Mon Dec 11, 2023
December 11, 2023

Burkina Faso: Students Mobilize and Police Storm University

By César Neto

Since February, students at the Joseph Ki-Zerbo University in Ouagadougou, the country’s capital, have been mobilizing against a law that regulates student advancement, graduation, and grading. The law brings the country’s university regulations in line with European standards. Promulgated in 2009 during the dictatorship of Blaise Compaoré, this law was never fully applied, and now, under the government of Ibrahim Traoré, they are trying to apply it and the students are mobilizing.

On March 7, the students presented a petition to the university authorities. When they received no response, the students organized a strike on April 13, “which was violently repressed inside the university campus,” according to the local press: “On Thursday morning, April 13, 2023, scenes of harassment between students and police officers were observed at the Joseph Ki-Zerbo University. Elements of the Republican Security Company (CRS) used tear gas to disperse master’s students in the Life and Earth Sciences Training and Research Unit (UFR/SVT) who were observing a strike. Some of them responded by throwing stones and erecting barricades on certain campus streets”[1].

According to the National Association of Burkinabé Students (ANEB), “instead of meeting the demands made, the administration of the UFR/SVT decided to use violence by involving the police on the campus on April 13 and 14, 2023, in flagrant violation of university rights and freedoms, to repress with their bare hands students who are only asking for better conditions in which to study” [2].

According to ANEB, the evaluation system has served to exclude students from the university. In the first semester there were “1,180 students compared to 627 in the second semester. In other words, 553 students dropped out between the first and second semesters due to the application of the new study system.”

In addition to the evaluation system inherited from the dictatorship, which has not yet been applied, the students are fighting for reforms in the university’s facilities, grants, and they are asking for more teachers.

After the repression on April 13 and 14, the students held another demonstration in July. They called for a 120-hour strike to denounce the planned dismissal of the Master 1 class.

October 16: Students mobilize again

On Monday, the university administration tried to push through the exams and the students mobilized. When they arrived at the university, they found that it had been taken over by police from the Republican Security Company (CRS). There were clashes between the students and the police inside the campus. “Members of the Republican Security Company (CRS) were pelted with stones after using tear gas to disperse the crowd. With the large amount of gas thrown at the students, the demonstration was dispersed.”

The Republican Security Company (Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité)

Burkina Faso became independent from France on August 5, 1960. Among the agreements signed between France and its former colonies, including Burkina Faso, were military agreements. Thus, two months after independence, on October 17, the Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité was created. The first director was a French policeman – even after independence – it was only after the repressive methods had been structured and created that the directorate was taken over by a Burkinabé.

France has lost its control over Burkina Faso, but its repressive tools continue to be used against workers and youth by the Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité.

And what does President Ibrahim Traoré have to say on the matter?

Traoré became famous after his speech at the Russia-Africa Summit on July 29, when he delivered a strong anti-imperialist speech: “We African leaders must stop behaving like puppets who dance whenever the imperialists pull the strings.” This speech had an impact on sectors of the left. But in reality, Ibrahim Traoré is not proposing to break the ties that bind them to French imperialism or any other, rather he is looking for other forms of relationship, given that transnationals such as Barrick Gold, Goldrush Resources, Semafo, Gryphon Minerals, among others, continue to operate normally in Burkina Faso, which is the fourth-largest producer of gold in Africa.

Ibrahim Traoré was a student at Joseph Ki-Zerbo University, and earlier this year he delivered two lectures to more than two thousand students. So he knows the university’s problems well. And what was the attitude of the illustrious former student? There is no news of any attitude that would indicate concern for the problems of Joseph Ki-Zerbo University.

And what was Traoré’s attitude towards social movements?

There are two examples that illustrate the politics of Ibrahim Traoré. One is in relation to the truck drivers’ union. A little over a month ago, the Union des Chauffeurs Routiers du Burkina was received at the presidential palace, and the president of the UCRB said that he had gone to “thank the Head of State and reiterate his encouragement for the efforts being made to restore peace to our country.” He added that, at the same time “we also discussed the problem of the non-respect of the revised collective agreement of the road transport sector for 2020 and the affiliation of road drivers to the National Social Security Fund (CNSS). We are waiting for the support of the Head of State in this regard.”[3]

As for the National Union of Burkinabé Students, there has been no response from the government. Neither to the demands of the students, nor to the invasion of the university by the police, and even less to the repression of the students.

Regarding the demonstration, which proposed a new constitution because the current one, according to the demonstrators, is a colonial legacy, Ibrahim Traoré said that “the change [will] be partial, you’ll see what it’s about; we’re going to touch a part of it.” For those hoping for a constitution drafted and approved by the people, Traoré dismissed the possibility, saying it would be the same as in Mali, where there was no direct popular participation. According to the Burkinabé president, he will listen to the various religious denominations, academics, and ethnic groups.

We are with the students. We don’t trust Traoré.

We must publicize, support, and encourage the struggle of the students of Burkina Faso. But we must also help them see that the current president, despite his enormous prestige, doesn’t support them and wants to patch up the colonial constitution.

We mustn’t confuse the inflammatory speeches with Ibrahim Traoré’s close ties to the country’s agrarian bourgeoisie. Most of Burkina Faso’s territory lies in the arid regions near the Sahara. Farther south is the province of Mouhoun, a region with a vast river basin that allows for intensive agriculture. From this rich region came Traoré and other soldiers who, faced with Islamist groups that control 40% of the national territory, took power to control the Islamist groups and defend their families’ private property.

That’s why we say that the first task is to start building an organization that is independent of the bosses and the government and that has as its goal the struggle for a workers’ government and for the construction of a socialist government.


[1] Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo: courses-poursuites entre policers et étudiants en grève –

[2] Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo/UFR SVT: A 120-hour strike to discuss the planning of the Master 1 promotion course –

[3] The UCRB plaide pour l’application de la Convention collective des transports routiers –

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