[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: Tuesday, September 29, 2015 at 6:16 PM UTC
Military operations were launched today, surrounding the RSP’s camp, Naaba Koom, located close to the Presidential Palace in the neighborhood of Ouaga 2000 where the presidential guard has been confined since last Wednesday—Ouaga 2000 is also the neighborhood in which the US Embassy is located. Throughout the day reports of military movements in the city surfaced offering little insight into the on-going events. This morning the Army Chief of Staff requested that everyone avoid Ouaga 2000 and that residents of the neighborhood remain indoors. The neighborhood is situated on the south side of the capital and close to the international airport. Due to the threat of military action, the airport closed, cancelling all flights until further notice.
This morning, the national gendarmerie executed the arrest of General Djibrill Bassolé at his private residence located close to the town of Koudougou. Last night the government issued an announcement claiming that Bassolé, former Minister of Foreign Affairs under Compaoré and one of the candidates excluded from presidential elections, conspired with Gen. Gilbert Diendéré to destabilize the country. The announcement cited both generals as key actors behind the RSP’s decision not to follow the disarmament process and accused Bassolé and Diendéré of reaching out to mercenaries and jihadists to destabilize the countryside. While, little to no evidence of the claims arose during the day, the government’s decision to arrest Bassolé suggests that there must be, at the very least, some evidence of his continued involvement with the RSP.
While the military prepared for conflict with the RSP, several political leaders took to local media sources and social media to advocate for dialogue and peace. Recognizing the rapidly escalating potential for violent conflict, political actors like Abdoul Karim Sango, a Professor of Law for the National School of Administration and member of the electoral commission, implored leaders of the transitional government to heed the words of the Mogho Naaba and find a political solution to this crisis before it collapsed into civil war.
Cherif Sy, President of the Assembly of the Transition, seconded Sango’s words stating that the problems faced by the Burkinbè people belonged in the realm of politics and, thus, required a political solution not a military one. This message is by far the dominant response of most political figures, and in some cases political parties like Le Faso Autrement, which called for dialogue to resume between the RSP and military. Nevertheless, public sentiment remains mixed regarding how to deal with the RSP. Comments available online, via the sites of local media sources and social media, clearly demonstrate that for each individual in support of dialogue there is another against it. The most common call against dialogue typically referenced a refusal to negotiate with terrorists and the popular call of former revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara: ‘la patrie ou la mort, nous vaincrons’ (in English: homeland or death, we shall overcome).
As the day progressed, reports of RSP soldiers leaving their military camp and their compatriots to rejoin the national military began to trickle through local media. Two junior officers were said to have led a small contingent of RSP soldiers seeking to surrender. Later, the well-known Lt. Colonel Boureima Kéré, who assumed a leadership position in the RSP after Compaoré’s demise, reportedly left to help resolve the crisis from outside the confines of military camp Naaba Koom. The national military later informed citizens that around 300 soldiers belonging to the RSP rejoined national military ranks at another military camp in Ouagadougou. It was not clear when their surrender took place or if the departure of the junior officers and Lt. Col. Kéré were including in the figure.
In the early afternoon, the government declared that the population in Ouagadougou should go about their regular business, so long as they adhere to the instructions of the Chief of Staff to avoid Ouaga 2000. Despite this announcement, violent confrontation between the military and the RSP could not be avoided. Late this afternoon, the US Embassy circulated an emergency message in which it declared that the national military attacked the RSP at the Naaba Koom base, using artillery and tanks to confront the former presidential guard.
The online media source Le Faso verified the military action, reporting that local residents of Ouaga 2000 could confirm that sporadic gunfire had been heard throughout the neighborhood since the beginning of the afternoon. Early this evening Gen. Diendéré took to the airways of popular radio station, ‘Radio Omega’—ironically one the stations partially destroyed by the RSP during the coup—to ask ‘all elements of the RSP to accept the disarmament, lower their weapons, and return to their barracks…to avoid a potential blood bath.’
At this point, it is not at all clear whether RSP soldiers are still under the control of Diendéré. It is also unclear whether fighting is still on-going or all RSP soldiers have surrendered to the national military. It is, of course entirely possible that some members of former presidential guard opted to leave Ouagadougou with their weapons. Following the largescale military mutinies of 2011 many of the mutinous soldiers (some part of the RSP) found their way to the countryside with their arms opting for banditry over facing the potential consequences of partaking in the mutinies. I expect that by tomorrow a resolution will be found, but the nature of the resolution and its costs to the population, the military, the RSP, and the transitional government, remain entirely unknown.
The coup may be finished and the transitional government reinstated, but one can only wonder when the people living in Ouagadougou might be able to go to sleep with more answers instead of more questions.