“The United States of Burkina Faso and Mali”

Pan African Flag Gf2b7f6d6c 1280
Pan-African flag map of Africa. Image courtesy of Open Clipart Vectors from Pixabay.

Pre-colonial Africa was made of unified territories and peoples, with common languages, cultures, and a real harmonious co-existence. That symbiosis was disrupted with colonial intrusion. To several scholars, Africa never recovered from that blow. Dismantling the continent led to the birth of fragile colonies that supplied Europe with what she needed. After colonization, separate states were created, influenced by Western culture and remained at the beck and call of European nations through neo-colonization. Europeans left behind 54 separate countries that had little in common. One often wonders if the term “nation” applied to the territories left behind by Europeans; they resemble isolated and desolated lands, each fighting its own demons, with no effort in terms of rapprochement. African languages that represented a real bond were replaced by English, French, Spanish, Portuguese among other European languages.

Then the coup d’états followed; a manifestation of the control that the West had over Africa. African leaders were simply placed, replaced and removed by Western governments, as in a chess game. The continent experienced a large number of military pronunciamientos since 1950, with 214 coup attempts, 106 were successful and 108 failed. The bloodiest one was the January 1966 coup in Nigeria that claimed 22 lives and the Biafran War was unleashed soon after. Many of those coups were attempts to stifle vigorous unification projects and novel policies spearheaded by brave leaders who were intelligent enough and thought outside the box, leaders who refused to be puppets in the hands of European nations, and the superpower that emerged after World War II, the United States of America. African critics or those who care to reflect a little over the fate of the continent, recall obvious tragedies like the CIA orchestrating the coup that toppled the Ghanaian Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. His friend and ally Modibo Keita was deposed by Francophile Army Lieutenant Moussa Traoré. The cascade of setbacks and hurts kept hovering over the continent, camouflaging more cruel and bloody pursuits of Western interests like the assassination of Samora Machel of Mozambique in 1986, when his plane was shot down in South Africa. Then more recent imperialistic manoeuvres cut short the revolutionary and anti-imperialist rule of Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso in 1987.

Two coincidences emerge here. Each of those numerous toppled leaders was championing the cause of African unity. Some were proposing the creation of relatively smaller entities that represent united states like Rawlings of Ghana and Sankara of Burkina who, allegedly, were thinking over a possible unity between Burkina Faso and Ghana, with a Cuban military base in between, according to the same sources. Several projects of that type were sanctioned with the violent removal of leaders. Radical leaders, like Kwame Nkrumah, called for a total unity of the continent, while other supporters of such policies, like the Tanzanian Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, recommended a slower  place. The second coincidence that emerges in this discussion on the  unification in Africa is the fact that the brains behind this project that intends to bring Burkina Faso and Mali together are the Burkinabè Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyelem de Tambela and his Malian counterparts. Burkina Faso and Mali would have been states in a United Africa if the visionary plans of some of the African leaders of the then newly independent African countries had not been “taken out”.

That tentative historical unification was severally referred to, by many, in these words: “Our forebears tried to create groupings, like the Mali Federation which sadly did not last. It might help to add here that the unification project encountered the opposition of staunch pro-France leaders whose camp was led by Senghor from Senegal, Houphouёt Boigny from Côte d’Ivoire and the like.

Such resurgences of long dormant projects led some critics say that people do not die, they simply transit. That would mean in this case that the federation project of Nkrumah, Modibo Keita and others simply transited into younger generations, long after the death of those pioneers of pan-Africanism. Appolinaire Kyelem of Burkina is heading a government whose president is a 34-year-old soldier who was born the year Sankara was killed.  People therefore suggest that the unity spirit that was in Thomas Sankara simply got transmitted into the current two Burkinabè top leaders, Kyelem and Captain Ibrahim Traoré. In the same vein, Modibo Keita, who was championing a federation of African states is now being valuably represented by Colonel Assimi Goita and his colleagues in power in Mali.

During his visit to Mali last weekend, Burkinabè Prime Minister said that a partnership of those two countries, “could create a federation that would  mutually reinforce and respect the aspirations of both sides”. The two Sahelian landlocked former French colonies are currently facing so many common challenges. Both nations are battling Jihadist insurgencies that have claimed thousands of lives, driven more than two million people from their homes and prompted military takeovers that overthrew elected governments. Besides that, Mali is a major producer of cotton, cattle and gold. Burkina Faso also produces the same products. Both nations have expelled French forces whom they saw as incapable of defeating the militant insurgency; they therefore did not see why French troops should be maintained on their respective territories. The anti-French sentiment took more drastic turns and led to the eradication of all diplomatic ties with the former colonial master.

In Burkina, the movements were more vigorous and led to the severance of diplomatic ties and violent acts against French infrastructures and institutions. Then, each of them found in Russia a new and solid partner. I agree with those who contend that there could not be a better moment for such a unity, since generally, in Africa, so-called democratic rules do not prioritize bold moves that guarantee immense progress to improve the socio-economic life of the younger generations.  Creating a new federation should be undertaken now, before power is returned to civilians by these two military governments “because when the politicians get back in, it can be tricky” as the Burkinabè emissary said.

Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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  1. Yes the unification of Africa must starts with small units rather than looking forward to an overnight unification of African countries. It really must be a gradual process. We should rather hope that the unification of Mali and Burkina Faso would yield good results which would entice other African countries to join them.

  2. It’s a great piece, full of good information. I love the part that says “ people do not die, they transit”. The prospect of a United Africa is inevitable and it is very imminent. It has been delayed by all those external factors you mentioned but it can never be stopped. As those two leaders have taken the first step, many others will follow!

  3. United States of Africa is an attainable dream and we will surely get there no matter the detractors. African unity has always been a threat to the west and so they meddled and divided us by their language and it’s resultant borders in order to render us weak.
    It’s time for Africa to rise in harmony and mutual understanding as this is one of the ways to reclaim our identify and dignity

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