I was reading Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo’s reflection* on his short year in power as President of Burkina Faso (from 7 November 1982 to 4 August 1983), and it prompted me to think of Blaise Compaoré (current president of Burkina) as anticipating his 30th anniversary this coming November. Most people think of him coming to power in 1987, when his fellow captain Thomas Sankara was killed (by Blaise’s guys) in an internal split, but in many important ways he was a crucial, central figure of the coup of 1982 that brought Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo to (reluctant, according to him) power, in the captains’ coup against the colonels (Saye Zerbo to be specific).
Ouédraogo’s reflections is very interesting, though possibly self-serving and impossible (for me) to verify. Ouédraogo rather subtly but quite clearly pins much of the blame of the chaotic political process of 1982-83 on Thomas Sankara (always radicalizing, alienating, pushing, mismanaging, etc). Ouédraogo also shines the spotlight on Kaddafi arguing that his weapons and logistics support was crucial in August 1983. Few Sankarists today want to acknowledge how much the “revolution” depended on Kaddafi and Rawlings, and thus be forced to forecast the unpleasant path Burkina Faso would likely have gone down without the “rectification.”
Of course, the Sankarists have their own alternative story where the May 1983 “counter-coup” that imprisoned Sankara, the 1985 marriage of Blaise to Chantal Terrason de Fouguères (who was “associated” with Houphouet-Boigny), and then the 1987 rectification where Sankara was killed (to be followed by extrajudicial killings of Zongo and Lingani), were all plotted by Guy Penne and Houphouet-Boigny.
I liked Ouédraogo’s almost hour-by-hour chronology of the three major coups of the year. Makes you realize how random the outcomes can be and how much power small well-organized groups can wield (Ouédraogo minces no words about the important role of the LIPAD and PAI in creating the stage for Sankara’s takeover).
*Jean Baptiste OUEDRAOGO, « Contribution a propos de trois dates historiques » in Burkina Faso, cent ans d’histoire, 1895 – 1995, Ouagadougou, Karthala – PUO, page 259-86.