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Africa Books

Pavithra Rao
From Africa Renewal: 

Burkina Faso: Power, Protest, and Revolution

by Ernest Harsch

In the book Burkina Faso: A History of Power, Protest, and Revolution, author Ernest Harsch draws on his more than 30 years of experience reporting on sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Burkina Faso. 

Authoritatively informative, Mr. Harsch takes the reader on a historical and political journey through the landlocked West African country of 18 million people. 

He details the history of French imperialism, which was met with resistance by the Burkinabé population late in the 19th century, and the lasting impact the revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara, affectionately called “Africa’s Che Guevara,” had on Burkinabés in the 1980s. 

A key focus of the book is the 2014 popular uprising that ousted President Blaise Compaoré, who had been in power for 27 years. While the author demonstrates vivid affection for Mr. Sankara, who was murdered in a coup d’état masterminded by Mr. Compaoré in 1987, he is unsparing in his disapproval of Mr. Compaoré’s dictatorial rule.

Mr. Harsch believes Mr. Sankara cemented his own political legacy through an idealistic approach to governance, including audacious attacks on corruption and elitism. To lead by example, Mr. Sankara used a modest Peugeot 205 as his official vehicle.

The very politicised Burkinabe army and the elites didn’t quite accept Mr. Sankara’s style; instead they conspired to terminate his rule with the support of a foreign state, allowing Mr. Compaoré to gain and remain in power for nearly three decades.

In March this year, a terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, its capital, carried out by al Qaeda allies in the region, killed eight people, underscoring a continuing political turbulence in the country.

Mr. Harsch writes that Burkina Faso’s vibrant civil society, led by students, teachers’ unions, trade unions and feminists, inspired by the 2011 Arab Spring in North Africa, successfully nullified attempts by Mr. Compaoré to elongate his tenure in office. The author believes civil society can still ensure that the country doesn’t revert to the ways of its distant past.

Reactionary elites will try to continue their paternalistic control culture, but an active and emboldened civil society will hold the line, maintains the author, who foresees a struggle ahead between these two sides. 

Published by Zed Books, London, UK, the 287-page book is organized into 15 chapters. It is an easy read that students of history and politics will find invaluable.

Mr. Harsch is a former managing editor of  Africa Renewal magazine.

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