Burkina Faso coup: a risky move

When soldiers from the presidential guard interrupted the ministerial meeting in Ouagadougou, last Wednesday, many were reminded of similar episodes of mutiny and protest that happened during the last months of political transition in Burkina Faso – all solved within a few hours. As time passed by, the scenario started to look more like a “classical” coup: president Kafando, prime minister Zida and other ministers were detained.

BY CRISTIANO LANZANO: National TV announced on Thursday that a so-called National Council for Democracy (a new denomination chosen by the coup-makers) would suspend the government and the upcoming elections, and be in power from now on.The issue of the role of the armed forces in the “new” Burkina Faso lingers unresolved since last October’s uprising and change of regime. The destiny of the Régiment de Sécurité Présidentielle (RSP), the elite presidential guard created by former president Blaise Compaoré and considered to be a feud for the nostalgic of his regime, has been at the center of heated debate: its dismantlement has been reclaimed not only by young activists and civil society organizations, but also by the Commission for National Reconciliation and Reforms, formed by the government to work on drafts of constitutional reforms for the future democratic structure of the country. The transitional government has always tried to handle the issue cautiously, probably fearing a violent reaction of the sort we are seeing now.

Military infighting

The path of prime minister Isaac Zida symbolizes the complexities of the civilian-military nexus. Former number two of RSP, he took control of the situation right after Compaoré’s resignation last October, but surprised all observers for his strong stance opposing the previous regime – and gained some consensus among demonstrators. Once he was appointed prime minister (at the end of November, after power was returned to civilians), conflicts with his former comrades in arms started. Reasons were not always clear: the local press evoked fears that the government would dissolve or scale down the RSP, controversies around nominations in the military hierarchy, or pre-existing tensions in the army that the now public role of Zida might have exacerbated. So far, president Kafando had been successful in mediating and making some concessions, but apparently the attempts have been ineffective in this case.

CDP’s role uncertain

The incoming deadline of legislative and presidential elections – scheduled for October 11st – has also increased political tensions lately. The contested new electoral code approved in April allowed, despite a critical statement from the ECOWAS court of justice, to exclude from the competition many politicians accused of being too close with the previous regime. The new legislation targets anybody who actively supported the plans of constitutional change through which Blaise Compaoré tried to remain in power: its vague formulation – a critical point for the ECOWAS court – was probably aimed at stating a general principle without formally excluding specific political forces. But the pro-Compaoré front insisted on having its old guard run for the elections, and after the exclusion of a significant part of its candidates called for a boycott of the elections.

It is very difficult to tell if the CDP (the former majority party) has been behind the organization of this coup. But the fact that the military rebels are led by general Gilbert Diendéré, considered Blaise Compaoré’s right-hand man since the beginning of his rule, raises more than a suspect. Diendéré’s declarations demanding a “more inclusive” process toward the elections seem to confirm that the former people in power,both politicians and military leaders, instead of planning a stable return to the past, might simply be trying to obtain a stronger position in the negotiations.  A bold and probably ill-thought-out move whose results are yet to be determined.

Chronology of key events leading up to Wednesday's coup in Burkina Faso (compiled by researchers at NAI)

Links to other sources of information:

Transition chart: http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20141114-burkina-faso-consensus-transition-ete-trouve-isaac-zida-cnt

Portrait of Gilbert Diendéré: http://www.jeuneafrique.com/138808/politique/arm-e-burkinab-gilbert-diend-r-la-discr-tion-assur-e/

International Crisis Group report, January 2015: http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/west-africa/burkina-faso/222-burkina-faso-nine-months-to-complete-the-transition.aspx

Electoral Code approved in April: http://www.ceni.bf/sites/default/files/Code_%C3%A9lectoral_BF-Version_21.05.2015.pdf

Statement from ECOWAS Court of Justice about Electoral Code: http://burkina24.com/2015/07/13/code-electoral-lintegralite-de-la-decision-de-la-cour-de-justice-de-la-cedeao/

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