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: Wednesday, September 30, 2015 at 7:12 PM UTC

Well, after waiting all day for an official announcement from the government or military on the results of last night’s military operation, here’s what we know. Bear in mind this may change in the next few hours, days, or weeks, depending on how the government decides to handle the release of information.

Late yesterday evening, the regular army attacked the barracks of the RSP at military camp Naba Koom II, located close to the presidential palace. The operation succeeded in forcing the surrender of RSP troops. As I noted yesterday, Gen. Diendéré himself took to the airways of local radio stations imploring the soldiers of the RSP to lay down their arms to avoid further bloodshed.

Diendéré himself fled the barracks, reportedly seeking refuge with the Vatican Embassy. Initial reports suggested he might have sought shelter at the American Embassy, but US diplomats quickly took to social media to deny these claims. Although he stated publically that he is willing to present himself before the Burkinabè justice system, it appears that he is attempting to negotiate certain assurances for himself before turning himself over to authorities. This negotiation occurred throughout today and he remains at the Vatican Embassy.

Diendéré, presumably from his place of refuge, denounced the military’s actions today stressing that the assault likely resulted in the loss of innocent lives. He based this claim on the fact that the military fired heavy artillery and tank shells during the attack which, in addition to killing RSP soldiers, he suspected also damaged an on-site military clinic and may have also caused causalities amongst the families living on the base. Only minutes ago, interim President Kafando announced that the operation resulted in no causalities–it remains unclear how many soldiers and/or other individuals were wounded in the attack.

The government’s actions have yet to prompt applause throughout Burkinabè society. Indeed, some called the government’s decision to hastily dissolve the RSP into question, suggesting that prolonging the dismantlement might have helped to avoid the conflict. On the other hand, the transitional government now seems to have reasserted its complete control over the situation, in what I would deem a clear power-play from Zida and Kafando. To the government’s credit, they did issue several warnings while the military laid siege to RSP’s camp for hours prior to the assault which offered RSP soldiers ample time to surrender.

During the night and most of today, the military claimed to be combing through the Naba Koom base to ensure that there were no RSP holdouts. It remains unknown whether any elements of the RSP were able to slip through the siege and escape Ouagadougou, but this also does not appear to be a major—or at least it’s not a publically acknowledged—concern of the military or the transitional government.

Businesses mostly resumed their normal activities today throughout Ouagadougou. One exception being Ouaga 2000 where there continues to be a large military presence. Another exception to quotidian life took the form of increased military checkpoints throughout Ouagadougou—military checkpoints are typically quite rare within the city. Still, with the suspension of the general strike and most of the military activity confined to Ouaga 2000, most Burkinabè and local businesses finally recommenced their pre-coup activities.

If the government acted hastily to resolve the question of the RSP, they continue to drag their feet on the question of the electoral calendar. With that said, there is also significantly less pressure from popular opinion and political actors to reschedule the elections. The elections, originally scheduled for 11 October, are now likely to be delayed for several weeks according to Prime Minister Zida.

A representative of the political party le Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès (MPP) stated today that the party understood the need to delay the electoral cycle and would patiently await the government’s position on the matter. The MPP counts as one of the newest political parties in Burkina Faso, but is comprised of some of the most best known and longest serving Burkinabè politicians. Following the resignation of 75 members of the former ruling party—the CDP—in January 2014, the leaders of the resignation movement created the MPP to oppose the modification of presidential term limits. Owing to wide-spread name recognition and their high-profile role in the fight against Compaoré’s attempt to change the constitution, the MPP is seen as one of the favorites in the up-coming elections.

Another party, which publically announced their support for a postponement of the elections is the Union pour le Renaissance/Parti Sankariste (UNIR/PS). Despite being one of the oldest political parties belonging to the opposition under the Compaoré regime, this political party stands to gain from a delay in the electoral process. The principal challenge to the UNIR/PS as elections approach is undoubtedly the need to build a country-wide political base. In the opinion of the party’s national director of mobilization, Athanase Boudo, the government should consider delaying elections even as late as early December to provide sufficient time to resolve their current challenges.

Meanwhile, from the point of Law Professor Luc Marius Ibriga—also a civil society leader opposed to the attempted modification of presidential term limits—the holding of elections does not impede the government’s authority. The Charter of the Transition (a sort of interim constitution which elaborates the transition’s institutional structures) insures that the transition’s mandate does not depend on a given date, but rather the swearing in of newly elected officials.

In a final piece of good news which also highlights the resumption of normal activities in Burkina Faso, the African Union lifted its suspension of the country yesterday.

While many questions remain regarding elections, the surrender of the RSP bodes well for the advancement of the political transition in general. In the coming weeks, the progress of the special investigation committee into the attempted coup and the actions of those already suspected of supporting the coup are likely to feature prominently in Burkinabè news. For now, both social and political forces appear willing to set aside questions about elections in order to pursue justice for the Burkinabè people.

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

  1. Pingback: Revolução e contrarrevolução em Burkina Faso | LavraPalavra

  2. Interesting reflections, I think I would only offer a slightly different view on the government’s setting of the new elections date. I don’t think they’re dragging their feet but its a process, I think the transition can only do this once:
    a. the RSP integration process has been worked out fully, reintegration means reassignment to new stations, new duties, being assured of senior generals support (a sticking point), dealing with concerns over pay etc.
    b. the transition had consulted international donors as the delay means more money will be required to plan new polls and for the extended transition. Kafando mentioned this at the UN Summit but based on reports I read it seems international partners hadn’t considered this aspect.
    c. related to above, after Kafando has the RSP & CDP issues under control & some distance can the next phase be planned. Also he’s meeting with Ban Ki-Moon & UNDP officials today, that will help shed light on when Burkina can reasonably expect to hold polls.

    • Hi TM,

      Thanks for your response and interest.

      I’ll admit that being fully immersed in domestic politics may have led me to overlook or fail to fully weigh the international component to rescheduling elections, especially as it pertains to donor commitments. My personal reflections on what I deem a sluggish response of the Transitional Government to organizing polls are largely based on my conversations with, admittedly more conservative, Burkinabe contacts who have expressed concerns over the Transition extending its mandate as an indirect result of the attempted coup. Their fears come from the fact that, legally, there is no mechanism in place—aside from holding elections—to prevent the transitional government from staying in power and potentially creating a more difficult context for which the newly elected government will be held responsible. From this point of view an elected government would hold more legitimacy both domestically and internationally and bring the transition chapter of post-Compaoré politics to a definitive close.

      On your point regarding the RSP’s integration into the regular army, I agree that it will certainly be complicated, but I’m not sure I agree that it need be completed before rescheduling elections. The dismantlement of the former presidential guard seems to be fully guaranteed at this point, despite the persisting challenges you’ve pointed out. In some ways, I would think that completing the reintegration process after holding elections might prove to be a better option as it would allow the new government to take ownership of the process rather than inherit it.

      Best,
      Dan

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