INSIGHT-While diplomats fret, Burkina backs military to drive reform agenda

Thu Dec 4, 2014 4:00am EST
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By David Lewis

OUAGADOUGOU Dec 4 (Reuters) - When Colonel Isaac Zida swapped his military fatigues for a blue suit to chair his first cabinet meeting as prime minister of Burkina Faso, his intended audience may have been the West and its African allies.

While some diplomats have voiced unease about the military's role in politics since protests toppled long-time ruler Blaise Compaore in October, few Burkinabe are concerned as long as the soldiers protect their 'revolution' and push through demanded reforms.

Although a handful of people were shot in the uprising, Zida won the hearts of protesters when the presidential guard troops he commanded refused to open fire on crowds as they stormed parliament.

He was then cheered as a hero when he addressed protesters in Independence Square - inviting comparisons with left-wing hero Captain Thomas Sankara who ruled Burkina Faso from 1983-1987.

"If you see us getting on with the soldiers today, it is because these soldiers stuck to their mission, which was to protect, rather than shoot, the people," said Michel Kafando, the new interim president, whose cabinet includes six military officers.

"They will stay with us as they have shown proof of their loyalty to the people ... Otherwise we might have slipped into civil war," he added in an interview with France 24.

Underscoring their role at the heart of the revolution, the military organised a state funeral this week attended by thousands for six civilians killed in the uprising.

Mourners at the ceremony carried posters of Zida's face next to that of Sankara, showing how successfully the colonel has tapped into memories of the beloved president killed in the 1987 coup that brought Compaore to power.   Continued...