The Evolving Political Crisis in Burkina Faso: Observations from Ouagadougou, 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. Readers and journalists may contact Dan at: deizenga at ufl dot edu. – Alex]

Date: Saturday, September 26, 2015 at 6:17 PM UTC

 Two major developments emerged over the course of last night and today in the on-going resolution of the political crisis in Burkina Faso. Last night, the official decisions taken during the Council of Ministers, held yesterday with the leaders of the political transition, were televised nationally. Perhaps, the most pivotal amongst them is the official dismantlement of the RSP. While, practically speaking, the RSP remains in existence, the unequivocal dissolution of the elite presidential guard appears to have been finalized by the transitional government.

With the full inventory of the RSP’s arms concluded by the regular army today, the RSP’s weapons are now being redistributed to other units of the military. Some reports of tensions, even fights, between the RSP and regular army did surface today, but those confrontations appear to have been quickly resolved. Questions surrounding how the military will deal with former members of the RSP remain, however, and their potential reintegration into different units of military, in my opinion, continues to pose a real threat to the unity of the military.

The second major development comes from the judicial branch of the government. Despite its reputation for taking a long time to act, the general prosecutor for the Court of Appeal in Ouagadougou froze the assets of fourteen individuals and four political parties suspected of being involved in the coup. Many of the names did not elicit surprise: Gen. Gilbert Diendéré and his wife, a former CDP deputy, topped the list alongside current president of the CDP, Eddie Komboïgo, and CDP vice president Léonce Koné. Other individuals on the list included several politicians who were barred from running in up-coming elections and served as former ministers or deputies under Blaise Compaoré such as: Alain Zougba, Salifou Sawadogo, Djibrill Bassolé, and the coordinator of the national committee to support Bassolé’s presidential bid, Adama Kiéma.

It’s worth noting that also on the list is former opponent to Blaise Compaoré, Hermann Yameogo, president of the Union National pour le Développement et la Démocratie and the political party, Union pour un Burkina Nouveau (UBN), but not UBN’s president and excluded presidential candidate Col. Yacouba Ouédraogo. Another notable omission from the list is president of one of Burkina’s oldest political parties, the Alliance pour la Démocratie et la Fédération – Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (ADF-RDA), Gilbert Noël Ouédraogo. The ADF-RDA supported the CDP in its attempt to modify presidential term limits last October 2014. The omission of Yacouba Ouédraogo and Gilbert Ouédraogo is encourage as it demonstrates the actions of the general prosecutor are not politically motivated against for supporters of modifying presidential terms.

It’s difficult to imagine that the Court of Appeal made the decision to freeze the assets of all these actors without the approval, or at least knowledge, of the leaders of Burkina’s political transition. Keeping that in mind, it is also encouraging to see that the courts are acting quickly in an effort to dole out justice for the victims of the aborted coup. It is telling that it’s the judicial branch which made the first moves against those suspected of organizing or supporting the coup, as this suggests Kafando and Zida wish to act quickly, but hope to avoid producing a situation where the political transition is pitted against some of the country’s well known and supported political actors. In the following days, and possibly weeks, it will be interesting to watch how these political heavyweights attempt to maneuver through these allegations in an effort to salvage their political careers.

To add some news from the street, I’d like to offer four points on the question of the electoral exclusion. For supporters of ‘inculsion’ two things seem to offer them some hope and two things stand in their way. First, as I’ve mentioned before, the presence of ECOWAS mediators in the country offers a chance for political parties whose candidates were excluded from elections to lobby for their inclusion. ECOWAS already stood behind inclusion, when its courts ruled that the reform of the electoral code to exclude candidates did not fall within the bounds of the law.

Second, for less politically engaged Burkinabè who follow politics, but are not actively involved in political parties or civil society activities (read: my neighbors), they now tacitly support inclusion. The general thinking can be broken down like this: prior to the coup, some remained indifferent toward inclusion or exclusion and their thinking could be described as a ‘let the courts and politicians figure it out’ approach. However, now that the coup has taken place and exclusion has resurfaced as a potentially contentious issue which might disrupt daily life, some of those who were on the fence before have adopted an appeasement approach. Best summarized as, ‘well, if they’re going to make a big fuss about it, just let them run in the elections.’ This change in opinion, albeit modest, does offer increased support for those seeking inclusion in upcoming elections.

Two points pose potential barriers for pro-inclusion supporters. First, contrary to those who were on the fence, those who were originally opposed to inclusion and then adamantly opposed to the coup (read: neighborhood youth), are now even more opposed to the possibility of inclusion. For these actors, to support inclusion is to reject the political transition and, although not phrased exactly this way, might be thought of as support for Diendéré’s attempt to redirect the political trajectory of the country. Secondly, the initial actions of the political transition suggest that, now more than ever, the transition’s leaders will remain resolute in their decisions. If this is the case, the notion that they could reverse what was already a controversial reform seems, at best, unlikely. In the coming days as we gain a better idea of what the transition’s leaders intend to do, I imagine, more political actors will begin to pronounce their own stance on the issue, but for now the country will have to wait.

5 thoughts on “The Evolving Political Crisis in Burkina Faso: Observations from Ouagadougou, continued

  1. Thank you so much for this continued coverage of the Burkino Faso political situation. The commitment of the people to the democratic process and justice to the victims of the coup is extremely admirable.

    How many people are in the RSP versus how many are in the general army? Has the RSP traditionally had better access to resources than the army?

    • Hi nabeela, and thanks for following. It’s always a pleasure to learn there are those following the situation along with me. I don’t have an exact figure for the regular army, but I believe there are several thousands of soldiers enlisted. Perhaps, someone else can give us a precise figure? The RSP is comprised of 1,200 to 1,300 soldiers and they have historically been the best paid/funded unit of the military, as well as the best equipped.

    • Typically elite guards like this are created to prevent coups against a leader by the general military (which is usually poorly equipped and trained in comparison).

      However I’d be pretty surprised if it came down widespread fighting, lethal force might be used on civilians during and after coups but soldiers are usually pretty restrained toward each other. If the coup leaders have politically lost, then general violent resistance by the RSP doesn’t seem likely.

  2. If they’re fully disbanded and dispersed into the regular military it’ll be a reminder that attempting a coup can actually lead to the outcome you were trying to avoid, like Venezuela back in 2002.

    • Hi Gyre,

      Thanks for your comments and for reading. The RSP was definitely created to help prevent coups against former president Blaise Compaoré, a task which they were extremely effective at accomplishing for the twenty-seven years he held onto power.

      I agree with you about widespread fighting, but still feel there are risks of violence that come with dismantling the RSP. Examples of elite forces fighting one another within a military after a coup/failed coup, can be found just next door in neighboring Mali. After the coup led by Amadou Sanogo in 2012, green berets and red berets (I’m forgetting which one was the presidential guard) broke out into fighting multiple times. I think factional disputes between the RSP and other units of the military pose a similar risk.

      Then, there is the case of what happened here in Burkina Faso following the military mutinies of 2011 – in which the RSP also took part. After segments of the military attacked mutinous soldiers in Bobo Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina, the mutinies finished. Several soldiers were dismissed from the military as a result of the mutinies which lead increased banditry in the countryside. Dismissed soldiers took their weapons and headed for the bush where they set up traps to conduct highway robbery and at other times stole livestock from local pastoralists.

      These incidents were somewhat isolated, but still demonstrate that dissolving an entire military unit, if not done carefully, certainly poses some risks to the military and to the population. Those risks may never concretize, but I think, they are absolutely present in what is happening in Ouaga and more broadly in Burkina today.

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