Sankara. Sankara, also known as “Che of Black Africa”, was inspired by the Cuban revolution. He sought to adapt the principles of that revolution to the daunting socio-economic challenges in one of the poorest countries in the world. He disagreed with the panaceas promoted by Bretton Wood institutions. He paid the supreme price.

Today, with the demonstrated futility of the game of Compaore, Sankara’s memory stands as a stout monument to the indestructibility of that flicker of hope and spirit of emancipation and the steely tenacity of the integrity of a true revolutionary impulse that is possible even in Africa. Sankara’s immediate crime was a simple one. In a bilateral negotiation, he admonished France to respect the contributions of Burkinabes to the French economy even if all they did was clean the streets of France. By this challenge Sankara antagonized France’s local prefet and overseer of France’s interests in the sub region, Houphouet Boigny. Boigny, operating from Abidjan, had to put this revolutionary gadfly in his prefecture in line. Compaore was the choice hangman. On 15 October, 1987, Compaore deployed murderous elements of the Charles Taylor led National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) that were hibernating in Ouagadougou, to assassinate Sankara. The NPFL brutes had camped in Ouagadougou on returning from their training base in Libya and were waiting for the green light and the required military supplies from Houphouet Boigny in Abidjan to invade Liberia through Ivorian territory.

Compaore’s elimination of Sankara was only one strand of a complex long term strategic plan to put West Africa solidly in the pro-Western conservative mould. A decade earlier, on 13 February, 1976, Nigeria’s radical national leader Murtala Mohammed was murdered and removed from the scene. Nigeria has yet to recover from the devastating impact of the truncation of its most revolutionary moment of its national history. No leader in Nigeria has elicited the kind of unadulterated national adoration that has since been accorded Murtala Mohammed. His assassination followed a pattern that entailed the ousting of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana on 24 February, 1966. Before then Togo’s President Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio was cut down on 13 January 1963 for being too friendly with Anglophone West Africa and proposing to build a sea port in Lome. The plan to build a port in Lome ran counter to the decision of France to have only one port in Cotonou.

Sekou Toure was the luckiest of the early radicals as he survived a Portuguese invasion in 1970. Touré was an inflexible hardliner in the defence of the liberty and dignity of Africans from foreign domination. He also promoted the ideal of African unity and collective self-reliance. Touré actively supported (militarily and otherwise) national liberation movements on the continent, including in Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, and South Africa. To undermine this, the Portuguese launched an attack upon Conakry in 1970 ostensibly to rescue Portuguese Prisoners of War, but really to overthrow Touré’s regime, and destroy PAIGC bases. They succeeded in everything other than overthrowing Touré’s regime. The outstanding leader of the Pan African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), Amilcar Cabral, arguably Africa’s finest revolutionary theorist and practitioner, was shot dead by Portuguese agents in Conakry on January 20, 1973. These were the heroes of Sankara. His killing was thus an element of a grand scheme that had unfolded long before he came unto the scene. Compaore was just another common criminal tool in the hands of very visible forces determined to continue with the ruination of progressive Africa.

Meanwhile, having eliminated Sankara, Compaore was also handy as the direct executioner of the plans to take out Samuel Doe. Sergeant Doe, strongly fronting for the United States and returning to Monrovia from a 1986 Non-Aligned summit meeting in Harare had unwisely challenged Muammar Gaddafi to deadly physical duel over Ronald Reagan’s United States Invasions of Grenada in 1983. Providing all the tools needed to Charles Taylor, Compaore was complicit with Boigny in tearing apart the peace and social stability of West Africa. Taylor went on the collaborate with Fonday Sankoh’s so called Revolutionary United Front that caused mayhem cutting off arms and limbs on innocent civilians in Sierra Leone. Of this ungodly trio, only Charles Taylor was brought to justice, not for his atrocities, but for turning his back on the United States that had connived in bringing him to power. The real and only ill luck for Compaore is that because of the circumstances of his overthrow, France would be hard put to reward him with a peace prize named after him in the manner that it had done for the good services of Houphouet Boigny. But one never knows. As with the most unlucky of this tribe of African conmen, Compaore’s cup spilled over and he was chased out. A survey of the continental landscape is full of the Compaores who kill to get to power, kill to stay in power and kill on their way out. They are often protected by the powers that be, as long as they live by the rules of the playbook of their handlers. Compaore eminently did. He may be engineered back to power by his metropolitan handlers to make a point of who truly created the African state and where true sovereignty lies in Francophone Africa.

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