Burkina Faso: Unsteady Statehood in West Africa

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Burkina Faso: Unsteady Statehood in West Africa

By Pierre Englebert
Westview, 1996
201 pp. $69.00
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Although plagued by political instability throughout its postcolonial history -- parties and factions appear, merge, and vanish in a welter of acronyms and pseudo-ideological tendencies -- Burkina Faso stands out among African countries. It has experienced relatively little civil strife, and has had good public sector management and slow but steady economic growth, despite mass poverty and high illiteracy. Englebert, a Belgian political economist, makes a valiant if overly academic attempt to account for these characteristics by examining the country's development through the prism of state-society relations. He highlights the cultural and historical attributes of the numerically dominant Mossi: their low propensity for ethnic nationalism and material acquisitiveness and the marginalized position of their traditional authorities in relation to the country's political and military elites. The regime of the quixotic Thomas Sankara (1983-1987) is briefly examined, but more attention goes to his less colorful successor, Blaise Compaore. Have the foundations for enduring statehood been laid in Burkina Faso? On the basis of Englebert's analysis, the most that can be concluded is maybe yes, maybe no.