May 3, 2017 / 12:59 PM / 3 years ago

Frustration as Burkina Faso trial to start without ex-president

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - On the eve of the trial of Burkina Faso’s ousted leader Blaise Compaore, many of the people that overthrew him in a popular revolt more two years ago are dismayed by his absence - just one example, they say, of how the new era has disappointed them.

Officials and ministers of the former leader of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, arrive for the first day of their trial at the justice palace, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Bonaventure Pare

Bullets grazed Marcel Tankoano as he and other activists stormed parliament in October 2014, sending MPs dashing for the exits as they prepared to vote a measure to allow Compaore to extend his 27-year-rule.

“This trial belongs to us and it is a huge disappointment that he (Compaore) is not here,” said Tankoana, head of civil society group M21. “We want him back with his arms cuffed.”

Like many Burkinabes, Tankoana is proud of the role he played in the poor West African country’s uprising which cost the lives of 24 protesters and stands as a rare triumph of ordinary Africans over a loathed and entrenched ruler.

More than 30 ministers face murder charges for allegedly authorizing the use of deadly force against unarmed protesters in the case due to open in Ouagadougou on Thursday.

But Compaore remains in neighboring Ivory Coast where he fled as the protests gained momentum and later acquired Ivorian citizenship. Abidjan, a staunch Compaore ally, has declined to extradite him.

Many key figures in Burkina Faso’s new leadership, including President Roch Marc Kabore, were once among Compaore’s closest allies, breeding concern that those ties are dampening the will to investigate past crimes.

National Assembly Vice-President Ouesseni Tamboura rejects such criticism and said the trial would be a “an important step towards cohesion”. But many are sceptical.

“It’s the same gang who were in power before and they won’t make our lives any better,” said Tiemtore Issa, sitting at the stand where he sells clothing on the streets of the capital Ouagadougou.

Emblazoned across a nearby wall as a fading reminder of the days of revolution a patch of graffiti reads: “Blaise get lost!”


Compaore, a protégé of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, ran afoul of the international community during the brutal civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where he was accused of supporting and arming rebels responsible for mass atrocities.

By the early 2000s, however, he was seeking to give his image a makeover and rehabilitate his relations with the United States. He has denied meddling in the affairs of his neighbors.

Though he has maintained a low profile in exile, Compaore still looms large over Burkina Faso.

His spy chief attempted a coup in 2015, a year after Compaore fled, and his political party came third in legislative elections later that year.

An investigation into the death of former President Thomas Sankara, a popular leader killed in 1987 during the coup that brought Compaore to power, has yet to go to trial.

“The new rulers want to use justice when it serves them but they don’t want to sink their own ship,” said International Crisis Group’s West Africa Analyst Cynthia Ohayon.

Little progress has yet been made on asset recovery.

“The economy was basically privatized (by Compaore’s entourage),” said Luc Marius Ibriga, head of the anti-corruption body charged with investigating assets of the former government. “But the cell has not been granted the means to probe,” he said, referring to the unit in his organization running the investigation.

The economy is projected to grow by 6.1 percent this year, helped by higher gold prices. Yet blackouts and water cuts remain common.

Security, meanwhile, has deteriorated with the spread of an Islamist insurgency from neighboring Mali.

Slideshow (2 Images)

A 2016 al Qaeda attack on a hotel in Ouagadougou killed dozens and recent months have seen an increase in rural attacks claimed by a new home-grown group called Ansar-ul Islam.

“Things are ‘mouta mouta’ here,” said Tankoano, using an expression in the local Mossi language meaning “at a standstill”.

“This is not why we risked our lives in 2014.”

Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Joe Bavier and Andrew Heavens

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