Short-lived Burkina Faso coup had very little support

Previously: 2015 Burkina Faso Coup

Good news: Not only did the regular Army quickly intervene to eject the Presidential Guard and restore the democratic transition, compelling the putsch leader to apologize publicly (also admitting a serious unforced error that will likely doom the Guard to demobilization) and surrender, but also the people of Burkina Faso very broadly and decisively rejected the coup.

This is explored in Brian J. Peterson’s analysis at African Arguments entitled “After the coup in Burkina Faso: unity, justice, and dismantling the Compaoré system”:

Among civil society, there was no pro-coup faction to speak of, aside from reports of a few fake protesters (identified as RSP members in plainclothes). Even Diendéré’s own home village turned against him. Aside from the labour unions, the grassroots movement Balai Citoyen, the youth, traditional leaders (such as chiefs, hunters associations, and the Moro Naba), and the heralded broom- and spatula-wielding women, all rallied to the cause of opposing the coup.

(Additionally, not one political party besides the pro-Compaoré party supported it.)

The way in which the people and the transitional government handled this worst of all political nightmares on the eve of an election should give the Burkinabé people greater confidence in their belief that they can shape their country’s destiny. Through this whole process, the people have also discovered a newfound courage to speak their minds.


Deja Coup: Burkina Faso military arrests civilian leaders (updated)

The Burkinabe Presidential Guard has just detained (kidnapped) the president and the entire cabinet of Burkina Faso in front of journalists. The country is less than one month away from elections but the interim cabinet had discussed abolishing the Guard because it was dangerous. This could be coup #3 of the past year. (If confirmed, it would be the 8th to succeed since independence.)

Update: More info

There was no immediate claim by the military on public air waves that they now controlled the country.

News of the standoff Wednesday created panic in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou, where people closed shops early and headed home fearing violent demonstrations. The protests that led to President Blaise Compaore’s ouster escalated to a point where the parliament building was set ablaze.
The prime minister initially had threatened to disband the [presidential guard] back in December but later reversed course. Then on Monday, a truth and reconciliation commission released a report calling for the disbanding of the unit. Human rights groups have accused the regiment of opening fire on unarmed demonstrators last October, when massive protests forced Compaore to resign.

See also our extensive archives on Burkina Faso political analysis.

Update II: Presidential Guard troops fired as protesters confronted them over their arrest of the civilian government.

Update III, 9/17/15, 4:29 AM ET: An officer has announced a coup and plans for a “national democracy council” to organize “democratic and inclusive elections.” The overthrown transitional civilian government was already wrapping up preparations for democratic elections next month but they were not “inclusive” in the sense that they excluded many people affiliated with the regime overthrown less than a year ago. The coup leaders are likely representing just 1,300 troops in the renegade Presidential Guard and very few people beyond that (except perhaps some allies of the former regime).

Burkina Faso’s transition staggers onward toward October

Burkina Faso’s post-coup transition to democracy is, theoretically, still on track to be completed by October. However, as the AFP reports, there is nearly constant tension between the hated Presidential Guard and its former number-two, the Military Prime Minister Isaac Zida.

A month ago, Zida claimed to have averted their plot to overthrow him in a coup, but it’s unclear how true that was. They did unsuccessfully publicly try to pressure him to resign earlier in the year. (Either way, the militarists of one stripe or another already have a huge seat at the table in this transition, even without any new coup.)

What little popular support Zida had left, inside or outside of the military, seems to have evaporated when he attempted to promote himself from Lieutenant Colonel to General (after, of course, having “promoted” himself to Acting President by force last year and then getting himself named Interim Prime Minister).

President Michel Kafando, the nominal civilian head of the transition, has been increasingly marginalized (unsurprisingly, given Zida’s presence) and can only issue plaintive appeals for calm and restraint in the coming 3 months.

West Africa’s regional bodies and leaders have continued to play a guiding role in Burkina Faso’s transition process wherever possible, as they did from the start, but this has caused its own bumps. New legislation setting the rules for participating in the country’s planned first democratic elections in October was struck down on July 13 by the ECOWAS Court of Justice because it excluded many people and parties closely affiliated with the Blaise Compaoré regime ousted last fall.

The regional court ruled that the exclusion’s basis — whether or not a politician or party had supported Compaoré’s failed attempt to amend the constitution to remove term limits, i.e. the move which prompted the government’s overthrow — was overly broad and was “a violation of their fundamental human rights.”

The former ruling party enthusiastically announced its nominee for the election upon reinstatement of eligibility. He proceeded to praise the ex-president whose multi-decade tenure in office ended with the national parliament building literally being burned to the ground by protesters.

At this point, it would be a near-miracle if Burkina Faso makes it through the October elections peacefully with a smooth transfer of power and no return to office for Compaoré’s old guard or the militarists. But with the transition roadmap not yet completely dead, despite many opportunities for it to have failed already, I think we can at least expect some positive outcomes, even if it’s unlikely all of those will come to pass.


Lt. Col. Isaac Zida: The Wolf of Ouagadougou

I think we can safely conclude, as feared, that Isaac Zida’s military government has not ended, just rebranded itself.

Look how civilian this not-military government in Burkina Faso is… So civilian… mmm…

Burkina Faso authorities issued a decree on Sunday announcing an interim government, with President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida also taking on the key ministries of foreign affairs and defence.

Of the 26 posts available, the army claimed six, including mines, communications and the interior ministry. Other members were drawn from civil society groups and a medley of political parties.

To recap: 23% of the cabinet portfolios in this “civilian” transitional government are now held by military officers, including basically the five most important ministries in the country, internally and externally.

Zida seems to be a much more smooth operator than previously anticipated. He’s the wolf inside the democratic transition sheep’s clothing.

Civilian Kafando takes Faso presidency, but with military premier

Yesterday, Burkina Faso made the next step in its transition with Michel Kafando, the country’s former longtime UN Ambassador, being formally sworn in as the civilian Interim President until elections are held next November.

However, in a troubling development announced Wednesday, Lt. Col. Isaac Zida — who headed the military government for three week’s following the October 31 and November 1 coups, was appointed Interim Prime Minister, the crucial post which will actually appoint all the cabinet ministers for the coming year.

Civilians consider Zida’s appointment as a betrayal of their “revolution” and Guy Herve Kam, spokesman for the Citizen Broom association said “we are worried, but that’s all.”

There are reports that Western diplomats have advised against Zida’s nomination.

A senior military official revealed that the military and the politicians had a gentleman agreement. He said that “it was on this understanding that we gave the post of president… to civilians.”

In another worrying turn, it was revealed that the Transitional Charter governing the country for the next twelve months will include an interim legislature, as opposed to the restoration of the existing (elected) National Assembly, suspended by the military during the coup. That would make sense if the principle of the move was to rectify the fact that the Assembly’s composition is heavily skewed toward the ruling party of former dictator Blaise Compaoré, except that we have no idea who will choose its members. And that’s a bad sign…

As traced on this blog in the past three weeks, initially promising suggestions of a representative process to choose an interim president from suggestions by a wide range of interest groups and constituencies ended up simply evolving into the military submitting a short list of candidates (with a clear preference for Kafando), followed by the appointment of the coup leader to the prime minister’s post. We can reasonably expect a similarly flawed selection process for the temporary legislature, with a heavy hand of the military behind the scenes.

However, as I argued previously, it’s still possible (though unlikely) that this is less a power grab and more a recognition of political realities in a country stunted by 27 years of one-man-one-party rule and fractured opposition:

In fact, I’m not fully convinced that a stable transition is even possible in Burkina Faso without substantial military involvement (and heavy supervision from the international community). On the one hand, military-guided transitions to democracy have a super high failure rate (not sure if that’s adjusted for economics though); so that’s an argument for a rapid transfer. But on the other hand, Burkina Faso has 40+ political parties, an absurd and borderline non-functional constitution (now suspended by the military), no legitimate successor to the presidency, and so on. Thus, I’m kind of thinking the military might actually be the only valid option here for overseeing the transition, as it serves as a unifying factor cutting across competing affiliations.

I just don’t think Zida can be trusted any more, if he ever could, now that he’s maneuvered himself into the premiership, a job he has no place being — both in terms of governance experience and in terms of permitting a legitimate transition to democratic, civilian rule.

And then there’s this reminder from Reuters:

Zida, previously considered a close ally of the president, received counter-terrorism training in the United States in 2012 on recommendation from the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou. He attended a second U.S. military course in Botswana.


Diplomat Michel Kafando named interim Burkina Faso president

Michel Kafando, a longtime high-level Burkinabé diplomat, has been picked as the “consensus” interim president of Burkina Faso by the selection committee. The 72-year-old will fill the role of Acting President, appointing a prime minister to lead a 25-member cabinet, until the regularly scheduled November 2015 elections are held. He is expected to take office Friday, November 21, exactly three weeks after President Compaoré’s resignation.

From the France24 news report:

“The committee has just designated me to guide temporarily the destiny of our country. This is more than an honour. It’s a true mission which I will take with the utmost seriousness,” Kafando told journalists after his appointment.

Kafando served as the country’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2011. Previously he was Burkina Faso’s foreign affairs minister […]

A committee of 23 officials chose him over other top candidates […] His candidacy was proposed by the army.

I’m a little troubled that the Army’s nominee — who was also a 13-year Compaoré appointee as UN ambassador — was chosen as interim president by the selection committee.

Additionally, a French-language news report by Burkina24 suggested that the entire “short list” of five names had been submitted to the selection committee by the military, contrary to Sunday’s reports that a number of interest groups would be submitting candidates. Perhaps the military narrowed that list down to something more manageable, but it would constitute interference all the same. According to the Burkina24 report, the religious and traditional groups did not make any nominations (indeed the Roman Catholic Church repudiated the nomination of Archbishop Paul Ouédraogo to the short list).

Of the remaining three, the selection committee also passed over two news media publishers and a widely-mentioned frontrunner, Joséphine Ouédraogo, a cabinet minister in the revolutionary Sankara government of 1983-1987. The latter was the final runner-up against Kafando, according to Burkina24.

Former Ambassador Kafando has the unusual credential of being a high-ranking appointee under at least three governments, theoretically at odds with each other. In 1981 and 1982, he served as Upper Volta’s Ambassador to the United Nations (pre-name change), as an appointee of the Colonel Zerbo military government of 1980-1982. (Zerbo, in addition to various criminal actions and anti-leftist policies, supposedly later became a Compaoré adviser following the latter’s 1987 coup that displaced the leftist Sankara government, which initially was very anti-Zerbo.) From September 1982 to August 1983, and as the only continuing member from the previous administration, Kafando served as Foreign Minister in the short-lived military government of Major Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo that had overthrown Zerbo. That government was overthrown in turn by Captain Sankara in August 1983. Kafando then appears to have left government for over a decade, spending at least part of the late 1980s in France obtaining his PhD at Paris-Sorbonne University, before returning to the UN posting in 1998 under Compaoré.

Perhaps this eclectic resume of administrations served under actually demonstrates an ability to work easily with a range of competing factions. Certainly, he is relatively well known by the international community due to these diplomatic postings (including to the UN Security Council), which is probably a plus for an impoverished country reliant on foreign assistance and involved in various security agreements.