While doing the background research for the translation project I posted earlier this week, I learned a bit that was new to me about the Liptako Emirate of (present-day) northern Burkina Faso. And one thing that I didn’t include in the translation, for reasons of space and because it’s only indirectly relevant, is something that was new to me to read about: the power struggle within the Emirate following the death of long-ruling Emir Abdoulaye Nassourou Dicko* in November 2010.
Conflicts within the chiefly establishment, for lack of a better phrase, have been – at least according to anecdotal accounts I’ve heard – widespread in Burkina Faso in recent years. I wrote about this a bit in my paper for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation last year (available for download here, see pp. 26-27). There, though I discussed an example for the East Region, rather than Sahel Region. The Liptako Emirate is headquartered in the city of Dori (map), which is also the regional capital for Sahel. In his paper for the Foundation, Rahmane Idrissa goes into more depth on the (fascinating) political history of Emir Abdoulaye Dicko, who took the throne in 1960 (see p. 40, footnote 55).
There is a wider literature on the Liptako Emirate, obviously, but to briefly summarize what I’ve found so far, when Emir Abdoulaye Dicko died (after, again, a fifty-year rule, with some interruptions), there were competing claims from his son Ousmane Amirou Dicko and his (i.e., the late emir’s) brother Bassirou (or Boubacar) Dicko.** According to this account, Bassirou Dicko was enthroned in a ceremony on January 14, 2011, while Ousmane Dicko was enthroned in a rival ceremony the next day. At stake was not just the immediate issue of who would succeed but also, especially according to the brother’s side, the issue of how succession should work – whether the system had effectively become one of primogeniture or at least lineal succession, or whether the principle was a kind of lateral succession among brothers, as for example one finds among several major Sufi families in Senegal or within the Saudi royal family. Lateral succession systems often eventually engender tensions between generations, because members of the younger generation sometimes tire of waiting for power to pass through all of their uncles, cousins, etc. See MbS in Saudi Arabia for an example of that dynamic.
In any case, continuing with the same account, in late January 2011 the high commissioner of the Séno Province stepped in to halt plans for rival coronations. This action only held the two sides off until late June/early July 2011, when rival coronations proceeded. The situation seems to have grown quite tense. The son, Ousmane Amirou, even said he had faced repeated assassination attempts. He was reportedly a target of an attack amid another chiefly conflict in Falagountou (map), about 55 kilometers from Dori, in December 2011. Over time, however, he appears to have consolidated his authority and, whether suddenly or gradually, his uncle’s claim faded. By the second anniversary of the late emir’s death, Ousmane Amirou Dicko appears to have been his uncontested successor.
A few points from my (admittedly superficial) research into the story so far:
- Some of the biographies of these figures in Liptako remind of patterns I’m more familiar with from postcolonial northern Nigeria and northern Mali: the combination of hereditary authority with professional careers, political roles, etc (see this interview with Ousmane Amirou Dicko). Significantly, though, the political, religious, and symbolic (and perhaps financial) capital that comes with being emir does not always transfer smoothly to other fields – see here, p. 13, for a discussion of how Abdoulaye Nassourou Dicko’s tenure as mayor of Dori ended, after just one term, with an electoral loss in 2000.
- That same account has more details about the various interruptions to Dicko’s reign, interruptions which basically reflected major political shifts in Burkina Faso – Thomas Sankara’s coming to power in 1983, for example, led to the emir’s exile in Canada for a spell. This broad dynamic, too, has affected hereditary Muslim (and non-Muslim) rulers elsewhere in the wider region. I think the dynamic can sap the hereditary rulers’ authority in the eyes of their own subjects, who see their leaders overruled or sidelined by heads of state, governors, etc.
- In a way, the succession conflicts are not new within even this dynasty (called Férobé) or within the region. There were major disputes in the late 19th century in both Liptako and, looking farther afield, in Kano and elsewhere. And there was a rivalry between two brothers in Kidal in the early 1960s. Other examples are legion. So in a way, there is nothing new here.
- At the same time, we can ask whether succession conflicts in Burkina Faso are (a) more common than in the first few decades after independence and (b) a contributing factor to either the background of the present insecurity or the actual ongoing perpetuation of that insecurity. To fully address that would require a lot of research (some of which has been done, I assume, though I may not be aware of it).
- I don’t have a full sense either of how the present emir has responded to the insecurity. He is quoted in the national and international media fairly regularly (example, and another example), but in my brief searches so far I haven’t seen a detailed treatment of his policies.
*Confusingly, in some sources it is rendered Nassourou Abdoulaye Dicko and in other sources Dicko Nassourou Abdoulaye. Dicko is definitely the surname.
**Again, here the order of the names varies from source to source.