Burkina Faso, Sweet Revenge For 'Sankara's Children'

Thomas Sankara, the Marxist icon of the 1980s, was killed in a coup by now ousted Burkina Faso leader Compaore. Today's youth movement is still inspired by the African revolutionary.

A member of Burkina Faso's "Citizen Broom" group
A member of Burkina Faso's "Citizen Broom" group
Cyril Bensimon

OUAGADOUGOU — It's a mix of victory and bittersweet revenge for the generation we can call the "children of Thomas Sankara."

Burkina Faso’s current youth leaders didn’t live through the time when the Marxist revolutionary military captain led the country (from 1983 to 1987), but 27 years after the the African icon was killed, his ideas and aura continue to inspire.

The fall of Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré is the result of both political and social factors, but the popular insurrection that swept him from power on Oct. 31 would never have been possible without the high level of political education specific to this West African nation, of which Sankara himself was a product.

On the campus of the capital's Ouagadougou University, a young man perched on a concrete table starts the debate of the day. The topic is written on the chalkboard: Should we leave the military in power?

“We managed to take down a high-level dictator and you’re the ones we have to thank for that, even though you’re just 1% of the population. It’s not the number that makes the truth, but the truth that makes the number,” he tells the crowd as an introduction.

“The people made the revolution,” the speaker continues. “The military could have put an end to the regime long ago, but this time, we’re the ones who called on them to take their responsibilities. We therefore urge them to leave power.”

October protests in Ouagadougou — Photo: Balais Citoyen Facebook page

Another student, infuriated by the fact that since 1966, Burkina Faso's presidents have all come from the military, declares: “May they finally let us breathe the air of a civilian.”

Blaise Gango, whose first name draws a few laughs from the small group of students, continues about the new leader, Isaac Zida. “He comes from my village. If I were selfish, I would root for him, but he’ll stay there six months and strip down to civilian clothes. Then he’ll create his own party and with the money he will have piled up, he’ll bamboozle us for the next 30 years.”

Under the sun

Not everybody agrees. Serge Bayala, a student leader who took part in all the demonstrations sees in Lieutenant Colonel Zida a new Sankara, whom he refers to as his “prophet.”

Sankara was 37 when killed in a coup led by Compaoré, who ruled for the next 27 years.

“He says there’s no way he’ll decide the country’s future in air-conditioned offices, but instead outside in the sun with the people,” the campus activist argues.

Another student, Lassina Konaté, issues a cautious warning: “If he wants to hold on to power, we’ll take to the streets, but I’m not against him remaining in office during the transition.”

Konaté later relives the past few weeks, when crowds opposing the strongman continued to grow. "I could hear gunfire, but everybody was marching forward. So for the first time, I thought: We are worthy of our country. We set fire to the National Assembly, which wasn’t our objective — but it was the only solution that Compaoré left us. After than, I knew he would leave. For once, he was wise.”

Konaté and Bayala are active members of "Civilian Broom" (Balai Citoyen, in French), a group launched in August 2013, which has been one of the spearheads of the uprising. Its two emblematic figures, Smokey, a rapper, and Smas’k Le Jah, a radio broadcaster, took Thomas Sankara as their movement’s rallying symbol, and intend to continue “raising awareness” for the birth of a “new Burkinabe.”

While the political opposition was actively participating in the movement against Compaoré’s plan to remain in power, it now campaigns for a power transfer to the civilians. But in the meantime, Civilian Broom backs the army’s control of the transition. “We might be wrong but, to this day, the fact that the military chose to listen to the people’s suffering shows we’re right,” says Sams’k Le Jah, who doesn’t hesitate to describe the country’s new leader as a rasta, before saying of his opponents, “They say "Zida = Blaise" even though they all served the previous power. We distanced ourselves from this smear campaign.”

In addition to the former president’s scheme to extend his 27-year-old rule, the surrounding poverty and the lack of prospects for the younger generation — even as Compaoré and his family kept growing richer — also played a significant part in the storm of protests that carried off the regime.

Daouda Zida, “a sociologist working as a metallurgist,” was in the middle of the civil uprising. “We respect the parties that awaken the population, but we won’t tolerate that they turn us away from our fight,” he says. “The whole world is looking at Burkina Faso, even though the international community didn’t support our fight.”

Zacaria Ouedraogo, sitting next to the sociologist on the bench installed by the road, adds: “Now, whoever gets elected will need to do what the people want.”

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!