[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, October 2, 2015 at 5:43 PM UTC
Since the surrender of the RSP on 30 September, a number of things occurred which suggest that the political crisis in Burkina Faso has finally come to a close. After the week-long coup and then the dramatic events in which the RSP refused to disarm, the political transition emerged not only victorious, but stronger.
General Diendéré, the coup leader, was taken into custody by the National Gendarmerie yesterday after negotiating with authorities for his, and his family’s safety. A few hours prior to the military assault on the RSP base, Naba Koom II, which forced RSP to surrender, Diendéré sought refuge at the Vatican Embassy. From the diplomatic branch of the Catholic Church, Diendéré called on his fellow RSP soldiers to surrender and began negotiating his personal surrender with Burkinabé authorities.
Today, the Vatican Embassy clarified that Diendéré did not request asylum or exfiltration from the country, and had he, the Embassy would have denied it given the stance of the transitional government. The Vatican’s representative in Burkina Faso justified their actions by citing their ecclesial mission to promote social peace. The Embassy went on to note that from the outset of granting his refuge, Diendéré agreed to hand himself over to Burkinbè authorities. Others participated in the negotiations as well including the American Ambassador, Tulinabo Mushingui, Archbishop Phillipe Ouédraogo, and former president Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo. The announcement comes after many criticized the Embassy for protecting Diendéré.
In addition to Diendéré’s arrest, two other arrests took place in the last forty-eight hours. First and unsurprisingly, the spokesperson for the National Council for Democracy—the RSP established governing body during the coup—Mamadou Bamba, was placed under arrest and now awaits his hearing with the justice system. Bamba’s assets were frozen by the Court of Appeals this past Saturday along with Diendéré’s, Gen. Djibrill Bassolé’s—arrested this past Tuesday—and eleven other individuals’.
More surprisingly, authorities at the international airport in Ouagadougou detained and questioned the vice president of the Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA), Mahamadou Djéri Maiga last night. The MNLA is a Tuareg separatist organization which arose during the 2012 Malian political crisis. Apparently, suspected of involvement in Bassolé and Diendéré’s accused attempts of calling on foreign fighters to destabilize the country, Maiga remained in the custody of Burkinabè officials for several hours before being released to his residence in Ouagadougou. So far, the government has provided no evidence that Bassolé or Diendéré reached out to foreign or jihadi fighters, despite their accusations. Personally, I find it difficult to believe, but as I’ve been frequently reminded: politics in Burkina Faso tend to surprise.
These arrests demonstrate a clear effort from the government to rapidly bring those involved in the coup to justice. The special investigation commission into the coup also got underway this week scheduling a number hearings with those already implicated in the coup events. The commission’s mandate will last one month.
Meanwhile, the political activists who previously comprised the ‘Collective against Exclusion’ remodeled themselves as the ‘Collective for a United People’ in a clear attempt to distance the group from the aftermath of the coup. As some civil society organizations were quick to point out, the pro-inclusion group also changed its message. Only three months ago the then ‘Collective against Exclusion’ rejected any reform of the RSP, however in a recent press conference the now ‘Collective for a United People’ saluted the dismantlement of the former presidential guard and condemned the coup. Clearly, popular opinion matters.
The dissolution of the RSP, the reintegration of some 800 RSP soldiers into the regular army, and the indictment of several high profile actors for their involvement in the failed coup, not only suggests that the transition weathered the storm, but popular support for the transition seems to have strengthened, perhaps even, emboldened it. If that’s the case, one potential challenge facing the Burkinabè people might become the need to insure that the political transition remains just that, a transition. A new date for elections continues to be promised but undelivered. Obviously, failing to schedule elections in the tumultuous situation which unfolded over the course of the last weeks is understandable. However, it would be worrying if in the next week an election date, regardless of delay, remains unannounced.
Still, the restoration and renewed strength of the political transition bodes well for Burkina Faso. The willingness of the Burkinabè people to defend their democratic transition even in the face of violence brought its brief political crisis to a close. Now, in the aftermath of the crisis, the Burkinabè people will need to stay vigilant and hold the political transition accountable to its purpose: peaceful, free, fair, dare I say, democratic elections. Let’s hope the leaders of the transition are up to the task.