The Burkinabe government is slow in reacting to unrest in the classrooms and barracks but is now trying to improve relations between the public and the ruling elite .
It was a minor traffic dispute that turned into a political watershed. On 19 February, Adma Kima, a mechanic, was walking in Ouagadougou when he was nearly hit by a car. Kima yelled at the people in the vehicle. One of its passengers was justice minister Jérôme Traoré. Traoré called for the car to be stopped and ordered the arrest of the mechanic, who was then beaten by the minister’s security guards.
The incident took place exactly a year after Justin Zongo, a student, was beaten to death by police. Zongo’s death triggered several months of unrest and riots among students. They coincided with mutinies in the military over poor living conditions that jeopardised President Blaise Compaoré’s grip on power.
This time, Compaoré fired the justice minister immediately. “This is an opportunity for us to change our way of governing,” explained government spokesman Alain Edouard Traoré.
The situation remains precarious despite the return to normality in June 2011. On 10 February, protestors burned the house of the district’s deputy as they gathered to demand better roads in the north-western town of Tougan.
This is an opportunity for us to change our way of governing
Students in Bobo-Dioulasso, the second-largest city, demonstrated in mid-February over the deterioration of the education system and the lack of prospects for youth. After the June 2011 crisis, the authorities took measures to calm citizens’ anger. The government gave civil servants a 5 percent pay rise and promised to keep prices of staple goods low. The government is also trying to show that it is strong on corruption and sacked the head of customs, who is charged with embezzling $4m, in January.
Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs du Burkina secretary-general Augustin Blaise Hien says that even if prices were low for a while, they have now risen. “The political will to tackle basic problems is missing,” argues Hien. For now, the unions’ demands are on social matters and they are not calling for widescale political change.
After mutinies threatened Compaoré’s presidency he reorganised the army, firing about 600 soldiers and jailing some 300. He appointed new senior officers, but the rank and file have not shown signs of being pacified. Meanwhile the opposition remains weak and fragmented.