Thousands of students protested in Burkina Faso’s capital city Monday and today youth demonstrations have spread across the country. The students are acting in solidarity with their teachers who are demanding higher pay and smaller class size. Teachers have been on strike since last week, inciting students to storm the Ministry of Education and other government buildings to urge a response to the demands so that class can resume.
The demonstrations come after months of unrest in this West African nation that began with citizens taking to the streets over high food prices. Students began organizing during the genesis of this turmoil, taking a stand against the the problem of militarization of their university campuses.
In response to the student’s frustrations, the government shut down schools and universities in late January. One of the students leaders, Justin Zongo, was detained by police and died while under their custody—students assert he was tortured to death, while the government reports meningitis as the cause.
Zongo’s death fueled further protests among students. This anger—coupled by other bottled-up tensions—sparked Arab Spring-style demonstrations among other sectors of society—the military, police offices, merchants, and even the presidential guard. The protesters have called for an end to high levels of unemployment, the rising cost of living, inadequate delivery of public services and state repression under a president who has reigned for 24 years. Last month, President Blaise Compaore’s armed guard launched a mutiny against him, demanding that housing subsidies be paid. Compaore responded by dissolving the government and firing the head of his presidential guard, the chiefs of the army, air force and police.
A representative of a teacher’s group involved in the strike, Emmanuel Dembele, told The Associated Press that the group had outlined their demands to the government since early January.
"So far nothing has been done, only promises, promises we are not buying again," he said. "It is up to the government, if they make positive steps we are going to resume classes."