Observations from Ouagadougou: Preliminary Legislative Results and the President Elect

[This guest post is part of a series on Burkina Faso’s 2015 Elections. 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 August 2015 conducting dissertation research. He has generously offered to share his observations from the ground as the elections take place. Readers and journalists may contact Dan at: deizenga at ufl dot edu.  – Alex]

Date: Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 8:33 AM UTC

On Sunday, November 29th somewhere close to sixty percent of registered voters cast their ballots in Burkina Faso’s presidential and legislative elections. Reports from around the country, and in the international media praised the free, fair, transparent and peaceful electoral process. While the results of the legislative elections are still being tallied, just after midnight on the 1st of December the Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI) announced that the preliminary results gave Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of the Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès (MPP) just over 53 percent of the votes cast in the presidential poll.

Kaboré avoided heading to a runoff election by securing a majority, catching a number of analysts both Burkinabè and international, myself included, by surprise. Most of those following the election assumed a second round would need to take place between Kaboré and his closest rival the Union pour le Progrès et le Changement’s (UPC) candidate, Zéphirin Diabré. Even more surprising is how effectively the MPP won its majority. Diabré received slightly less than thirty percent of the vote according to the CENI and some quick electoral math demonstrates that the UPC trailed the MPP by a large margin—more than 23 points.

Out of the twelve other presidential candidates the next largest percentage—just over three percent—went to Tahirou Barry, a young lawyer who entered the political circuit following the popular insurrection of October 2014. Longtime Compoaré-opponent and leader of the Union pour le Renaissance – Parti Sankariste, Bénéwendé Sankara, fell to fourth place, winning just under three percent. No other candidate received more than two percent of the vote. Prior to the elections many people guessed that these would be the top four candidates, but few assumed that the large pool of presidential hopefuls would hurt the UPC more than the MPP. Hindsight, it seems, remains 20/20.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the MPP is composed almost entirely of former CDP members. The CDP is the former ruling party which was barred from presenting a presidential candidate in this election because it supported former president Blaise Compaoré’s attempt to modify the constitution to remain in power. When the MPP leadership resigned from the CDP in early 2014, alongside some 75 other CDP members, they brought significant human and financial resources with them. Fast-forward through the popular insurrection which forced Compaoré to resign and the subsequent political transition during which the CDP lost a significant amount of its political influence, and it becomes clear that the MPP became the logical home for many politicians jumping ship from the sinking CDP. Since the CDP permeated the entire country under Compaoré, the ability of the MPP to incorporate even a portion of the CDP’s network meant it held a strong advantage nationally over the other parties.

The leaders of the MPP held another important factor for winning the vote in the countryside: political recognition. Kaboré, as a member of the CDP and during Blaise Compaoré’s tenure as president, held the positions of Prime Minister, President of the National Assembly and more recently the President of the CDP. As a neighbor of mine explained, “For those in the countryside who spent their entire lives voting for Blaise, the change to Kaboré makes sense because they already know him. He was with Blaise. As Zéph[irin Diabré] said, a vote for Kaboré is a vote for continuity through change.” While my neighbor is not entirely unbiased, her point, I think, is valid. Since its leaders previously held several government positions, the MPP successfully campaigned on its ability to run the country and maintain stability. For those in the countryside with little interest in the politics of Ouaga, a vote for Roch was the closest option to a vote for Blaise.

Still, the MPP will face some immediate and long-term challenges now that its fight for the presidential palace is coming to a close. Many of their specific policy proposals such as creating teaching positions for all unemployed persons holding a certain level of education, are targeted at ameliorating rampant unemployment, especially amongst the growing population of urban youth. These policies will take time to implement and will undoubtedly face challenges along the way. Consequently, the ability of the MPP to appease the immediate demands of an urban youth which now has the experience of creating political change by taking to the streets, will be paramount in the next few months and years. It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Kaboré and his MPP co-leaders’ past connections to the former regime quickly transform into a political liability in eyes of an urban youth movement.

Another challenge will be the ability of the MPP to organize an effective government and form productive coalitions at the Nation Assembly. Thanks to a massive effort from the CENI and the additional hi-tech observation of an informed and active civil society, the electoral process advanced without significant irregularities giving Burkina Faso, arguably, the best organized elections in its history. In light of this, nearly all of the presidential candidates opted for offering their congratulations to MPP and Kaboré rather than contesting the preliminary results. That does not mean, however, that establishing legislative coalitions will proceed as smoothly.

Results for the legislative seats continue to be counted today, but an interesting trend to follow will be the performance of the CDP in the elections. According to local radio station, Omega FM, as of 7 AM this morning preliminary results from the CENI show the CDP to be the third largest party in the National Assembly behind the MPP in the lead and the UPC in second. Importantly, no single political party holds a majority of seats, but there still remains 28 seats for which the preliminary votes have not yet been tallied. A online local media outlet stated the remaining seats belong to the provinces of Kadiogo (Ouagadougou’s province) and Gnagna, as well as the National seats. If the proportion of seats remains the same as the final 28 seats are decided, the role of the CDP will be both important and potentially disruptive in the National Assembly.

The chances of an MPP-CDP legislative alliance appear to be remote, given that the MPP effectively rose to power by undercutting the political support of the CDP. Yet, the two parties share ideological positions, policies, and a political history. Alternatively, the UPC which is the natural leader of an opposition under a MPP majority, previously led the opposition when the CDP was in power and stands to gain very little politically from any kind of cooperation with the CDP. All of a sudden, it seems that every seat counts in a previously lopsided National Assembly.

In its worst possible outcome this could lead to political deadlock featuring votes of no confidence and failed attempts at consensus politics. But in the best potential outcome it could mean the legislature receives more political bargaining power and importance in a political system which has historically been dominated by the executive.

Despite the first round presidential victory for the MPP, these initial legislative results point to an increasingly plural and potentially competitive political system in Burkina Faso. We cannot know for sure until the final counts are in, but in the meantime it’s possible to think that Burkinabè citizens may see both continuity and change in their political future.


Observations from Ouagadougou: The Days before the Election

[This guest post is part of a series on Burkina Faso’s 2015 Elections. 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 August 2015 conducting dissertation research. He has generously offered to share his observations from the ground as the elections take place. Readers and journalists may contact Dan at: deizenga at ufl dot edu.  – Alex]

Date: Thursday, November 26, 2015 at 4:33 PM UTC

With only a few days left before presidential and legislative elections take place Sunday, 29 November, political campaigns in Burkina Faso are in full swing. So, I thought I’d offer some observations on a few of the big issues confronting political parties, candidates, and voters ahead of Election Day.

There are fourteen candidates making a run for the presidential palace, but most analysts and Burkinabè agree that the two front runners for the presidential election are the Union pour le Progrès et le Changement’s (UPC) Zéphirin Diabré and the Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès’s (MPP) Roch Marc Christian Kaboré. Both candidates have been considered the most likely to win since the current transitional government was established in November 2014. Since the official campaign began over two weeks ago, both presidential candidates have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from the former ruling party, the Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès (CDP). Yet in reality, neither party offers much of a change.

The MPP’s strategy relies primarily on touting the fact that the party formed following the massive resignation of former CDP members who stood up to former president Blaise Compaoré’s attempt to remain in power. The subsequent creation of the MPP and its outspoken opposition to another term for Compaoré, helped to insure that it was not excluded from the upcoming elections like other former CDP-supporters and party members. It’s also helped the MPP, a party composed almost entirely of former CDP members, distance themselves from association with the former regime, despite the active role its leaders played in Compaoré’s government for decades.

The three leaders of the MPP—Kaboré, Salif Diallo and Simon Compaoré— are all well-known politicians who worked very closely with the Compaoré regime in which each held at different times leadership positions. In fact in 2010, Kaboré, as the president of the CDP, was one of the first public figures to openly call for Compaoré to modify the constitution and run for another term. And, while in general, it is unpopular to be associated with the former ruling party, it is precisely the MPP’s direct connection to the CDP which is responsible for its potential electoral strength.

After twenty-seven years as the ruling party, the CDP developed a massive network of both human and financial resources. Kaboré, Diallo, and Simon Compaoré, long-time party barons of the CDP, brought much of that resource base with them when they led the resignation movement in January 2014.

In addition to their resource base, the MPP’s leadership also profits from a more intangible political good: their reputation. The leaders of the MPP often publically reference their experience managing the administration of the state and government when comparing themselves to their political opponents. And it’s true that they are amongst the few candidates who can claim to have experience governing the country, but behind these multi-layered references is also a warning to their political foes: join us and reap the rewards, cross us and face the consequences.

When the leaders of the MPP were leaders of the CDP, they were well known for their patronage and in contrast, their retribution. As one Burkinabè businesswoman told me, “The people are scared of the MPP…that’s why no one talks about how close they were with Compaoré. [Kaboré and Diallo] only care about getting their political revenge and they will humiliate anyone in their way.”

It seems that in a slightly ironic twist, the past semi-authoritarian practices of the CDP remain so pervasive in Burkinabè political memory that the MPP leaders can now denounce the former ruling party and simultaneously benefit from the role they played in both its rise to power and its fall from grace.

Meanwhile, the UPC and Diabré continue to trumpet their role as the leader of the political opposition during the last two years of Compaoré’s rule. The party often cites Diabré’s former position as the Chef de File de l’Opposition and his role in organizing and leading demonstrations and protests against Compaoré’s bid to modify the constitution. Following legislative elections in 2012, the UPC won more seats in the National Assembly than any other single opposition party had ever won against the CDP. Yet, the UPC remains a fairly new political party without a long track-record in Burkinabè politics.

Diabré is well known, but prior to 2010 he held the position of Economic Advisor to then president Compaoré. Following his advisory position he accepted an international post with the UNDP and later the French Uranium company AREVA. Many suspect that Diabré’s success internationally can be credited to Compaoré’s personal connections.

Diabré and the UPC were ardent critics of the CDP and Compaoré over the last four years and they helped lead the opposition movement against Compaoré’s attempt to modify the constitution. Nevertheless, they continue to face challenges from other opposition figures because of Diabré’s past connections to the CDP regime.

Perhaps more damaging than his past connections to Compaoré and the CDP, however, are the recent accusations that the CDP joined Coalition Zéph 2015—a coalition of parties and organizations supporting Diabré’s presidential candidacy. The UPC has denounced these rumors on several occasions and Diabré himself disavowed any formal agreement with the CDP. Still, the damage might already be done.

The politics of the situation are such that, however unlikely it might be that the CDP would support the UPC, it’s even more unlikely that the former ruling party would support the MPP. Given that the leaders of the MPP led the massive sortie from the CDP and then actively worked against the former ruling party, most acknowledge that there is no possibility of the political parties cooperating together. As one political activist pointed out to me: “the CDP will never accept an [MPP] victory. [The CDP and its allies] will support anyone other than the MPP for president.”

In light of that common assumption, rumors of a UPC-CDP alliance have gained significant traction during the campaign. Even if no formal agreement is made between the UPC and CDP, it stands to reason that the UPC will receive the CDP’s support, simply because the UPC presents the most viable threat to the MPP. Prior to the fall of the Compaoré regime, it would have been incredibly difficult to imagine that one of the UPC’s supporters would end up being the party it was then in opposition against, but so goes the Burkinabè political circus.

Following the massive rejection of the failed coup in September, one might think the parties and candidates with no past connections to the CDP might have the best chance at winning this coming Sunday, but they’d be mistaken. The probability of a candidate who never collaborated with or profited from the former regime emerging victorious seems slim at best. Partially because the political atmosphere in Burkina Faso remains very divisive and partially because the presidential candidates with no past connections have failed to establish a cohesive coalition of electoral support behind a single candidate.

Some high-profile members of civil society—who protested the authoritarian nature of the Compaoré regime as far back as the late 1990s—have gone so far as to suggest that it may be better not to vote at all. Chrysogone Zougmoré, first vice-president of Coalition nationale de lutte Contre la Vie Chère and leader of the prominent human rights association, Mouvement Burkinabè des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples, went so far as to state that voting was not compulsory and that those Burkinabè, like himself, who did not feel adequately represented by any of the candidates’ campaigns, would not vote. Other civil society organizations are calling on their supporters to boycott the elections altogether.

Oddly enough, those, like Zougmoré, who will not vote because they feel none of the campaigns offer a viable change from the past regime, might be joined by others who are not voting for an entirely different reason: there is no CDP candidate. Today a die-hard CDP supporter informed me that she will be voting for the CDP in the legislative elections, but plans to cast a blank ballot for the presidential poll.

I regularly meet those who do not support the exclusion of the CDP from the electoral process. For some, they oppose the exclusion because they view it is as anti-democratic in principle, but for many others they oppose it because it bars their ideal candidate from taking part in elections. Thus, in one final twist, it seems those most opposed to the former regime may end up joining those most in support of former ruling party by opting out of the presidential election.

It’s difficult to guess what results these historic elections will produce, but one thing is certain: Burkinabè politics are living up to their reputation for the improbable and unexpected.

The End of the Political Crisis in Burkina Faso: Observations from Ouagadougou

[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.

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.

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: 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.

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.

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.

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: Friday, September 25, 2015 at 7:37 PM UTC

It’s been two days since President of the Transition, Michel Kafando, formally returned to the highest political office in Burkina Faso, and so far, the process of putting the transition back on track seems to be going smoothly, although slowly. One of the major impediments to daily life throughout the capital is the continued general strike. The principal unions in the country continue to exercise their right to strike in an effort to pressure the government over the status of the RSP. The unions claim that until assurances are in place that the leaders of the coup will be brought to justice and the RSP dissolved, the strike will continue. Fortunately, the unions did lift the strike in some sectors allowing certain businesses and government services to return in a limited state.

Over the course of the last two days, the effects of the strike have been visible in the streets. Several people can been seen pushing their motos after, I imagine, they ran out of gasoline. Gas stations remain closed for the most part with a few opening here and there for short periods of time. The result has been an artificially created shortage of gasoline; vexing for the ordinary people, profitable for informal gas-shacks which have hiked prices throughout the city. The other major effect has been the closure of banks. While many ATMs can still be accessed, one is hard pressed to find an ATM which still has cash. Obviously, these shortages directly affect business owners as well as every day citizens.

Today, Kafando and Prime Minister Isaac Zida held their first cabinet meeting in which discussions focused on how best to move forward from last week’s events. In light of the toll being placed on citizens, the general strike featured prominently in their discussions. After the cabinet meeting, minister of Public Service, Professor of Political Science, prominent civil society activist, and former hostage of the RSP, Augustin Loada announced, in an interview with Burkina 24, that he had reached out to the unions in his capacity as minister, first to thank them for their support and second to schedule a meeting for tomorrow. I suspect the strike will emerge as a major item on tomorrow’s agenda.

Prime Minister Zida, himself the former second-in-command of the RSP, offered tough remarks for the elite military unit. He stated that he had no doubt that the RSP would be disbanded and disarmed and went on to suggest that this needed to take place as soon as possible. Per the agreement signed between the RSP and the regular army, an inventory of the RSP’s weaponry will be taken between today and tomorrow and then their arms will be redistributed throughout the national military. The agreement does not state what will happen to RSP after its disarmament. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the risk of further fracturing the military continues to hang over the heads of the government as decisions about how to disband and redistribute RSP soldiers are now more complicated than ever.

As for bringing the coup leaders to justice, a special committee will be organized to lead an investigation into last week’s events. Diendéré’s apology for his actions garnered very little sympathy from the people and civil society organizations. Small demonstrations, led by civil society, against the RSP and Diendéré took place today and yesterday demanding justice for the victims of RSP-led repression and their families. Reports vary, but according to RFI, the coup resulted in 17 deaths and over 110 wounded. demonstrators’ demands, coupled with the on-going strike calling for the RSP to be brought to justice, offer little hope of Diendéré walking away from this unscathed.

The special committee will be under a lot of scrutiny from public opinion if it fails to bring the coup perpetrators to justice, especially Diendéré. Special committees to assuage social and political tensions following political crises were frequently employed by former president Blaise Compaoré. Under Compaoré these committees helped high profile members of the regime avoid justice rather than enforcing it, notably following Thomas Sankara’s assassination and the murder of investigative journalist Norbert Zongo. Still, the political transition did make a point to reopen each of those two high profile cases almost immediately after it was established in November 2014. This suggests that this special committee, however highly scrutinized, should take the investigation seriously.

Finally, the presidential and legislative elections will certainly be delayed, but a specific date remains unknown. The official campaign period for the elections would have started 20 September, three weeks prior to the elections. However, given the week-long coup and the questions—primarily that of ‘exclusion’—which the coup brought back onto the national scene, adopting a new date for elections is proving more difficult than previously imagined.

To further complicate matters, the military coup attracted the attention and involvement of regional and international organizations like the African Union and the United Nations, but more importantly, ECOWAS. Earlier rulings by ECOWAS courts offered hope to those candidates facing exclusion as the courts found the reform of the electoral code to be illegal. In the end, the Constitutional Court of Burkina Faso opted to support the new electoral code and bar certain politicians from running in the legislative and/or presidential elections. Little has been reported on this issue so far, but I hazard to guess that these ‘excluded’ politicians are strongly lobbying the ECOWAS team for inclusion in upcoming elections. Whether or not their lobbying efforts will pay off remains to be seen. For now, the transitional government continues to slowly resume its responsibilities and political parties have yet to enter into official discussions on a new electoral schedule.

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The Evolving Political Crisis in Burkina Faso: Observations from Ouagadougou

[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. – Alex]

Date: Wednesday, September 23, 2015 at 7:33 PM UTC

Diendéré’s coup has been pronounced a failure and the General himself regrets his actions. And just like that, the political crisis in Burkina Faso appears to be headed toward a peaceful resolution.

Today, several significant steps towards a conclusion of the weeklong political turmoil in Ouagadougou were taken, beginning with an agreement signed between the presidential guard (RSP) and military last night. A representative of the RSP met with members of the ‘loyalist’ contingent of the military at the palace of the Mogho Naba, the traditional leader of the Mossi. The Mossi are the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso and the symbolic role of the Mogho Naba in the peace agreement helps reassure the seriousness with which the agreement was made.

The agreement came hours after the special ECOWAS summit in Abuja called on the RSP to disarm and the regular army not to engage in violent confrontation with the RSP. Per the agreement between the different elements of the military, the RSP has returned to their barracks, where they will remain, and the regular army moved 50 km outside of the capital. The RSP has not disarmed, however, and the agreement stipulates that the issue of disarmament will be readdressed within three days.

The special ECOWAS summit also called for the immediate reinstatement of the President of the Transition, Michel Kafando, and sent a special envoy of West African Heads of State including Boni Yayi of Benin, Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, and John Dramani Mahama of Ghana, to insure this took place. This morning Kafando gave a speech at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he declared he was once again taking up his responsibilities as President of the Transition. In addition to announcing his reinstatement, he offered his condolences to those who have lost their lives or were wounded in the defense of the country against would be ‘usurpers.’ He also expressed his gratitude toward Cherif Sy for leading the country as Interim President while he and the Prime Minister were hostages of the RSP. Later today, an official ceremony was held at Hotel Laico where the ECOWAS presidents, Prime Minister Zida, and President of the Parliament of the Transition, Cherif Sy, were all in attendance. These events were largely all pomp and circumstance. The actual meetings to put the transition back on track will be held tomorrow.

So, what of all the controversy surrounding the proposed points of the agreement developed by the original ECOWAS mediation envoy? In short, the ECOWAS leaders decided to leave them up to the Burkinabè people. The issue of amnesty for the coup perpetrators, the reform/dissolution of the RSP, and the inclusion or exclusion of certain political party members in upcoming elections were all left unaddressed by the summit. Instead, ECOWAS will send a team of military and humanitarian observers to insure a peaceful end to the political crisis, and the second envoy of presidents-turned-mediators will seek to achieve an agreement between the different parties which is more acceptable to the Burkinabè people. Indeed, Boni Yayi in the name of ECOWAS stated that henceforth it is up to Burkinabè to resolve this crisis through an inclusive dialogue. Perhaps more importantly, Kafando’s earlier disenchantment with the process appears to have been heard. Certainly, the decisions which came out of the special summit in Abuja give the President of the Transition much more influence over the mediation process.

The ambiance in Ouagadougou returned to calm today, especially in light of the agreement made between the Chief of Staff of the Army and Gen Diendéré, leader of the coup and presidential guard. Still, the general strike and curfew remain in effect and the streets continue to be far less active than normal. Some rumblings were heard across the news media and social networks of demonstrations and marches by civil society and political party organizations—both those against the coup and those in support of the coup (read: in support of inclusion in the next elections)—but for now nothing has materialized. It seems likely that these organizations are waiting for the results of tomorrow’s meetings before determining the substance of their respective demonstrations.

Some small demonstrations did occur, predominantly against the coup leaders and against any type of amnesty for their actions. In the upcoming days, there remains a very real possibility of mass mobilization and demonstrations depending on the decisions made by Burkina Faso’s leaders. Still, the situation has improved remarkably in comparison to last week, leading the US Embassy to relax some of its security precautions.

Perhaps, the most important event of the day has been a declaration made by Gen. Diendéré. The general announced that leading this coup was a huge mistake which he regrets because of the deaths it caused and the time lost to the transition. This declaration highlights the now complete alienation of the RSP. Even before yesterday the RSP had few friends; the AU, the UN, France, the United States, Niger, and Chad had all openly condemned the coup calling on its leaders to lay down their arms. The decision of ECOWAS to leave the future of the coup leaders unaddressed made it clear the RSP lost, what I’m sure Diendéré hoped would be, an important ally. Diendéré and the presidential guard may have temporarily held some political sway over the transition of the country as a result of the coup, but that influence has since evaporated.

The RSP now faces a Burkinabè society seeking justice for the families who lost loved ones as a result of the coup. Moreover, regardless of who is elected the next president of the country, it is hard to believe that the decision to take current president Michel Kafando captive, could possibly instill any amount of confidence in the presidential guard. Trying to envision a scenario in which the RSP is not disbanded is becoming increasingly difficult. With that said, the question of what to do with the RSP was already complicated before the coup and now, in the current context of the military versus the RSP, an appropriate and acceptable solution seems even farther out of reach.

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The Evolving Coup in Burkina Faso: Observations from the Field, 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. – Alex]

Date: Tuesday, September 22, 2015 at 7:35 PM UTC

 Last night the regular army arrived and negotiations began between the RSP and the Chief of Staff of the Military, General Zagré. The majority of the regular army detachments which had arrived at Ouagadougou remained at the main entry points to the capital throughout the night, then this morning some segments of the military entered the city and occupied some of Ouagadougou’s military camps. Prime Minister Isaac Zida, last of the hostages taken by the RSP on Wednesday, 16 September, was released and allowed to return to his personal residence during the night. He did not make any public statements today. The negotiations between the RSP and military continued into the morning when Zagré issued an ultimatum that the RSP lay down their arms by 10AM. The ultimatum accomplished nothing. Diendéré, leader of the RSP and the coup, called Zagré’s bluff knowing that neither side has any desire to attack the other.

Nevertheless, in a press conference held this morning by Diendéré he stated that the RSP, if given no other choice, would defend itself. He went on to reassure reporters that he did not believe there would be blood shed as both sides understood that would do nothing in service of the country. Still, Diendéré and the RSP refuse to comply with the demands of the military to disarm. He claims that he is awaiting the result of the special ECOWAS summit taking place in Abuja with the sole focus of identifying a way out of this political crisis.

The proposed points outlined by ECOWAS mediators Macky Sall, president of Senegal and sitting president of ECOWAS, and Thomas Boni Yayi, president of Benin, remain heavily criticized by Burkinabè. As I’ve outlined in previous updates there are numerous issues with the proposed agreement because it appears to concede too much to the putchists. The president of the transition, Michel Kafando, spoke with RFI about the proposed agreement making it publically known that the proposal was drafted without his input and despite one brief meeting he was not involved in the negotiation process at all. Although he does not say so explicitly, it is clear that he feels completely sidelined from the ECOWAS process as the special summit kicked off this afternoon and he is not in attendance with the other heads of state. In the interview he declined to elaborate on ‘several’ problems with the proposed ECOWAS agreement hinting that at the time he was unable to offer his specific concerns. He later left his home to take shelter at the French Ambassador’s residence, claiming that he worried for his personal safety and was seeking to leave the country.

In addition to Kafando denouncing the proposed agreement, the three main judicial unions in Burkina Faso published an open letter to UN, the UN Security Council, the AU, the Peace and Security Council of the AU, ECOWAS, the West African Economic and Monetary Union, and other regional organizations, deploring the proposed points in the ECOWAS agreement. The open letter was subsequently dispersed through social media circles receiving hearty support from civil society organizations like Balai Citoyen. The African Union has also stood firm on their decisions to sanction Burkina Faso, announcing today—and I assume intentionally in conjunction with the Abuja summit—that the coup perpetrators must lay down their arms and return the country to civilian rule.

Balai Citoyen remains vigilant in their fight against the coup leaders. Following the arrival of the military, the civil society organization advised its supporters to stay out of the streets and to let the military do its job, but at the same time remain aware and ready to march. They maintain that Diendéré and the ECOWAS leaders are attempting to manipulate the situation to gain more time. The organization suggests that the strategy of Diendéré after winning over the ECOWAS mediators, is to demonstrate that this crisis is the result of a divided society on the brink of turning on each other i.e. profiting on fears of a situation similar to the 2011 crisis in Cote d’Ivoire. From the start, the political debate surrounding the exclusion of certain candidates (read: Diendéré’s political allies including some of his family) from contesting elections has been used as an official explanation for the coup. However, a careful reading of the 13 points (sorry looked for an English version, but didn’t find one) proposed by Sall and Yayi demonstrates that Diendéré and the RSP are after much more than just the inclusion of all political party members in upcoming elections. Balai Citoyen fears that ECOWAS may establish some sort of international oversight institution which could in turn empower Diendéré’s position vis-à-vis the transition government and civil society.

It is of course impossible to know how credible any of this is… I suppose the point to take away from Balai Citoyen is that with Diendéré still in power even after the arrival of the military there is real cause for concern that some kind of power-sharing agreement might be pursued or that violent confrontation might erupt. A power-sharing agreement, understandably, would not stand in civil society circles or with many of the members of the transitional government. However, with the general strike still in full swing and economic costs mounting, those Burkinabé who are not politically active or engaged, like my neighbors, simply want this debacle to come to an end. They are indifferent to the debate about electoral inclusion or exclusion for CDP members, or even whether or not the RSP coup perpetrators receive amnesty. They would simply like to return to their daily lives.

As I write this night has fallen and the curfew, now in effect for almost one week, has begun. The occasional lone gunshot can be heard in the distance. So, what do we know about the possibility of an end to this evolving political crisis? Well, even after a night and a day of negotiations between armed forces and the RSP, and the beginning of the anxiously awaited debate over the controversial ECOWAS proposal, in short we know very little: The AU summit has concluded, but we’re waiting on the details of the results and certain heads of state are awaited in Ouagadougou. The security situation continues to be in flux. Reports are currently coming in that the regular army may have decided to move on the RSP to disarm them peacefully, but it’s too soon to tell if this is the case. I remain cautiously optimistic that a peaceful solution which can be accepted by civil society and the leaders of the transitional government exists. Hopefully, by morning here in Ouagadougou that solution will have emerged.

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