Ouagadougou – In Burkina Faso, hundreds of workers are saying good riddance to an ousted president they say let them starve, and hoping for a brighter future under the soldiers who toppled him.
Niamba Azara, a woman road sweeper, was among many outside the capital Ouagadougou’s labour exchange on Thursday who said they had not received wages for a year.
“We’ve become beggars,” she said.
The coup is “good news for us. The country is in a bad way.”
Around her, others were also glad a military junta seized power from ex-leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore this week.
“The former president didn’t want workers to eat,” claimed Assami Ouedraogo, a gardener in the capital.
“We’re happy they kicked him out.”
Burkina Faso has become mired in a security crisis since 2015, with almost daily jihadist attacks over much of its territory.
Many in the West African country in recent years became increasingly frustrated with the former president’s inability to quell the insurgency.
But social grievances also fuelled the unrest that culminated on Monday in the ouster of Kabore, a banker who was elected in 2015.
‘Treated like slaves’
At the labour exchange, the workers said they had not received any pay since February 2021 from Ouagadougou mayor Armand Beouinde, who is known to be close to the toppled head of state.
A source in the mayor’s office however said the claimants were day labourers who were never hired on permanent contracts and had to be replaced after an open-ended strike.
Ismael Ouedraogo, a man in his seventies, sighed after 16 years collecting waste in Ouagadougou.
“We were treated like slaves, prisoners who work without being paid,” he said.
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“I have never been declared, never had a pension or holiday, and now I don’t even have a salary. Our pension is death.”
“What do they want? For us to become bandits? Jihadists?”
Forty percent of the Burkinabe population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
And Burkina Faso ranks 182nd out of 189 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s human development index.
Trade union officials say the monthly minimum wage has been stuck at the equivalent of $50 since 2008.
The protest “actions of these workers fuelled frustration and anger among the people of Ouagadougou,” said one union representative, Banogo Noufe.
“With the coup, the soldiers completed the job.”
Sanctions? ‘A disaster’
Abdoulaye Tao, managing editor of the weekly Economiste du Faso, says there is a gap between the grassroots and higher echelons of society, “who have been unable to respond appropriately”.
“The lavish ways of public officials, graft complaints not leading to anything… the population has not seen the authorities make any effort,” he said.
But there has also been plenty to detract from improving the economy, he said, from a popular uprising that deposed long-time leader Blaise Compaore in 2014 and elections the following year, to jihadist attacks from 2015 and then the coronavirus pandemic.
The Covid-19 crisis has led to price hikes for certain products in the landlocked nation, which is highly dependent on international trade.
Though welcomed by many, the arrival in power of the junta led by Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba could deal a further blow to any quest to lift Burkinabes out of poverty.
The Economic Community of West African States on Friday suspended Burkina Faso’s membership, though it said it would not impose other sanctions such as closing borders for the time being.
“That would be a disaster,” warned Tao.
“Eighty percent of import-export traffic goes through Togo and Ivory Coast,” members of the regional bloc neighbouring Mali, he said.
“It would be very difficult to bear.”
Picture: Getty Images