Happy Independence Day, Burkina Faso

Lucky Burkina Faso actually has two independence days, December 11th, 1958, when Upper Volta (as it was then known) was proclaimed an autonomous republic within the French Community of nations, and August 5th, 1960, when final independence from France was proclaimed. So twice as many parades and fireworks and sodden after-parties.

In 1958, French president Charles de Gaulle proposed to create a “community” of its colonies as self-governing members of something that would have been substantially stronger than the British Commonwealth. The community would replace something called the “French Union” that had been created after the end of the Second World War in which in theory all the colonies and the metropolis were united in one combined state – but the metropolitan territories kept the vast majority of political power. This solution was rejected by most nationalists in the French colonies, and Vietnam fought a successful war of independence between 1945 and 1953. Troops from the colonies participated in the French war effort against Vietnam, and in the process many became further radicalized. Resistance broke out in Algiers, the largest and wealthiest French colony, in the mid-1950s, and as the Algerian war grew more intense, France realized that it needed to do something to reduce tensions. The French Community was the solution. Each colony would become self-governing, but continue to have a common security policy and economic union. The exception was Algeria, or at least the more densely-inhabited coastal region, which had been declared an integral part of the French nation years before. For the other colonies, there were referenda to give them the option of membership in the Community or complete independence. Famously, Guinea, under the leadership of Ahmed Sékou Touré, voted “non” and was summarily handed the keys with almost no transition period (the referendum in Guinea was 28 september 1958 and the French left on 2 october). In Burkina Faso, as elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, the voters said “oui” and “republics” were proclaimed. Maurice Yaméogo became president of the new republic and proclaimed complete independence a year and a half later. Thus, two independence days.

This one marks the first big public celebration after the successful elections of last month and the abortive coup d’état that preceded them in September. Recognition of the heros of the coup period was a big part of today’s celebration. Here are some civil society organization leaders and some people who were wounded in demonstrations against the coup getting medals from the transitional president:

Civil Society medals

I wonder if those medals carry a pension? Some of these guys were in wheelchairs.

And here’s the new Legislative Assembly police force passing in review. To which some trenchant commentator on the Lefaso.net website where I got these photos replied “ah, look, now there are going to be lots of RSPs (the presidential guard unit that sparked the coup)”

National Assembly police

Some very sharp-looking cops waiting their turn to march past the reviewing stand – naturally, the best-looking ones are up front:

Cute soldiers

And what parade would be complete without the association of traditional dancers (maybe also religious practitioners?):

troupes traditionelles

Anyway, the festivities were interesting, everyone seemed to be having a good time. There appears to be a good bit of partying set to take place later. I don’t know about fireworks – folks here might be tired of explosions.


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