The Evolving Political Crisis in Burkina Faso: Observations from Ouagadougou

[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: Wednesday, September 23, 2015 at 7:33 PM UTC

Diendéré’s coup has been pronounced a failure and the General himself regrets his actions. And just like that, the political crisis in Burkina Faso appears to be headed toward a peaceful resolution.

Today, several significant steps towards a conclusion of the weeklong political turmoil in Ouagadougou were taken, beginning with an agreement signed between the presidential guard (RSP) and military last night. A representative of the RSP met with members of the ‘loyalist’ contingent of the military at the palace of the Mogho Naba, the traditional leader of the Mossi. The Mossi are the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso and the symbolic role of the Mogho Naba in the peace agreement helps reassure the seriousness with which the agreement was made.

The agreement came hours after the special ECOWAS summit in Abuja called on the RSP to disarm and the regular army not to engage in violent confrontation with the RSP. Per the agreement between the different elements of the military, the RSP has returned to their barracks, where they will remain, and the regular army moved 50 km outside of the capital. The RSP has not disarmed, however, and the agreement stipulates that the issue of disarmament will be readdressed within three days.

The special ECOWAS summit also called for the immediate reinstatement of the President of the Transition, Michel Kafando, and sent a special envoy of West African Heads of State including Boni Yayi of Benin, Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, and John Dramani Mahama of Ghana, to insure this took place. This morning Kafando gave a speech at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he declared he was once again taking up his responsibilities as President of the Transition. In addition to announcing his reinstatement, he offered his condolences to those who have lost their lives or were wounded in the defense of the country against would be ‘usurpers.’ He also expressed his gratitude toward Cherif Sy for leading the country as Interim President while he and the Prime Minister were hostages of the RSP. Later today, an official ceremony was held at Hotel Laico where the ECOWAS presidents, Prime Minister Zida, and President of the Parliament of the Transition, Cherif Sy, were all in attendance. These events were largely all pomp and circumstance. The actual meetings to put the transition back on track will be held tomorrow.

So, what of all the controversy surrounding the proposed points of the agreement developed by the original ECOWAS mediation envoy? In short, the ECOWAS leaders decided to leave them up to the Burkinabè people. The issue of amnesty for the coup perpetrators, the reform/dissolution of the RSP, and the inclusion or exclusion of certain political party members in upcoming elections were all left unaddressed by the summit. Instead, ECOWAS will send a team of military and humanitarian observers to insure a peaceful end to the political crisis, and the second envoy of presidents-turned-mediators will seek to achieve an agreement between the different parties which is more acceptable to the Burkinabè people. Indeed, Boni Yayi in the name of ECOWAS stated that henceforth it is up to Burkinabè to resolve this crisis through an inclusive dialogue. Perhaps more importantly, Kafando’s earlier disenchantment with the process appears to have been heard. Certainly, the decisions which came out of the special summit in Abuja give the President of the Transition much more influence over the mediation process.

The ambiance in Ouagadougou returned to calm today, especially in light of the agreement made between the Chief of Staff of the Army and Gen Diendéré, leader of the coup and presidential guard. Still, the general strike and curfew remain in effect and the streets continue to be far less active than normal. Some rumblings were heard across the news media and social networks of demonstrations and marches by civil society and political party organizations—both those against the coup and those in support of the coup (read: in support of inclusion in the next elections)—but for now nothing has materialized. It seems likely that these organizations are waiting for the results of tomorrow’s meetings before determining the substance of their respective demonstrations.

Some small demonstrations did occur, predominantly against the coup leaders and against any type of amnesty for their actions. In the upcoming days, there remains a very real possibility of mass mobilization and demonstrations depending on the decisions made by Burkina Faso’s leaders. Still, the situation has improved remarkably in comparison to last week, leading the US Embassy to relax some of its security precautions.

Perhaps, the most important event of the day has been a declaration made by Gen. Diendéré. The general announced that leading this coup was a huge mistake which he regrets because of the deaths it caused and the time lost to the transition. This declaration highlights the now complete alienation of the RSP. Even before yesterday the RSP had few friends; the AU, the UN, France, the United States, Niger, and Chad had all openly condemned the coup calling on its leaders to lay down their arms. The decision of ECOWAS to leave the future of the coup leaders unaddressed made it clear the RSP lost, what I’m sure Diendéré hoped would be, an important ally. Diendéré and the presidential guard may have temporarily held some political sway over the transition of the country as a result of the coup, but that influence has since evaporated.

The RSP now faces a Burkinabè society seeking justice for the families who lost loved ones as a result of the coup. Moreover, regardless of who is elected the next president of the country, it is hard to believe that the decision to take current president Michel Kafando captive, could possibly instill any amount of confidence in the presidential guard. Trying to envision a scenario in which the RSP is not disbanded is becoming increasingly difficult. With that said, the question of what to do with the RSP was already complicated before the coup and now, in the current context of the military versus the RSP, an appropriate and acceptable solution seems even farther out of reach.

One thought on “The Evolving Political Crisis in Burkina Faso: Observations from Ouagadougou

  1. Pingback: The Evolving Political Crisis in Burkina Faso: Observations from Ouagadougou | Tim Frey's Virtual Tent

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