Burkina Faso Post-colonial History

Burkina Faso Post-colonial History Part 1


1987 – 2014 The reign of Blaise Compaoré

Blaise Compaoré came to the head of the state in a bloody coup on October 15, 1987 and remained head of state of the “Front Populaire” for four years. After the establishment of a new democratic constitution in 1991, Compaoré was elected president four times (1991, 1998, 2005, 2010) and ruled with the CDP party, which he dominated. His attempt to be elected a fifth time in 2015 and to have the constitution changed for it failed due to a popular uprising in October 2014. Compaoré fled into exile with his family.

The Compaoré system

Blaise Compaoré had extensive executive powers as head of state for 27 years. This enabled him to gain control over a wide network of state and non-state institutions that extended far beyond the executive branch. He controlled a party that had an overwhelming majority in the legislative parliament and he determined who would be the highest judge in the country. Affiliation and loyalty to an informal “Mouvance présidentielle” (= presidential movement) dominating all public sectors determined the allocation of offices and posts and was able to guarantee impunity. Political violence allowed Compaoré and his family to build an economic empire and secure his power militarily.

Legitimation from elections

According to ehistorylib, Blaise Compaoré came to power on October 15, 1987 through a bloody coup d’état and has legitimized his power since 1991 through democratic presidential elections (1991, 1998, 2005, 2010). Thanks to his executive power, he was able to use all state structures (officials, national institutions, vehicles…) massively for the election campaign of his own candidacy. By mastering a network that spanned all institutions, he had created an instrument that he not only used permanently for his propaganda but also immediately before elections with the help of small and large gifts for effective house-to-house propaganda. For his election campaign in 2005 and November 2010 Blaise Compaoré also enjoyed generous donations from the financial elite. Compaoré presented itself in the provinces as a big, rich boss who arrives with an open “lobster” or floats in a tethered balloon. He used archaic ideas of power (“Naam”) and supernatural power (“Panga”). Blaise Compaoré was officially able to secure around 80% of the votes, whereby the CENI (Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante) was able to prove irregularities in the issuing of voting cards. According to representatives of civil society, only the tip of an iceberg of perfected electoral fraud appeared.

Mouvance Présidentielle as a system-supporting force

Those who wanted to pursue a career in or with the help of state institutions were the first to stand behind the president and thus became unassailable. Party affiliation came second. Some opposition politicians (e.g. Gilbert Ouédraogo (ADF-RDA)) Blaise Compaoré’s candidacy for president to be rewarded with a ministerial post after the general election. Political contradictions were determined not by membership of opposition or government parties, but by a critical stance or marching in the presidential movement. The president was at the forefront of countless interlinked networks in which political decisions were made in person-dependent informality. If the president had made it clear that he was constitutionally resigning, he would not only have risked being subsequently held responsible for political murders. In addition to triggering a succession war, he would have risked the termination of the loyalty of a state-supporting class based on an exchange of interests,


At all times the numerous opposition parties lacked the essential means of political strategy that the president and his party had in abundance: money. It was almost impossible for an opposition party to make itself known nationwide. Opposition parties had no chance of confronting the president’s propaganda machine.

In the formally democratic structure, the opposition parties represented in parliament remained extras. When one party was overwhelming, they were institutionalized, instrumentalized, corrupted, divided, hindered or intimidated. Its leaders were largely untrustworthy among the people. Either they were neglected former comrades-in-arms of the president or they had become a powerless institution in the state machine and can hardly be distinguished from the rulers. Compared to the president’s monopoly of power in parliament, her toleration and candidacy remained merely a sign of a semi-authoritarian regime as a democratic flagship. They could not question the power of the systematic parties.

Marketing of Power

Since Blaise Compaoré had clung to the image of the fratricide since Sankara’s murder, improving his image and marketing himself was a fundamental element of his power consolidation. The mixing of his authoritarian governance with formal democratization, structural adjustment, admission of democratic freedoms and pluralism, which he has pursued since the beginning of the 1990s, secured him the reputation and support of Western donor countries. His foreign policy role as a mediator in regional conflicts became a propaganda staging. In 2013, he was celebrated in the media as the liberator of European hostages held in the northern part of Mali (opposition leaders criticize his closeness to al-Qaida and refer to such actions as ” clever hostage trading, ” which should divert attention from the real problems of the country.)

Blaise Compaoré as a statesman

The statesmanlike qualities of Blaise Compaoré included his persistent calm, his moderate but firm demeanor, adaptability and changeability, his strategic foresight and clever maneuvers between emerging moods and internal or external constraints. He avoided the high-handed demeanor, vain showmanship or other airs of a potentate. As a power politician, he remained the same for decades. His rhetorical ineptitude made him appear almost human. On the diplomatic floor he knew how to move comme il faut.

Blaise Compaoré enjoyed a reputation in some diplomatic circles because he was seen as a guarantor of internal stability and continued to act as a sought-after mediator in conflicts in neighboring countries (Togo, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali). TheAccusations that Burkina Faso had previously fueled these conflicts itself (in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Angola …) have passed – if not refuted, at least – during Compaoré’s term of office. After his fall, they will be re-examined.

After 27 years of reign, Blaise Compaoré was one of the so-called dinosaurs of Africa. This refers to heads of state who – taking advantage of institutional weaknesses, especially the judiciary – have used all political means for decades primarily to remain president until their death or to establish dynasties (e.g. the Gnassingbé Eyadéma family, Paul Biya, the Oumar Bongo family, Robert Mugabe…).

Burkina Faso Post-colonial History