New Internationalist

Politics

May 2006

The Chief and The Delegate

Traditional power in the village is vested in the Chief, a hereditary position. The Chief is now notably frailer than he was 10 years ago. His blindness is now almost complete – the operation he left for during my last visit does not appear to have done much good.

He deserves a great deal of credit for his effective rôle in combating female genital mutilation (see ‘Wives and Daughters’) but otherwise inevitably tends to represent the old ways. A decade ago, a bitter battle for power bubbled beneath the surface between him and Yacouba Moné, who was then ‘The Delegate’ – member of President Blaise Compaoré’s ruling party and effective conduit for Government policy and propaganda in the village.

For the moment, the Chief seems to have won. Yacouba has retired from the scene out of ill-health. He definitely has the air of yesterday’s man on the occasions I visit him, not least due to his insistence every time on cadging money from me for cigarettes (the photo to the left shows him with two grandchildren). His place as Delegate has now been filled by Marc Sorgo (below), who is, believe it or not, the Chief’s son. Plus ça change

This is an interim arrangement, and one or two villagers I meet scoff at the Delegate’s ineffectuality, saying he will be thrown out in an election in a few months’ time. But others see that as very unlikely.

Indiana Compaoré

This ludicrous poster, which portrays Blaise Compaoré as a Harrison Ford-style all-action hero, was displayed at the President’s election HQ beside the airport in the run-up to the election on 13 November. Compaoré has now been in power for over 18 years, ever since deposing and killing his former comrade-in-arms Thomas Sankara – one of Africa’s most inspiring revolutionaries.

There was never any doubt about the presidential election result, and Compaoré duly cruised to victory with 80.3 per cent of the vote. Few people suggest that the election was fraudulent but the President’s 11 opponents had little chance faced with the ruling party’s stranglehold on administrative control of the country, not to mention the panoply of Blaise posters all over Burkina. Blaise Compaoré T-shirts (see above photo) and baseball caps were given out free and were to be seen on every bus, every street – in so poor a country, free clothing is not to be sneezed at.

Most people in the village who expressed an intention indicated that they would vote for Blaise. They associate the material progress described in this magazine with his rule and have a traditional peasant respect for the stability he has brought after the decades of coups d’état and revolutions that preceded him – especially compared with the civil strife in nearby Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Compaoré is certainly secure in the vast new presidential palace he built for himself in the nascent millionaire quartier known as Ouaga 2000. However, at the other end of the currently empty boulevard that leads out of the palace, a tall monument to the memory of Sankara is rising, a peculiar indication that even Compaoré still feels a need to present himself as heir to the mantle of the revolutionary he murdered. And two or three times during my stay in the country I hear sentiments along these lines: ‘Sankara – what a man. If only he had lived – think how much better things would be now!’

The new constitution requires Compaoré to stand down in 2010. Only then, you feel, will there be a chance of genuine democratic debate about Burkina’s future.

‘From imperialism’s point of view it is more important to dominate us culturally than militarily. Cultural domination is more flexible, more effective and less costly. This is why we say that to overturn the regime in Burkina Faso you don’t need to bring in heavily armed mercenaries. You just need to forbid the importation of champagne...’ - – Thomas Sankara, (1949-1987), who as President refused to use his air conditioning out of solidarity with the poor..

This feature was published in the May 2006 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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