Burkina Faso

A History of Power, Protest, and Revolution

Ernest Harsch


A unique, in-depth political history of Burkina Faso, centred on the incredible events of 2014 in which a non-violent revolution overthrew the existing regime.

In October 2014, huge protests across Burkina Faso succeeded in overthrowing the long-entrenched regime of their authoritarian ruler, Blaise Compaoré. Defying all expectations, this popular movement went on to defeat an attempted coup by the old regime, making it possible for a transitional government to organize free and fair elections the following year. In doing so, the people of this previously obscure West African nation surprised the world, and their struggle stands as one of the few instances of a popular democratic uprising succeeding in postcolonial sub-Saharan Africa.

For over three decades, Ernest Harsch has researched and reported from Burkina Faso, interviewing subjects ranging from local democratic activists to revolutionary icon Thomas Sankara, the man once dubbed ‘Africa’s Che Guevara.’ In this book, Harsch provides a compelling history of this little understood country, from the French colonial period to the Compaoré regime and the movement that finally deposed him.

Author Bio

Ernest Harsch is an academic and freelance journalist who has written extensively on Africa since the 1970s. He is a research scholar affiliated with Columbia University’s Institute of African Studies and previously served as an Adjunct Associate Professor at the university’s School of International and Public Affairs. He is a regular contributor on Burkina Faso to the Economist Intelligence Unit, and his writing has featured in publications ranging from Le Monde diplomatique to Africa Today. His previous books include Thomas Sankara: An African Revolutionary (2014).

Table of Contents

  • 1. Insurgent Citizens and the State
  • 2. Uneasy Colonial Roots
  • 3. Ministries of Plunder
  • 4. From Crisis to Revolution
  • 5. Refashioning the State
  • 6. On Fragile Ground
  • 7. Mobilization from Above and Below
  • 8. Coup and ‘Rectification’
  • 9. ‘Democracy’ with a Heavy Hand
  • 10. Enrichment in a Land of Poverty
  • 11. Tug of War within the State
  • 12. Contention in the Streets
  • 13. From Confrontation to Insurrection
  • 14. A Troubled Transition
  • 15. A New Burkina Faso?


‘A major achievement. Taking us from independence to the 2014 popular revolution, this brilliant book enriches our understanding of both revolutions and African history.’
Jack A. Goldstone, George Mason University

‘Few outsiders understand Burkina Faso better than Harsch, and nobody has written about it with more clarity and elegance. This is a sympathetic yet rigorous introduction to Burkina’s political history, the best there is in English.’
Pierre Englebert, Pomona College

‘A riveting and accessible account of the insurgent actions of ordinary citizens in Burkina Faso, and of the righteous anger that fuels them. Provides excellent insights into the power of popular protest in Africa and beyond.’
Zachariah Mampilly, co-author of Africa Uprising: Popular Protest and Political Change

‘A must-read for anyone interested in popular protests in Africa. Harsch provides a compelling history of the making of modern Burkina Faso, based on decades of research and an intimate knowledge of the country.’
Maggie Dwyer, University of Edinburgh

‘A fascinating journey through the turbulent history of Burkina Faso. This book shows how the 2014 uprising was both a remarkable and original episode in the country’s long tradition of protests and political inventiveness.’
Marie-Soleil Frère, Université libre de Bruxelles

‘Smart, accessible, and essential reading for all who are interested in African politics. It provides new insight into Burkina Faso’s fascinating political history, from Sankara to the 2014 uprising.’
Laura Seay, Colby College

‘Burkina Faso finds itself at the heart of the current Sahelian crisis, while simultaneously navigating its own revolutionary democratic transition. Harsch’s insightful and lively account offers keen insights into the political history of a fascinating – yet unfortunately understudied – country.’
Leonardo A. Villalón, University of Florida

'A superb introduction to this small, landlocked country.'
Foreign Affairs

'Rich with detail of Burkinabé society and the complex relationships of power, patronage and social class … riveting and informative.'
Africa at LSE

‘An easy read that students of history and politics will find invaluable.’
Africa Renewal


Publication Date: 15 October 2017
304 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781786991355
Hardback: 9781786991362
eBook ePub: 9781786991386
eBook PDF: 9781786991379
eBook Kindle: 9781786991393

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