Harsch’s is the first English-language political history of Burkina Faso to appear in many years. It is a superb introduction to this small, landlocked country in the Sahel region, covering the precolonial era, the era of French colonization, and the postcolonial period, culminating in a popular uprising in 2014 that forced out the country’s longtime dictator, Blaise Compaoré. The heart of the book is a glowing assessment of the regime of Thomas Sankara, an idealistic junior military officer who took power following a coup in 1983 and ruled until he was ousted by Compaoré in 1987. Sankara’s status as a Third World revolutionary icon rests on his personal charisma, his considerable skill as an orator, and the relative success of the socialist reforms his regime put in place, which Harsch describes in extremely favorable terms. Harsch ends the book on a note of tempered optimism. The army has run the country for most of its postcolonial history and has instilled in the Burkinabe state a paternalistic culture of control that is not compatible with its limited capacities. But Harsch believes that the protests that helped topple Compaoré invigorated civil society in a way that will force greater accountability in future governments.
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