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: Monday, September 28, 2015 at 5:48 PM UTC

Over the course of the weekend, leaders of the political transition seemed to be sorting out the complicated process of returning the country back to normal. On Sunday, the leaders of the different labor unions agreed to suspend the general strike. No doubt, a decision taken during meetings with the Minister of Public Service, Augustin Loada, held Saturday, 26 September. Yet, only today did the lifting of the strike actually have an impact, since most businesses and services observing the strike do not open on Sunday. And even with the suspension of the strike, it will take several days for businesses to return to normal as local shops, especially, await for the distribution of goods to catch up after a weeklong back-log. Furthermore, president of the unions’ action committee, Bassolma Bazié, pointed out the strike was suspended, not called off, and the unions would be closely following the actions of the government and RSP to determine whether or not it need to be reinitiated.

More good news emerged Sunday afternoon when President Kafando met with the Mogho Naba—traditional leader of the Mossi, the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso. Kafando met with the traditional leader to recognize his contribution to finding a peaceful end to last week’s military coup. The Mogho Naba has featured prominently in recent events as a mediator between different parties involved in the foiled coup led by the presidential guard (RSP). He helped to insure that a peace agreement between the national military and the RSP was reached before military confrontations between the two groups erupted over the demands of the military, the transitional government, and the international community that the RSP disarm. In accordance with that agreement, the disarmament process started this weekend.

At the public meeting, the Mogho Naba asked the RSP and national military to remain outside of the political sphere and beseeched the President to act with the utmost tolerance, understanding, and humility when dealing with the coup-makers as his actions would affect the unity of the country. The high profile involvement of the Mogho Naba has not been without criticism, however. Serge Bambara, AKA Smockey and a leader of the Balai Citoyen, pointed out in an interview with Le Monde that, in the past, the Mogho Naba strongly supported former president Blaise Compaoré. Bambara goes on to argue that the traditional leader offered a neutral space for the military leaders to negotiate, but never personally called for the RSP to disarm.

Another question which continues to go unaddressed by the transitional government pertains to the rescheduling of elections. This has developed into a major issue for the US Embassy. At a town hall meeting held this past Friday, 25 September, the US Ambassador, Tulinabo Mushingui, highlighted the continued support of the American Government for the electoral process. He also stated that the electoral commission would soon be releasing the new timetable for elections which would certainly be delayed. Yet, the new electoral calendar continues to remain undisclosed. Today on its Facebook page, the US Embassy implored the transitional government to publish the date for presidential and legislative elections without further delay. However, for many Burkinabè, as referenced by their comments on social media, the more pressing issue is dealing with the RSP. And after today, it would seem their concerns are justified.

Just when things appeared to be looking up, the presidential guard decided disarmament may not actually safeguard their interests. In a communique released by the Chief of Staff of the national army, it was announced today that the disarmament process reached an impasse last night. The Chief of Staff underscored two reasons for the impasse: 1) refusal of RSP soldiers to proceed in accordance with the disarmament deal, resulting in confrontations with and attacks on the personnel charged with the task 2) the ambiguous behavior of Gen. Gilbert Diendéré (the coup leader and head of the RSP). Citing Diendéré’s behavior as ambiguous, and a lack of acceptance and discipline on behalf of his soldiers, leads me to wonder whether Diendéré may no longer be in full control of his men.

As news of the announcement traveled through Ouagadougou, the ambiance grew increasingly tense. I learned of the news from my elderly neighbor, when she informed me she would, consequently, be visiting family in Kaya (approximately 100 km from Ouagadougou) for an undisclosed amount of time. Another neighbor, also decided to leave, going to Koudougou (roughly 150 km from Ouagadougou). This afternoon the news that the RSP decided, at least temporarily, not to cooperate with the disarmament resulted in much discussion in the streets. Indeed, the RSP was the topic of discussion, and when I tried to suggest that things were going better, that the government was back in control, I was immediately shot down. Comments on the internet elicit similar reactions, in some cases advocating for military action against the RSP.

Civil society quickly reacted to the communique of the Chief of Staff. Guy Hervé KAM, spokesperson for Balai Citoyen, and Safiatou LOPEZ/ZONGO released a call for popular mobilization on behalf of the national group of civil society organizations (a somewhat amorphous conglomeration of different organizations). In the publication the organizations claim that there is no longer any other choice, but for the Burkinabè people to resume their active resistance in face of the RSPs actions, to once and for all put an end to the coup. The civil society organizations appeal to three different sets of actors: 1) the soldiers of the RSP to realign with the Burkinabè people and accept the failure of the coup 2) the regular army to take all the necessary measures to defend the population and their goods 3) all activists to remain mobilized to resume a variety of activities throughout the country.

Just now, while writing this post, the US Embassy raised their security precautions asking citizens to shelter in place and citing military movements in Ouagadougou without clearly defined intentions. As far as I can tell, the situation remains in flux, but for the time being calm. Still, in light of these new developments and rumors, I find myself hoping that yesterday’s words form the Mogho Naba will be taken to heart.

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

  1. Naunihal Singh’s Seizing Power argues that civilians have, at most, secondary agency during coups. I wonder if they might have more, both as individual respected leaders and as organizations, now than in the past, if their role has been overestimated or if Singh simply was a bit too broad.

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