The Evolving Coup in Burkina Faso: Observations from the Field, continued

[This guest post is part of a series on Burkina Faso’s ongoing political turmoil. My colleague Daniel Eizenga, a Research Associate with the Sahel Research Group and Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Florida, has been based in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou since before the coup of September 17 conducting dissertation research. He has generously offered to share his updates from the ground as the situation evolves. – Alex]

Date: Tuesday, September 22, 2015 at 7:35 PM UTC

 Last night the regular army arrived and negotiations began between the RSP and the Chief of Staff of the Military, General Zagré. The majority of the regular army detachments which had arrived at Ouagadougou remained at the main entry points to the capital throughout the night, then this morning some segments of the military entered the city and occupied some of Ouagadougou’s military camps. Prime Minister Isaac Zida, last of the hostages taken by the RSP on Wednesday, 16 September, was released and allowed to return to his personal residence during the night. He did not make any public statements today. The negotiations between the RSP and military continued into the morning when Zagré issued an ultimatum that the RSP lay down their arms by 10AM. The ultimatum accomplished nothing. Diendéré, leader of the RSP and the coup, called Zagré’s bluff knowing that neither side has any desire to attack the other.

Nevertheless, in a press conference held this morning by Diendéré he stated that the RSP, if given no other choice, would defend itself. He went on to reassure reporters that he did not believe there would be blood shed as both sides understood that would do nothing in service of the country. Still, Diendéré and the RSP refuse to comply with the demands of the military to disarm. He claims that he is awaiting the result of the special ECOWAS summit taking place in Abuja with the sole focus of identifying a way out of this political crisis.

The proposed points outlined by ECOWAS mediators Macky Sall, president of Senegal and sitting president of ECOWAS, and Thomas Boni Yayi, president of Benin, remain heavily criticized by Burkinabè. As I’ve outlined in previous updates there are numerous issues with the proposed agreement because it appears to concede too much to the putchists. The president of the transition, Michel Kafando, spoke with RFI about the proposed agreement making it publically known that the proposal was drafted without his input and despite one brief meeting he was not involved in the negotiation process at all. Although he does not say so explicitly, it is clear that he feels completely sidelined from the ECOWAS process as the special summit kicked off this afternoon and he is not in attendance with the other heads of state. In the interview he declined to elaborate on ‘several’ problems with the proposed ECOWAS agreement hinting that at the time he was unable to offer his specific concerns. He later left his home to take shelter at the French Ambassador’s residence, claiming that he worried for his personal safety and was seeking to leave the country.

In addition to Kafando denouncing the proposed agreement, the three main judicial unions in Burkina Faso published an open letter to UN, the UN Security Council, the AU, the Peace and Security Council of the AU, ECOWAS, the West African Economic and Monetary Union, and other regional organizations, deploring the proposed points in the ECOWAS agreement. The open letter was subsequently dispersed through social media circles receiving hearty support from civil society organizations like Balai Citoyen. The African Union has also stood firm on their decisions to sanction Burkina Faso, announcing today—and I assume intentionally in conjunction with the Abuja summit—that the coup perpetrators must lay down their arms and return the country to civilian rule.

Balai Citoyen remains vigilant in their fight against the coup leaders. Following the arrival of the military, the civil society organization advised its supporters to stay out of the streets and to let the military do its job, but at the same time remain aware and ready to march. They maintain that Diendéré and the ECOWAS leaders are attempting to manipulate the situation to gain more time. The organization suggests that the strategy of Diendéré after winning over the ECOWAS mediators, is to demonstrate that this crisis is the result of a divided society on the brink of turning on each other i.e. profiting on fears of a situation similar to the 2011 crisis in Cote d’Ivoire. From the start, the political debate surrounding the exclusion of certain candidates (read: Diendéré’s political allies including some of his family) from contesting elections has been used as an official explanation for the coup. However, a careful reading of the 13 points (sorry looked for an English version, but didn’t find one) proposed by Sall and Yayi demonstrates that Diendéré and the RSP are after much more than just the inclusion of all political party members in upcoming elections. Balai Citoyen fears that ECOWAS may establish some sort of international oversight institution which could in turn empower Diendéré’s position vis-à-vis the transition government and civil society.

It is of course impossible to know how credible any of this is… I suppose the point to take away from Balai Citoyen is that with Diendéré still in power even after the arrival of the military there is real cause for concern that some kind of power-sharing agreement might be pursued or that violent confrontation might erupt. A power-sharing agreement, understandably, would not stand in civil society circles or with many of the members of the transitional government. However, with the general strike still in full swing and economic costs mounting, those Burkinabé who are not politically active or engaged, like my neighbors, simply want this debacle to come to an end. They are indifferent to the debate about electoral inclusion or exclusion for CDP members, or even whether or not the RSP coup perpetrators receive amnesty. They would simply like to return to their daily lives.

As I write this night has fallen and the curfew, now in effect for almost one week, has begun. The occasional lone gunshot can be heard in the distance. So, what do we know about the possibility of an end to this evolving political crisis? Well, even after a night and a day of negotiations between armed forces and the RSP, and the beginning of the anxiously awaited debate over the controversial ECOWAS proposal, in short we know very little: The AU summit has concluded, but we’re waiting on the details of the results and certain heads of state are awaited in Ouagadougou. The security situation continues to be in flux. Reports are currently coming in that the regular army may have decided to move on the RSP to disarm them peacefully, but it’s too soon to tell if this is the case. I remain cautiously optimistic that a peaceful solution which can be accepted by civil society and the leaders of the transitional government exists. Hopefully, by morning here in Ouagadougou that solution will have emerged.

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