In September 2015, Burkina Faso experienced a serious but short-lived coup. The military’s seizure of power came a little less than a year after the popular uprising that overthrew the country’s longtime ruler, Blaise Compaore. The coup was staged by the Regiment of Presidential Security (French acronym RSP), Compaore’s elite guard, and could be seen as a sort of would-be counter-revolution. The coup leaders detained Burkina Faso’s interim authorities and installed Compaoré loyalist General Gilbert Diendéré as head of a military government. Pressure from France and from the Economic Community of West African States, however, soon led the coup organizers to hand back power. Elections were then held in November 2015, and the winner – Roch Kaboré – remains president today.
The echoes of the coup are still being felt, however, including in the ongoing trial for officers involved in it. The trial, conducted by a military tribunal, began on 21 March 2018 (after an initial delay). There are 84 accused persons, including Diendéré and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Djibril Bassolé.
In front of the court this week have been several junior officers. On 27 August, the court heard the not guilty plea of Sergeant Souleymane Koné, as well as the testimony of Lieutenant Boureima Zagré, who seems to be pleading not guilty as well. Much of the testimony and the questioning concerns communications and orders – who told whom to do what? Who knew what?
There is more going on here, it seems to me, than just assigning guilt and blame. The testimonies of the accused provide an opportunity for authorities, the public, and the officers themselves to review, in exhaustive detail, the events of September 2015. The trial is partly functioning to create a national record and facilitate a national discussion about what exactly happened and what it all meant. In a way, this also becomes a conversation about where the country is headed and how power should be structured and apportioned there.