[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. Readers and journalists may contact Dan at: deizenga at ufl dot edu. – Alex]
Date: Friday, September 25, 2015 at 7:37 PM UTC
It’s been two days since President of the Transition, Michel Kafando, formally returned to the highest political office in Burkina Faso, and so far, the process of putting the transition back on track seems to be going smoothly, although slowly. One of the major impediments to daily life throughout the capital is the continued general strike. The principal unions in the country continue to exercise their right to strike in an effort to pressure the government over the status of the RSP. The unions claim that until assurances are in place that the leaders of the coup will be brought to justice and the RSP dissolved, the strike will continue. Fortunately, the unions did lift the strike in some sectors allowing certain businesses and government services to return in a limited state.
Over the course of the last two days, the effects of the strike have been visible in the streets. Several people can been seen pushing their motos after, I imagine, they ran out of gasoline. Gas stations remain closed for the most part with a few opening here and there for short periods of time. The result has been an artificially created shortage of gasoline; vexing for the ordinary people, profitable for informal gas-shacks which have hiked prices throughout the city. The other major effect has been the closure of banks. While many ATMs can still be accessed, one is hard pressed to find an ATM which still has cash. Obviously, these shortages directly affect business owners as well as every day citizens.
Today, Kafando and Prime Minister Isaac Zida held their first cabinet meeting in which discussions focused on how best to move forward from last week’s events. In light of the toll being placed on citizens, the general strike featured prominently in their discussions. After the cabinet meeting, minister of Public Service, Professor of Political Science, prominent civil society activist, and former hostage of the RSP, Augustin Loada announced, in an interview with Burkina 24, that he had reached out to the unions in his capacity as minister, first to thank them for their support and second to schedule a meeting for tomorrow. I suspect the strike will emerge as a major item on tomorrow’s agenda.
Prime Minister Zida, himself the former second-in-command of the RSP, offered tough remarks for the elite military unit. He stated that he had no doubt that the RSP would be disbanded and disarmed and went on to suggest that this needed to take place as soon as possible. Per the agreement signed between the RSP and the regular army, an inventory of the RSP’s weaponry will be taken between today and tomorrow and then their arms will be redistributed throughout the national military. The agreement does not state what will happen to RSP after its disarmament. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the risk of further fracturing the military continues to hang over the heads of the government as decisions about how to disband and redistribute RSP soldiers are now more complicated than ever.
As for bringing the coup leaders to justice, a special committee will be organized to lead an investigation into last week’s events. Diendéré’s apology for his actions garnered very little sympathy from the people and civil society organizations. Small demonstrations, led by civil society, against the RSP and Diendéré took place today and yesterday demanding justice for the victims of RSP-led repression and their families. Reports vary, but according to RFI, the coup resulted in 17 deaths and over 110 wounded. demonstrators’ demands, coupled with the on-going strike calling for the RSP to be brought to justice, offer little hope of Diendéré walking away from this unscathed.
The special committee will be under a lot of scrutiny from public opinion if it fails to bring the coup perpetrators to justice, especially Diendéré. Special committees to assuage social and political tensions following political crises were frequently employed by former president Blaise Compaoré. Under Compaoré these committees helped high profile members of the regime avoid justice rather than enforcing it, notably following Thomas Sankara’s assassination and the murder of investigative journalist Norbert Zongo. Still, the political transition did make a point to reopen each of those two high profile cases almost immediately after it was established in November 2014. This suggests that this special committee, however highly scrutinized, should take the investigation seriously.
Finally, the presidential and legislative elections will certainly be delayed, but a specific date remains unknown. The official campaign period for the elections would have started 20 September, three weeks prior to the elections. However, given the week-long coup and the questions—primarily that of ‘exclusion’—which the coup brought back onto the national scene, adopting a new date for elections is proving more difficult than previously imagined.
To further complicate matters, the military coup attracted the attention and involvement of regional and international organizations like the African Union and the United Nations, but more importantly, ECOWAS. Earlier rulings by ECOWAS courts offered hope to those candidates facing exclusion as the courts found the reform of the electoral code to be illegal. In the end, the Constitutional Court of Burkina Faso opted to support the new electoral code and bar certain politicians from running in the legislative and/or presidential elections. Little has been reported on this issue so far, but I hazard to guess that these ‘excluded’ politicians are strongly lobbying the ECOWAS team for inclusion in upcoming elections. Whether or not their lobbying efforts will pay off remains to be seen. For now, the transitional government continues to slowly resume its responsibilities and political parties have yet to enter into official discussions on a new electoral schedule.