Compaoré, Blaise (Burkina Faso)

Reference work entry


Blaise Compaoré came to power in 1987 after the assassination of Thomas Sankara, the president of the Conseil National de la Révolution (CNR; National Revolutionary Council). He was deposed in Oct. 2014. Compaoré attempted to deregulate the economy and improve relations with the West. Politically, however, his tenure was marked by strikes, unrest and political murders. His human rights record also attracted international condemnation.

Early Life

Born on 3 Feb. 1951 in Ouagadougou, Compaoré received his early education in Burkina Faso and became a secondary school teacher. In 1971 he joined the army and in 1975 went to Cameroon and France for military training. His friendship with Sankara began in Morocco in 1978 while he was serving as a parachute instructor. By 1981 Compaoré had achieved the rank of captain.

Although involved in the establishment in 1982 of the Conseil de Salut du Peuple (CSP; People’s Salvation Council, led by Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo), Compaoré and Sankara broke with the CSP in 1983 to form the more left-wing CNR. When Sankara was later arrested, Compaoré led an anti-government revolt that overthrew Ouédraogo and brought Sankara and the CNR to power. Compaoré was appointed vice-premier. However, growing dissatisfaction with Sankara’s increasingly autocratic leadership led in 1987 to his assassination by soldiers loyal to Compaoré, who replaced his former ally as head of state.

Career Peak

Compaoré took office promising a continuation of the CNR’s guiding principles, but with ‘rectification’. He restored links with the business community, traditional chiefs and the army, and sought to reassure the West on whom he relied for aid. A new party—the Organization for Popular Democracy/Labour Movement (ODP/MT; Organisation pour la Démocratie Populaire/Mouvement du Travail)—was created in 1989 and provision made for the return of multi-party elections. However, political dissent was still treated heavy-handedly and the government virtually controlled the media. That year, two stalwarts of the Sankara era still holding senior office (Boukari Lingani and Henri Zongo) were accused of plotting a coup and executed. In 1991 an amnesty was called on all those guilty of ‘political crimes’ since 1960 and exiles were offered safe return.

Despite Compaoré’s ostensible democratization of the election process and more moderate regime, the 1991 elections were boycotted by opposition groups. Compaoré, the sole candidate, won 90.4% of votes but less than 25% of the population participated. He was sworn in as president on 24 Dec. 1991. Amid high political tension, the assassination of opposition leader Clément Oumarou Ouédraogo and the postponement of legislative elections, Compaoré called a development forum of diverse political and social leaders. In the same year he agreed to a World Bank structural adjustment programme, although the resultant austerity measures led to strikes and protests by students.

The 1991 constitution was amended in 1997, allowing the president to stand for re-election more than once, and also restructuring parliament and provincial government. In addition the national anthem and the flag were modified to break with the revolutionary past. Compaoré was re-elected president in Nov. 1998 with more than 87% of votes (in a 56.1% turnout), although doubt was cast on the legitimacy of the electoral process. On 13 Dec. 1998 a journalist critical of Compaoré, Norbert Zongo, and three of his colleagues were murdered. There followed public protests and the arrest of opposition leaders.

A report of May 1999 suggested that the presidential bodyguard was behind the murders of Zongo and his colleagues. The conclusions led to student protests in the capital. Compaoré’s human rights record fell under further scrutiny as more opposition leaders and independent journalists were arrested. Despite the offer of compensation to the victims’ families and the release of several political prisoners, tensions remained high, and strikes and other protests persisted.

In parliamentary elections in May 2002, despite a stronger opposition performance, the pro-Compaoré Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) won 57 of the 111 National Assembly seats, and it took 73 of the 111 seats in the May 2007 elections. Meanwhile, although deemed unconstitutional by opposition politicians, Compaoré was re-elected for further presidential terms in Nov. 2005 and Nov. 2010, winning an overwhelming share of the vote on each occasion. In April 2009 the parliament adopted legislation requiring at least 30% of political party candidates in future elections to be women. A serious challenge to Compaoré’s authority was posed in April 2011 by a military revolt over unpaid allowances, following popular protests over rising prices, which prompted his appointment of a new prime minister and cabinet. In Dec. 2012 legislative elections returned the CDP to power with an overall majority in an enlarged 127-member National Assembly.

Compaoré resigned as president on 31 Oct. 2014 and fled to Côte d’Ivoire following a popular uprising against the government. Hundreds of thousands of people had protested against his bid to extend his 27 year term of office as president, and violence had broken out near government buildings in the capital. The military subsequently installed Lieut.-Col Isaac Zida as interim president. Compaoré’s regime was accused of corruption and alleged interference in civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The country also suffered from increased levels of unemployment during his final years as president.

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