Burkina Faso is a former French colony, known until 1984 as Upper Volta. The country gained its independence from France in 1960 and has been under military rule since 1980. In 1960, Colonel Saye Zerbo overthrew the government of Sangoule Lamizana and abolished the 1977 Constitution. Important political actors in Burkina have traditionally included the powerful trade unions, the traditional chiefs, and military officers.
In 1983, however, the established pattern of Burkinabe politics was overturned by the formation of the National Revolutionary Council (CNR—Conseil National de la Révolution), headed by Captain Thomas Sankara. Under Sankara, political activity was extended into the countryside, where peasant farmers were mobilized by grassroots organizations known as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). But Sankara aroused opposition among established groups who feared that their privileged positions would be threatened by his revolutionary principles. In 1987, Captain Blaise Compaoré led a successful coup in which Sankara was killed.