Saturday, May 7, 2011

Men of Integrity, Part 1

Though this is a new series (one of many), you might wish to review the posts from the series Truth and Reconciliation before beginning this: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

We begin by reviewing the history of Burkina Faso.

The current president, Blaise Compaoré, seized power there in 1987 by murdering his childhood friend, Thomas Sankara.

From Sankara 20 years later: A tribute to integrity, October 15, 2008, by Demba Moussa Dembélé:

Sankara was one of the first heads of State, perhaps the only one in his time, to condemn female excision, a position that reflected his unwavering commitment to the emancipation of women and the struggle against all forms of discrimination against women.

He was a relentless advocate of gender equality and the recognition of the role of women in all spheres of economic and social life. In his famous speech of 2 October 1983, he stated: 'We cannot transform society while maintaining domination and discrimination against women who constitute over half of the population.'

His unrelenting struggle against corruption, long before the World Bank and the IMF picked up on this issue, made Sankara an enemy of all corrupt presidents on the continent and of the international capitalist mafia for whom corruption is a tool for conquering markets and pillaging the resources of the global South.

Labeled a socialist, Sankara has been called "Africa's Che Guevara", and indeed ran his government in a manner reminding one of Cuba's Fidel Castro - complete with revolutionary committees and torture.

All except for one thing - Sankara was right about corrupt foreign powers enslaving African countries.

Sankara rejected the inevitability of 'poverty,' and was one of the first proponents of food security. He achieved the spectacular feat of making his country food self-sufficient within four years, through sensible agricultural policy and, above all, the mobilisation of the Burkinabé peasantry. He understood that a country that could not feed itself ran the risk of losing its independence and sovereignty.

In July 1987, Sankara, close on the heels of Fidel Castro two years earlier, called on African countries to form a powerful front against their continent's illegitimate and immoral debt and to collectively refuse to pay it.

Once again, he understood before others that the debt was a form of modern enslavement for Africa; a major cause of poverty and deep suffering for African populations. Sankara famously stated: 'If we do not pay the debt, our lenders will not die. However, if we do pay it, we will die...'

He was also right about debt. This problem is serious even today in the US, where every dollar in circulation (whether electronic or paper; all except coins, which are a tiny fraction of the money supply) brings with its existence an interest-bearing debt to the Federal Reserve; there is not enough US dollars in existence to pay back the loan of the dollars that exist, plus the interest being charged on them.

To understand how it works for African nations, go look at your credit card bills, and see how much interest is being charged. How deeply in debt is the typical American? You start to get an idea how hopeless the situation is for many African nations.

On the international stage, Sankara was the first African head of State, indeed the first in the world, to denounce the UN Security Council's right of veto and to condemn the lack of democracy within the United Nations system as well as the hypocrisy that characterised international relations. Today, all of these ideas have become self-evident truths and are at the heart of popular resistance movements, including the World Social Forum that has become one of the most powerful major rallying points.

He also had a point about the UN, which has in recent months obviously become a rubber stamp for this corrupt "international capitalist mafia" that Sankara decried. Hypocritically, the international community will label one African leader a "strongman" and authorize force to remove him from power, handing the country to another man who is not eligible under local law for the presidency and who, in any case, heads a guerrilla force determined for years to gain power any way they can.

We now pick up the story with an excerpt from Echoes of Revolution: Burkina Faso's Thomas Sankara, dated January 13, 2008, describing Sankara's program:

In Burkina Faso, on a national level, there was an effort to establish a model of self-reliant development in regards to food, education and healthcare; within four years, the national political mentality and national production model were shifted in a progressive direction that no other African nation has succeeded in achieving before.

This political process had an enormous impact on the imagination of the youth, while also had an impact in regards to the neo-colonial framework of development within Africa, mainly in regards to the ongoing French influence over African development.

France, in reality, hasn't granted independence to the former colonies due to the neo-colonial economic development framework that it continues to impose on Africa. France utilizes mainstream development models to smuggle resources from Africa, to have easy access to valuable minerals, to have access and influence over the maintenance of a system of capitalist development in Africa. An economic development system that can only be maintained with the support of local puppets that are totally reluctant to listen to the grievances and demands of their own population.

The coup that brought Sankara to power was masterminded by Compaoré who, in 1987, staged another coup that deposed Sankara. Sankara was executed and, to this day, no one has been held accountable for his murder. In fact, in a proceeding brought before the UN by Sankara's widow and children regarding the failure of Burkinabé authorities to deliver justice in the case of Sankara's murder, the UN ruled against the plaintiffs (warning: big pdf); though he was hacked to pieces in a military installation, Sankara's death was listed as being by natural causes.

We pick up the story with an excerpt from Background Note: Burkina Faso, updated May 5, 2011:

Sankara and Compaore established the National Revolutionary Committee with Sankara as President, and he vowed to "mobilize the masses." But the committee's membership remained secret and was dominated by Marxist-Leninist military officers. In 1984, Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso, meaning "the country of honorable people." But many of the strict security and austerity measures taken by Sankara provoked resistance. Despite his initial popularity and personal charisma, Sankara was killed in a coup which brought Capt. Blaise Compaore to power in October 1987.

Compaore pledged to pursue the goals of the revolution but to "rectify" Sankara's "deviations" from the original aims. In fact, Compaore reversed most of Sankara's policies and combined the leftist party he headed with more centrist parties after the 1989 arrest and execution of two military officers, Major Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lingini and Captain Henri Zongo, who had supported Compaore and governed with him up to that point.

In addition to killing his childhood friend Sankara when he got in the way, Burkina Faso's current strongman Compaoré has also killed other associates of his when they got in the way.

This all made Compaoré the perfect man for the job that he ultimately wound up with. Sankara's goal was to liberate Burkina Faso from the influence of France, which could be considered a giant leach sucking the economies of its former colonies dry in an effort to remain a global power. When Compaoré overthrew and executed Sankara, Compaoré reversed the Marxist-Leninist and anti-neo-colonial policies of Sankara, returning Burkina Faso to the fold of the international community, and putting the Burkinabé neck back under the fangs of the French vampire.

But, this was not enough; as the new Paris-backed strongman, Compaoré used his position to fortify French neo-colonial power throughout the region. Burkina Faso has also become a transit country for contraband, its senior government leadership whores not just for foreign economic concerns, but for organized crime as well. From Burkina Faso country profile, last updated April 19, 2011:

Burkina Faso has faced domestic and external concern over the state of its economy and human rights, and allegations that it was involved in the smuggling of diamonds by rebels in Sierra Leone.

Troubles in neighbouring Ivory Coast have raised tensions. Ivory Coast has accused Burkina Faso of backing rebels in its north, a claim denied by Ouagadougou, which accuses its neighbour of mistreating Burkinabes living in Ivory Coast.

Burkina Faso is also a transit country for illegal arms smuggling. From U.S. Accuses 2 Nations of Aiding Sierra Leone War / Smuggling network pays for rebels' arms, dated August 1, 2000:

2000-08-01 04:00:00 PST United Nations -- U.S. and British diplomats accused the presidents of Liberia and Burkina Faso yesterday of taking a personal role in trading arms for diamonds in violation of a U.N. embargo. The Americans and British also said the two presidents had helped Sierra Leone rebels to continue fighting a brutal civil war.

Richard Holbrooke, who was then the US Ambassador to the United Nations, was quoted in the article alleging that Charles Taylor of Liberia was "fueling the conflict in Sierra Leone" and "threatening to destabilize west Africa".

A British diplomat said yesterday at a U.N. hearing on the role of diamonds in the Sierra Leone war that that Taylor had personally taken command of rebel forces fighting there against U.N. peacekeepers and that he has in recent weeks sent arms to the rebels and taken smuggled diamonds in payment.

"In effect, President Taylor has been directing strategy meetings of the rebels," said the diplomat, Stephen Pattison.

Pattison also made unusually specific allegations against President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, saying that in return for diamonds Compaore has sent mercenaries from Burkina Faso to fight with rebels in Sierra Leone against U.N. peacekeepers. Compaore has repeatedly allowed airports in Burkina Faso to be used for supplying the rebels with arms bought in Ukraine, Pattison added.

This ties in with current events in Côte d'Ivoire; from The Ivory Coast: The Country in Full Extension of Nomadic War?, May 3, 2011:

In 1989 about a hundred warriors led by Charles Taylor and armed by Burkina Faso, crossed the Ivory Coast border to put Liberia to fire and sword. Then came Foday Sankoh's RUF who conquered Sierra Leone and massacred more than 2,000 people in their successful assault on Freetown, the capital. The very same who, in 2002, started off the Ivory Coast rebellion, taking over two thirds of the country thanks to a coup that all the evidence now extant proves to have benefited Alassane Ouattara.

Those border-blind "nomadic warriors" have made this roaming form of pillaging into a permanent way of life, or even of government. In the Northern parts of the Ivory Coast, a kind of "rebellious dictatorship" has been set up since 2002 where all forms of opposition are barred and gratuitous violence is standard currency while the services normally dispensed by the State have practically disappeared and total economic deregulation allows for all kinds of racketeering. A kind of military feudalization has begun to spread under the rule of the notorious "comzones", those rebel commanders that reap gigantic profits from their looting.

Sherpa and others like it might well call them to account with respect to their "ill-gotten gains": it is indeed public knowledge in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso that the luxurious houses in the "Millionnaire district" were built thanks to the pillaging of the northern part of the Ivory Coast; the first among these comzones, Guillaume Soro, also has his place among the rich, being the owner of several flats in Paris, the purchase of which is unlikely to have been entirely financed by his first minister's salary.

And, it begins to come full circle. Ouattara benefits from all the unrest in West Africa in recent years, even as Ouattara - who incidentally was originally a citizen of Upper Volta, since 1983 known as Burkina Faso - was himself engineering the problems in Côte d'Ivoire that ultimately led to the unrest that led to the civil war that led to the cease fire and north-south division that was resolved by the fraudulent election that provided the cover for Ouattara's rebels to seize power under cover of UN auspices and with support from French aircraft and armor... (are you following all this?)

This guy Soro mentioned here, the corrupt guy with all the money stolen from Côte d'Ivoire, the guy who owns mansions in Burkina Faso and France - he's one of Ouattara's important lieutenants.

But, this is all coming back to bite Compaoré in the behind. Skipping down:

As was the case during the previous nomadic wars, armed bands from Liberia serve the two camps and indulge in blind atrocities and systematic racketeering on their own initiative; taking into account the current ebb and flow, and even without ruling out the rather optimistic possibility that peace may be restored in the Ivory Coast, groups are likely to roam toward Sierra Leone and especially Liberia.

But what to do about those notorious "dozos" who, like Sierra Leone's "kamajors" are a native brand of northern neo-hunters in the Ivory Coast, with their idiosyncratic dress and mystique derived from the age-old Madinka [1] ethnic base (and its belief in invisibility and invulnerability)? They specialize above all in mass massacres as those perpetrated in Duékoué and in the bush will treat their enemies like animals and dismember them accordingly...

This nomadic war seems to be expanding and by one of African history's typically crafty tactics, to be boomeranging against the very criminal behind those various conflicts, namely Burkina Faso's president Blaise Compaoré. Having pushed Charles Taylor, Foday Sankoh, Guillaume Soro to destabilize their respective countries, he is now facing a military, but also social and political, movement that might sweep him away; and so, with hindsight, the assassination of Thomas Sankara [2] turns out to have been the original trauma that repeated itself in the surrounding countries before eventually striking back home.

Full circle... from BURKINA FASO: What next for Compaoré?:

OUAGADOUGOU, 28 April 2011 (IRIN) - President Blaise Compaoré is increasingly cornered, and must adopt a series of urgent reforms to avoid further waves of unrest in the country, say West African analysts.

In the latest uprising, police fired their guns in the air in the capital, Ouagadougou, on 27 and 28 April, and in the second largest city Bobo-Dioulasso in the west, calling for a new salary scheme, approved by parliament this year, to be implemented. This followed protests by shop-keepers in Koudougou in the centre-west on 27 April, who burned the mayor's house, parts of the local market, and the military headquarters. Earlier this month, soldiers in the capital staged protests over unequal pay.



On 14 and 15 April the president's security regiment opened fire in the presidential compound in Ouagadougou. They were then joined by two additional regiments, which took to the streets and fired into the houses of higher-ranking army officers, including the former head of the army, the then defence minister, and former chief of the army.

Soldiers called for their daily subsistence allowance to be increased from 1,300 CFA (US$2.60) to 1,500 CFA ($3), and for the military hierarchy to be dismantled.

The president then dismantled the government, and on 18 April, appointed a new prime minister, Luc-Adolphe Tiao, who pledged to meet soldiers' demands, within the limits of the existing budget.

Since 22 and 23 March 2011, when soldiers originally took up arms, fractures between the military's top and bottom echelons have widened, as lower-ranked officers feel they receive few of the benefits of their superiors, said Marius Ibriga, legal professor at the University of Ouagadougou.

Shop-keepers and business owners in Ouagadougou added their voice to the anger after their properties were looted or destroyed. The government promised to allocate money for damaged property.

Oh, did I mention the cocaine? From SAHEL: Traffickers targeting poorest countries:

DAKAR, 23 April 2007 (IRIN) - Organised crime is on the rise across the Sahel region of West Africa as traffickers target the ancient trading region's remote desert routes and cities to move drugs, people and illicit goods across borders and to Europe, officials and analysts warn.

In Niger, where earlier this month twelve men with three container trucks loaded with drugs and guns were arrested, President Mamadou Tandja on Monday evening declared that Niger's army will step up its policing to stop the country being "entrenched" by drug and arms traffickers who he said pose a "real threat" to Niger.

Meanwhile, in Burkina Faso, the amount of drugs intercepted over the last three months is "astounding", according to Christophe Compaore, coordinator of the Committee Against Illicit Drug Trafficking in Burkina Faso, who warns of an emerging drug transit road in the west and south west of his country.

49 kg of cocaine worth 5 billion CFA (US $10m) was intercepted by Burkina Faso's authorities on the border with Mali earlier this month.

And in Mali, Gao, a city in the remote north of Mali, has become a well-known grouping point for migrants hoping to take the overland trans-Sahara route to migrate illegally into Europe. Malian officials last month publicised their interception of 46 boys from Cote d'Ivoire being trafficked to Europe, but experts say thousands more get through unhindered.

The Sahara desert and its fringes from Algeria [in the west] to Mali, Niger and Chad, a vast, desert region that today includes the world's most impoverished countries, have been a major trading route since at least 1000BC.

But according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Dakar that trade today means less of the spices, food and cloth than in the old days than modern vices like cigarettes, arms, drugs and humans.

"In recent months, we have found an increased use of Sahelian countries like Mali and Niger for cocaine trafficking," said Antonio Razzitelli, West Africa director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Dakar.

According to UNODC, traffickers bring drugs to coastal towns including Guinea Conakry, Dakar, and Lome, then travel to inland capitals like Bamako and Ouagadougou, and continue their trip towards Europe, "in order to divert the attention of law enforcement agencies at the arrivals".

More of this stuff is going to move through Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso. And, these countries are going to see more unrest, including blowback from all the armed groups that rape, pillage, plunder, work as hired thugs, traffic in weapons, people and drugs, and do business with terrorists.

And, if Burkina Faso is making a cocaine bust, I wonder which drug cartel the "blow" belonged to...

From UN World Drug Report, 2010 (as you download the pdf, it will be page 246 of 313, right column, in the middle):

The greatest danger posed by cocaine is its enormous value compared to that of local economies. This allows traffickers to penetrate to the very highest levels of government and the military. Law enforcement officials can be offered more than they could earn in a lifetime simply to look the other way. This extreme leverage has allowed traffickers to operate with very little resistance from the state, and therefore, there is little need to resort to violence. There appears to have been some violence in elite circles as rivals compete for access to these profits, however.

Traffickers have penetrated the very highest levels of government, not just in Burkina Faso, but even in France. They have installed a man that they, French business conglomerates and international bankers agree on as "president" of Côte d'Ivoire. And organized crime and Islamic terrorists will be among those who benefit the most.

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