Feb 26, 2006

Globalization and Deprivation: An Examination Of The Nation Of Burkina Faso


Burkina Faso is a small, landlocked country in western African, sharing borders with Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire. Slightly larger than the state of Colorado, Burkina Faso consists mainly of flat, occasionally undulating plains undercut with branches of the Volta River (Black, Red, and White). The branches of the Volta are not navigable by large commercial vessels.

In contrast with its southern neighbors Burkina Faso is poorly endowed with natural resources, has very limited rainfall, and has no coastal access. Small deposits of gold, manganese, copper, nickel, and silver exist, but the known quantities have not been of sufficient size to interest any significant international investment.

Over sixty distinct ethnic groups comprise the population of Burkina Faso; of these, the Mossi represent over 50% of the population. The nation is composed of a variety of religious groups; 50% are Muslim, 10% are Christian, and the remaining 40% are of indigenous animist faiths.

Per capita income is one of the lowest in the world; 2001 income estimates by the World Bank are listed at $210 US per day. Due to the lack of employment opportunities in Burkina Faso, many citizens migrate on a seasonal basis to nearby countries, such as Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. On the Human Development Index scale developed by the United Nations Development Programme, Burkina Faso scored 171st out of 176 nations.

As to be expected in a nation with such a low income, social indicators are generally poor. The nation has a literacy rate of only 19%, and life expectancy is a mere 45 years. The infant mortality rate is over 10%, and the rate of access to safe water is estimated at only 42%.

Health care in Burkina Faso is virtually non-existent; there are only 3 physicians per 100,000 people. Due to the structural adjustment program implemented by the government under the watchful eye of the IMF, health care spending has declined in the past ten years. This, coupled with West Africa’s 2nd –highest AIDS rate (officially, 6.9%; unofficial estimates exceed 10% of persons 18-54), has driven life expectancy down to 45, from 47 in 1990.

Over 90% of the population is involved in subsistence agriculture and nomadic stock keeping; however, only 13% of its area consists of arable land, and nearly 45% of the nation consists of arid and semiarid terrain. The Sahel (Arabic for “shore”, likening the southern boundary of the Sahara to the shore of a great sea) comprises the northern third of the country.

Recent droughts have negatively impacted agricultural activities; the nation has also been faced with several major insect plagues in the past ten years. Overgrazing, soil degradation and deforestation also present environmental problems; the Sahel region is in danger of becoming incapable of supporting future agricultural endeavors.

Left: Thomas Sankara, courtesy of BBC.

On August 4, 1984, Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso, meaning "the land of honorable people." Thomas Sankara, a charismatic socialist, sought to mobilize the masses and launch a massive bootstrap development movement. Sankara was venerated by the Burkinabe for imploring them to embrace and be proud of their African identity. For example, he made a point of eating local dishes on national television instead of avoiding them in favor of Western recipes.

Sankara was a proponent for a radical debt initiative: debt cancellation. In the following passage, he outlined his philosophy on African debt to Western concerns:

The debt problem needs to be analyzed starting from its origins. Those who lent money to us are the same people who colonized us, are the same who so long managed our states and our economies; they indebted Afrika with `donations' of money. We were not involved in the creation of this debt, so we should not pay it... In today's shape, controlled and dominated by imperialism, the foreign debt is a well-organized tool of colonial re-conquest: in order to make the Afrikan economy a slave of those who were so clever as to give us capital with the obligation of reimbursing them. We are asked to reimburse our debt. But if we do not pay, the capital lenders will not die; if we pay, we will die. We cannot pay; and we don't want to pay.

Thomas Sankara envisioned for Burkina Faso a nation that would become self-sufficient, not beholden to Western financial interests. IMF overtures were rejected; instead, his energy was focused upon agricultural price supports and domestic textile initiatives. By building a more stable agricultural base, he reasoned, Burkina Faso would be on better footing in the world marketplace. Author David Richards describes the Sankara era in this fashion:

Sankara took his idealism seriously. Reckoned the world’s poorest president, his most valuable possessions were a car, a refrigerator and four bicycles. Intrusive Coca-Cola culture was confronted by using African dance, music, film and popular theatre to raise awareness of key issues. Health posts were set up. Improved farming and soil conservation were promoted under the slogan of a ‘Green Burkina’. An innovative renewal programme gave the urban poor legal protection, provided basic amenities and encouraged self-help work. Women were given rights to property, credit facilities and access to literacy programmes.

However, many of the austerity measures taken by Sankara met with growing resistance and disagreement; in particular, his anti-corruption programs alienated him from government bureaucrats. In spite his initial esteem and personal charisma, problems began to surface in the implementation of the revolutionary ideals. The Committees for Defense of the Revolution, or CDRs, which were formed as popular mass political organizations, deteriorated in some areas into gangs of armed thugs; violence grew unabated, often clashing with trade unions. On October 15, 1987, Sankara was assassinated in a coup that brought Blaise Compaore to power.

Left: Blaise Compaore, courtesy of BBC

Compaore formed the Popular Front (FP), which pledged to continue the goals of the revolution, thus rectifying Sankara's “deviations” from the original neo-Marxist aims. The new administration, realizing the need for popular support, tacitly moderated many of Sankara's policies; thus, as part of a much-discussed political "opening" process, numerous political organizations (three of them non-Marxist) were accepted under an umbrella political organization created in June 1989. By the end of the year, Compaore had officially eschewed himself from Marxist doctrine.

Compaore’s presidential position was officially recognized in 1991, following his unopposed election. During the years subsequent to the vote, Compaore has publicly created the impression of broadening his base of support. Compaore won the 1998 presidential election as well, earning a second seven-year term against weak opposition from two minor party candidates. However, the major opposition parties boycotted the election.

Interestingly, Compaore received an additional benefit in 1998; legislation was passed granting the President an unlimited term of office. The effect of this legislation, known as Article 37, essentially makes Blaise Compaore President-for-Life.

There continues to be a climate of political violence in Burkina Faso; while direct ties to Compaore have not been established, it is safe to say that people who are outspoken against government policies have a habit of turning up dead. Most notable among the series of political murders was that of journalist Norbert Zongo, who was killed along with companions in December 1998.

Left: Former Liberian president Charles Taylor

Compaore has also been very active in regional instability; he provided significant funding, arms, and soldiers to his good friend Charles Taylor in Taylor’s overthrow of the Liberian government in 1990. Taylor, who had been jailed for embezzlement until his escape from a US prison in 1984, has garnered the nickname of “The Butcher of Liberia” for the brutality exhibited by his soldiers.

President Compaore has also been implicated in rebel movements in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Angola, and Sierra Leone. It is not clear if Compaore’s actions are indicative of greater regional ambitions, but he is certainly not known as a force of unity, harmony, and leadership in West Africa.

Compaore, due to his courtship with the IMF and Western powers, has significant international backing. However, his domestic support is less than stellar; the CDP took only 57 of 111 seats in 2002 parliamentary elections. The 2002 elections were the first in which major opposition parties chose to end their boycotts. However, in typical Compaore fashion, all opposition was excluded from government minister posts; the nation continues to be dominated by Blaise Compaore.

Living conditions in Burkina Faso have worsened during the period of the IMF’s structural adjustment program implementation. Life expectancy has fallen from 47 to 45 years of age, literacy rates have remained at approximately 20%, and access to safe water has not improved significantly during this time period (1991-2001).
In addition, Burkina Faso’s external debt has risen by 67.8% in this ten-year period. Much of the new debt is simply borrowing to pay older loans or to lower regular debt service; the policy of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” has been the modus operandi for the past decade. By the year 2010, the IMF itself projects that debt will equal GDP.

This projection also includes the IMF’s rather rosy 10-year growth projections; during the period from 2000-2010, the IMF is projecting a 5.6% annual growth rate. Considering that the nation grew at an annual rate of 3.9% during the 1990’s, this seems to be an overly optimistic assessment. This buoyancy is doubly specious when considering the lethargic state of the world cotton market. Most of the growth in the 1990’s occurred before 1996; in fact, in the period from 1999-2001, the growth rate was only 2.9%.

Left: Burkinabe cotton farmer, courtesy of World Bank.

Interestingly, the IMF projects a 5.5% increase in exports from 2000-2010. One wonders what, given the stagnant cotton market, the Burkinabe will export that can generate this type of export growth. With little capital and foreign investment, Burkina Faso cannot make any rapid adjustments to a changing world market. Periphery nations like Burkina Faso find themselves in dire straits when their principal commodity is hammered by falling prices.

It is absurd to suggest that Burkina Faso can compete in the world marketplace under current conditions. The huge advantage given to US cotton producers prevents the Burkinabe from even playing on a level playing field.

The prospects for change in Burkina Faso are not promising under the current regime. Blaise Compaore has demonstrated that his primary concern is for the maintenance of his own power; many in Burkina Faso and West Africa view him as a puppet of the West.

Some form of permanent debt cancellation is the only realistic way for nations like Burkina Faso to extricate themselves from the web of debt entanglement. Whether this takes the form of international agreement, such as proposals to create bankruptcy procedures for impoverished nations, or unilateral debt repudiation by Burkina Faso, the situation cannot continue ad infinitum.


Anonymous said...

Who really cares about such a hellhole? Let them kill each other.

Anonymous said...

Mike, unlike the earlier poster, who appears to have the IQ of a soap dish, I feel this is one of your most comprehensive and insightful pieces in several weeks; I commend your attempt to give voice to the voiceless. The crass indifference of many Americans--as illustrated above--can only be remedied through the power of history and human empathy.

Peahippo said...

(GuestZero here.)

Burkina Faso is peripherally mentioned in Raymond Baker's outstanding book, "Capitalism's Achilles Heel" (TLCPL, call# 306.342Bak, book# YDAIP, hint hint), page 215:

"The Burkina Faso basket [of typical consumer commodities] has cassava, millet, warm milk straight out of the cow's udder, bush meat, spear points to drive away marauding lions, straw for thatching the roofs of mud huts, and an imputed amortization cost for the price of a bride. None of this can be converted for comparative purposes back to the United States[' basket of typical consumer commodities.]"

HM related: "[M]any of the austerity measures taken by Sankara met with growing resistance and disagreement; in particular, his anti-corruption programs alienated him from government bureaucrats."

This is because Burkina Faso's major problem is not the level of its debt, but by the efficiency of the system of illegal finance that systematically drains it of its wealth yearly. The illegal triad that forms this system is composed of (1) commerical tax evaders, (2) corrupt officials, and of course (3) outright criminals. All these sectors need to launder money, since all these sectors steal and hide. So of course Sankara ran into major problems. His own government's officials (I cannot exclude himself, either) oppose rationalization of BF's finances ... as it happens in most of Africa's so-called countries.

HM related: "The Committees for Defense of the Revolution, or CDRs, which were formed as popular mass political organizations, deteriorated in some areas into gangs of armed thugs; violence grew unabated, often clashing with trade unions."

Of course they did. The CDRs were criminal elites (or they became so), and such forces of privitization of wealth could ONLY clash with the forces of economic democracy. Eventually the inherent criminal behavior of the officials led to exertions of force against Populism.

HM related: "Living conditions in Burkina Faso have worsened during the period of the IMF’s structural adjustment program implementation. [...] By the year 2010, the IMF itself projects that debt will equal GDP."

The debt is irrelevent. It's a much-publicized figure that occupies the attention of the general public and distracts them from the only thing going on of real importance: the systematic looting of Burkina Faso through an array of money-laundering techniques. The proceeds from this system of course tend to end up in Western banks, which explains everything about why the IMF and World Bank loaned money to BF in the first place.

This system of robbery is itself starting upon another path, in that Western money itself is leaving the Western system and is seeking shelter of a sorts in the ~60 tax (and capital) havens around the world, like the Isle of Man, Seychelles, and a variety of havens in the Caribbean. It's getting so bad that Westerners -- traditionally the beneficiaries of the looting of Third World nations like BF -- themselves are being looted by a multinational elite.

HM related: "The prospects for change in Burkina Faso are not promising under the current regime. Blaise Compaore has demonstrated that his primary concern is for the maintenance of his own power; many in Burkina Faso and West Africa view him as a puppet of the West."

You've got that right, Sirrah. Being a Western puppet fully supported by the IMF/WB is tantamount to being the head commander who can write blank checks for military hardware that can be used to put down most native insurrections.

If Venezuela's Chavez is actually seeking a departure from Western (i.e. US, Canada, UK, various European nations) control, then he's doing the right thing by blatantly opposing the US and by using the Oil Weapon against the US. After all, oil is a commodity and Venezuela is perfectly free to sell it on the open market, which the US supports, right? And the proceeds from such sales can be converted into national weapons like AK-47s, further purchased from the open armaments market, which the US also supports, right? So there should really be no problem if the US actually supports the global free market ... right?

historymike said...

Anonymous #1: What an ignorant, callous worldview. I hope that your neighbors - or the world at large - come to help you if you are ever in a time of need.

historymike said...

"Voice to the voiceless" - Anonymous #2, you have hammered the proverbial nail square on its head.

If I have one "calling," or at least a place where I feel my work as a writer is most needed, it is exactly this.

My hope is that I can, in some way, make the world a slightly better place because of my research and writing.

Helping to encourage empathy is a laudable goal, and one I wish that people like Al Franken and Michelle Malkin would spend more time doing.

Conversely, more people should consider the apolitical stance of people like Bono in his efforts to reduce world hunger.

historymike said...

Incredible insights, Guest Zero/ Peahippo.

The debt loads of developing nations could be eliminated tomorrow if the note-holders would agree to an accounting plan to collectively "wink" at the debt - not writing it off, keeping it on the books as a legitimate entry, but moving on.

The banks would keep the debt as an asset, bt just would not collect on it. They then avoid a "loss" and turn an underperforming loan into an entry that enhances their collective bottom lines.

For those who get nervous about such a scheme, remember - most "assets" you have are just movements of electrons across memory chips. They don't exist, just as the US dollar is a piece of paper that people collectively agree has some intrinsic value.

This would require some work to get the various banking conglomerates to agree, but it could be done.

The problem is that too many people are making fantastic profits from fleecing the developing nations through debt service, and beyond a few people like George Soros, no one takes such plans seriously.

Peahippo said...

Baker is quite explicit in his book and relates what we know is true: there is no chance that much of this debt can be paid off. NONE. Baker says that understanding that fact allows you to encompass 98% of the issue of Third World debt. (Baker uses other terms, like "developing and transitional nations", but I'm completely comfortable using that old term.)

He estimates that around $2300 billion is the level of outstanding TW loans, dominantly through the IMF and the World Bank. He additionally estimates VERY CONSERVATIVELY that at least $500 billion is siphoned out of these same places each year, due to the "Dirty Money System" that has for so long pipelined such wealth into the West (and now into endpoint capital havens).

Even undergoing a radical convulsion of international law enforcement and capturing a 10% portion ($50 billion) of this dirty money pipeline, it would still take 46 years to pay off this amount ... if simply frozen, and also not added to.

I don't know what YOU think about that, but that's the next best thing to "impossible" that I can think of.

Baker goes on in remarkable detail about how a bank like Citibank promotes this system. Literally, the bank sends teams of professional bankers into subject nations. One team arrives under the aegis of the IMF/WB, and arranges loans to the nation's elites, renegotiates the terrible level of existing debt, and of course threatens and cajoles the nation into accepting anti-Populist economic policies that (allegedly) guarantee or assist in methods of repayment. One famous approach is to change the nation's food crops into "cash crops" -- which, yes, can be sold on the global market, but tends to turn the nation into a food IMPORTER, which tends to impoverish the native population which had been able to feed itself before!

The OTHER team arrives and tries to drum up deposit business from anyone who can come up with sufficient cash. In more honest terms, this means this Citibank team tries to convince officials in government and business positions (as well as outright criminals) to deposit their illicit proceeds with Citibank. There are clearly-defined loopholes in Western so-called anti-money-laundering laws that allow the 2nd Citibank team to accept deposits that are the proceeds from prostitution, theft, "aircraft piracy" (yes, that's amazing, isn't it?), and so on.

And you know what else? Each team may know little to nothing about the other one. It can be a clear case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing.

Well, anyway, there's more to go into, but not particularly at 2am. As with all great books that I come across, I made a list of all the other sources that I'm going to continue reading up on, from his references:

"Infectious Greed" by Frank Portnoy
"Sale of the Century" by Chrystia Freeland
"China's Pitfall" by He Qinglian
"Failed Crusade" by Stephen Cohen

There are also various government reports that caught my interest, to wit:

"Private Banking and Money Laundering"
Senate Cme. on Governmental Affairs, Perm Subcme. on Investigations
106th Cong., 1st Sess., Nov. 1999

"Tax Administration: Foreign- & US-Controlled Corporations That Did Not Pay US Income Taxes for 1989-1995"
USGAO report to Hon. Dorgan (US Senate)
GAO/GGD-99-39 (1999)

"Tax Administration: Comparison of the Reported Tax Liabilities of Foreign- & US-Controlled Corporations for 1996-2000"
USGAO report to Congressional requesters
GAO-4-358 (2004)

Peahippo said...

Alright, I've gotta get something off my chest. The first poster's words implied something very important, which has been left unsaid.

Obviously inferred from what we've said here, bankers care VERY MUCH about Burkina Faso. They care since it's by getting involved in BF's native economy that they are able to loot the country (albeit indirectly, by validating the finances of the commerical, official or criminal robbers of the nation).

In other words, Burkina Faso would be a lot better off if Western-dominated elites actually DID NOT CARE about the country. They would NOT sell them all those weapons now being used to promote tyranny; they would NOT loan them the money that allows the West a foothold into controlling the country's wealth; and they would NOT empower the various criminals who lord it over the native population. The death squads of the ruler would have to cross the nation on foot instead of by Land Rovers (purchased from Europe), and would have to kill people with sticks and stones, not automatic rifles (purchased from America).

Anonymous said...

I'd like to hnow your sources HM, so I could do some more in depth reading.

historymike said...

I'll post the bibliography in the comments section when I get to my other computer today.

historymike said...

OK, here's my original bibliography for this research; I have another one someplace, but I must have misfiled it:

Print Resources

Ade Ajayi, J.F. and Espie, Ian. A Thousand Years of West African History. New York: Humanities Press, c1972.

Davies, Oliver. West Africa Before the Europeans. London: Methuen & Co., c1967.

Huntington, Samuel P. "The Clash of Civilizations?" Foreign Affairs, vol.73, 3 (1993), p22-49.
Richards, David. “The Secret Life of the Apple,” New Internationalist, October 1990.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. Globalization and its Discontents. New York: WW Norton Co.,

Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press, c1974.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. "The Rise and Future Demise of World-Systems Analysis", Binghamton: Binghamton University Press, c1997. Paper presented at 91st Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, New York, August 16, 1996.

Online Resources

http://www.worldbank.org/data/countrydata/aag/bfa_aag.pdf (World Bank site providing detailed economic information on world nations)

http://www.jubilee2000uk.org/databank/profiles/burkina.htm (Site dedicated to examining the policies of IMF, WTO, and World Bank)

http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/uv.html (US government site dedicated to providing statistical data for world nations)

http://ksghome.harvard.edu/~.jfrankel.academic.ksg/counterfactual/gold_rank.pdf (Harvard University site listing world gold producer rankings and data)

http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2002/cr02260.pdf. (IMF Country Report, Nov. 2002)

http://fbc.binghamton.edu/ (Home Page of Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations at Binghamton University, founded by Immanuel Wallerstein)

http://www.oxfam.org/eng/pr020927_cotton.htm (Oxfam, International site studying the effects of cotton subsidies and tariffs)

http://www.ewg.org/farm/concentration.php (Environmental Working Group (EWG), a site dedicated to farmland conservation and overhauling US farm policies)

http://www.undp.org/ (United Nations Development Programme Home Page)

http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/subjindx/124euro3.htm (UN web page detailing the workings of the CFA franc monetary system)

http://www.namibian.com.na/2002/june/africa/0266DFFCB2.html (The Namibian, online version of Namibia’s largest-circulating newspaper)

http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2834.htm (US State Department’s Background Notes page for Burkina Faso)