Burkina Faso: Attempted 3rd coup in 3 days fails; protesters cleared

On Sunday, Burkina Faso’s capital again filled with thousands of protesters, this time demonstrating against the new “transitional” government of Col. Zida, whose backers unexpectedly seized power from within the military on early Saturday, removing the first military government set up on Friday after Blaise Compaoré resigned the presidency.

Zida, who was Army Spokesman and commander of the presidential guard, is less well known than many of the country’s top officers and is feared to be even more tied to the old order than the Friday government. Although he pledged a quick transition to elections and a new constitution, the timeline was undefined. One protester told Reuters why there was enough concern today to take to the streets again today:

“They are coming from Kossyam to enslave us,” said protestor Sanou Eric, in a reference to the Presidential Palace. “This is a coup d’etat. Zida has come out of nowhere.”

 
Zida’s Saturday government was created in the country’s seventh successful military coup since independence from France in 1960.

Later in the day today an apparent attempted 3rd coup in as many days was thwarted, according to Reuters reporting in the capital:

Witnesses said prominent opposition leader Saran Sereme and an army general, along with a crowd of their supporters, headed to the RTB Television on Sunday afternoon to declare themselves in charge of the transition but were thwarted by the army.

Gunshots rang out at the station and the channel was taken off the air. There were no reports of anybody being injured.

 
The Army reportedly dispersed the massing protesters in the capital streets with live-fire warning shots.

The international community continues to play wait-and-see, in light of the fact that they cannot automatically label the situation a coup (with all the legal implications that brings) because the constitutionally prescribed transfer of power was impossible due to the specified successor position not existing when the presidency became vacant on Friday after 27 uninterrupted years of control.

In other news, witnesses in neighboring Côte D’Ivoire reported the arrival of former President Compaoré in their capital on Saturday, according to the AFP:

…Burkina Faso’s deposed president reportedly arrived in neighbouring Ivory Coast, less than 24 hours after being forced from power. Compaore, who resigned on Friday amid mass protests against his 27-year rule, arrived in the capital Yamoussoukro on Saturday with his family.

“The services of the President hotel in Yamoussoukro served him [Compaore] dinner yesterday [Friday] and breakfast this morning [Saturday],” a hotel employee told the AFP news agency. A local resident told the AFP he saw “a long cortege of around 30 cars going in the direction of the villa,” which is used as a semi-official residence for foreign dignitaries.

 
burkina-faso-flag

Hey hey ho ho, Blaise Compaoré has got to go.

The 27-year West African regime of dictator Blaise Compaoré appears to be collapsing today in Burkina Faso. [He resigned and handed power to the military on October 31.] Here’s what you need to know…

Who is Blaise Compaoré?

President Blaise Compaoré seized power in a violent coup in 1987 (see Fast Facts) and planned to seek election a 5th consecutive time by amending the constitution.

There are literally close to three dozen opposition parties, which tends to keep them very weak. Compaoré, who lives in a ludicrously vast palace, was also the mastermind of the earlier 1983 coup and has killed off all his former compatriots in purges.

In early 2011, as regimes were collapsing across the world (including former patron Qaddafi), Compaoré survived a presidential guard mutiny over pay and protests across the country over the deaths of protesters at the hand of security forces. Riot police in the capital actually joined that uprising. A compromise with the military over the pay dispute regained their support and suppressed the protests.

burkina-faso-mapHe has been well liked by regional and international leaders for his work in mediating recent conflicts in Mali, Côte D’Ivoire, and Togo. Plus, until this week, the country was one of the most stable for almost three decades. Compaoré has been a key military ally of France in the Sahel and the United States in West Africa.

Protests, however, have been bubbling under the surface over unresolved economic struggles for a year or so. Still, they did not erupt into full-scale pandemonium until this week.

What happened this week?

Tuesday, opposition protests in the capital — over a proposed constitutional amendment to remove presidential term limits, scheduled to be voted on at the parliament today (Thursday) — clashed with police and shut down traffic.

Today, the military was deployed into the streets of the capital. According to the BBC feed and reporting, protesters and sympathizers responded by:
– Seizing the state television headquarters and broadcast center
– Torching the ruling party headquarters
– Seizing the parliament building and burning it to the ground (no place to vote on the amendment now!)
– Looting a hotel where members of parliament typically reside when in the capital
– Burning the homes of several cabinet members
– Marching on the presidential palace
– Shutting down the airport and arresting the president’s brother there (presumably as he attempted to flee the country)
– In other cities, government buildings were also burned or looted and protesters clashed with riot police at street barricades and churches

At least five are dead, probably more. There were reports that some soldiers were standing down or actively assisting the protesters, while other photos showed them still pointing guns. Loyalist forces reportedly fired live bullets into the crowd and a helicopter dropped tear gas.

Some protesters have dubbed this uprising the “Black Spring,” either in ethnic comparison to the Arab Spring or in reference to the violence. (I’ll keep looking into that. Edit: From looking on francophone Twitter, the phrase is “printemps noir,” literally Black Springtime, used alongside and in comparison to “printemps arabe,” the French term for the Arab Spring. French Wikipedia also notes that “Noir,” in addition to being the color black, is the predominant ethno-racial identifier in the French language for any person of color from or descended from the darker-skinned populations of the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, which includes Burkina Faso. While the same word is also used for “dark” in the sense of dark humor or dark events, which led to my uncertainty, it is being used in the ethno-racial sense here.)

In a written statement, the president declared a nationwide state of emergency, dissolved the cabinet, called for peace and talks with protest leaders:

“A state of emergency is declared across the national territory. The chief of the armed forces is in charge of implementing this decision which enters into effect today. I dissolve the government from today so as to create conditions for change. I’m calling on the leaders of the political opposition to put an end to the protests. I’m pledging from today to open talks with all the actors to end the crisis.”

 
There was some dispute as to the validity of the statement, as it was hard to verify it had actually come from President Compaoré.

There is word that a popular retired military general, former Defense Minister Kouame Lougue, is meeting with the military’s current leadership and may be supported in a coup or transition government by the protesters. If a coup is in progress, this would be at least the sixth since independence, but the first since the end of the Cold War. However, a Reuters photojournalist on the ground, quoted by the BBC, said that many protesters view the current military leadership and soldiers as the protectors of the president and enforcers of the state of emergency; they might not be willing to support such a coup.

The Army announced there would be a transitional cabinet in place for the next twelve months until the 2015 presidential election. It was not clear if this meant Compaoré would remain in office until then under their plan.

Added: In an evening appearance on private channel Canal 3 reported by Le Monde, President Campaoré said he would not resign but would withdraw his proposed amendment to the constitution and step down at the end of his current term next year. I don’t expect that will be the end of it, because I believe he will be pushed out or forced to resign within days.

What was the global response?

The United States National Security Council statement:

The United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Burkina Faso resulting from efforts to amend the constitution to enable the incumbent head of state to seek another term after 27 years in office. We believe democratic institutions are strengthened when established rules are adhered to with consistency. We call on all parties, including the security forces, to end the violence and return to a peaceful process to create a future for Burkina Faso that will build on Burkina Faso’s hard-won democratic gains.

 
This is a clear criticism of Compaoré’s bid to remove term limits but also leaves room to condemn the uprising if it proves to be the start of mass violence or a military coup.

The United Nations Secretary General dispatched its West Africa Special Envoy to the country, to arrive tomorrow, although it’s not clear how he will arrive, given the closure of the airport.

The government in France, like the United States, appears ready to throw their ally Compaoré to the wolves, having sent their ambassador to meet with opposition leaders.

Most significantly, the African Union, which typically backs incumbent leaders to the bitter end (out of self-interest), condemned the Compaoré government’s constitutional amendment proposal and suggested support for the protesters. The statement:

The Commission also urges the Government of Burkina Faso to respect the wishes of the people as well as the prevailing Constitution of the Republic of Burkina Faso. The Commission reiterates its commitment to zero tolerance on unconstitutional change of Government and respect for the rights of citizens to peaceful protest.

 
While explicitly discouraging a coup or popular overthrow, this statement is probably the most significant sign that this will only end with the president’s removal from power, one way or another. At minimum they will be supporting a voluntary resignation and transfer of power, if that can be achieved before something worse happens.

 

Burkina Faso Fast Facts

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Erdogan promises payback after Kurdish protests turn violent

Recep-Tayyip-ErdoganAs post-election betrayals go, saying “We will make them pay dearly” of an ethnic minority constituency you heavily courted in the presidential election two months earlier, after seeking their votes in parliament the year before to amend the constitution significantly in your favor, is probably pretty high up there.

But that’s exactly what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did as Turkish and Syrian Kurds’ protests on Turkey’s inaction at Kobani became violent in clashes with security forces and then resulted in deaths of government officials, according to Hurriyet Daily News, a major Turkish newspaper:

“We will make them pay dearly” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan vowed in a speech in eastern Turkey’s Bayburt yesterday. “Like they paid for what they did in Bingöl, they will pay more in future,” he said.

He was talking about a clash between the security forces and a group of Kurdish militants on Oct. 9 in another eastern city of Bingöl. Following a call by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which focuses on the Kurdish problem, to end the violence-infected protest demonstrations against the government, the police chief of the city was attacked by gunfire in the downtown part of the city; he was heavily wounded and two of his deputies were killed. During the hot pursuit, the security forces had killed four militants in a car while they were trying to escape with their guns; one of them turned out to be a civilian government employee.

The government accuses the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of being behind the attack, despite the ongoing peace talks that have continued for the last two years.

 
Hurriyet also reported that a wider crackdown on Kurds in Turkey appears to be imminent:

A day before, on Oct. 11, Erdogan also said there will be new and stricter measures to fight with the “vandals on the streets,” and are expected to be brought to Parliament this week.

Erdogan signals that there could be more security measures if the PKK resumes its armed campaign as the country is heading for a parliamentary election scheduled for June 2015. Such a hardening in security policies in relation with the Kurdish problem could not only break the peace dialogue, but could mean a harder line in Turkey’s foreign relations as well.

 
So much for peace at home, so much for Kurdish cultural recognition, and so much for the improved relations with Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government in recent years or the ISIS-induced era of good feelings from June to September of this year. It was a good run for the year and a half it lasted. Now back to your regularly scheduled decades of unresolved internal conflict.

Did Egypt’s military organize the protests leading to the coup?

egypt-coat-of-armsOne man is alleging in an in-depth report by Buzzfeed that his much-cited populist organization, Tamarod, which paved the way for the Egyptian military coup in July 2013 and demanded intervention on behalf of millions of protesters, was actually just five guys in an office whose name and social media popularity was co-opted (or at least force-multiplied) by the military and Interior Ministry as a front group to legitimize the coup. The original organization leaders would send talking points to state television and the Army would rewrite them and then put them out over the air under the Tamarod name anyway. But, then again, he also suspects three of his co-founders may actually have been Army plants all along.

By the end of June, he asserts they were effectively no longer in control of the group as Interior staff began using its offices to stage and organize protesters to rally against the president — down to the logistical level of how many little flags and water bottles were needed. In other words, more like a highly choreographed U.S. presidential convention audience with pre-printed signs than a spontaneous mass demonstration of affection for the military and disgust with the president.

The June 2013 protests always seemed way too well organized (or rather, unusually well supplied) to me, but I tend to hesitate to jump on board with suggestions that may prove to be conspiracy theories. These allegations aren’t necessarily true either — the Buzzfeed reporters had trouble finding anyone who could corroborate his account and he sometimes hinted he had been less ignorant of the situation at the time than he lets on — but it would certainly fit with a suspicious pattern that resulted in a very rapid emergence of a mass produced Cult of Personality surrounding (soon-to-be-president) General Sisi within a week or so of the coup.

Then again, maybe I’m just looking for even more reasons to be disgusted with the idea of millions of people rallying enthusiastically for the replacement of transitional democracy with military dictatorship — and with their Western cheerleaders who, to this day (despite all the terrible things the new government has done or endorsed), can’t contain their excitement for military rule, in their haste to quash Islamic participation in government.

Ukraine’s decision point

Protests in Ukraine, active since November, have turned increasingly violent this past week in the face of government crackdowns. As I’ve argued before on this blog, while the Ukraine/EU/Russia triangle is a highly complex and multifaceted problem, a lot of the present crisis ultimately ties back to and derives from Ukraine’s unwillingness to deal seriously with its huge divide between its ethnically Ukrainian population and its ethnically Russian population. No matter which one is in charge, the other is upset and ready to protest.

Yes ethnically Ukrainian protesters should have a right to express themselves peacefully and freely. Yes the current ethnically Russian-led government should be able to enact some major policies its base supports, assuming they don’t oppress the other side or restrict freedoms by group. But the protesters and elected officials — who are mutually antagonizing each other into ratcheting up the stakes and responses — all need to realize that the state should accommodate the interests and acknowledge the views of all its citizens, including both those who elected the ruling party and those who did not.

That means the ruling party sometimes watering down policies more than its base would like (to protect the other side from abuses) and the opposition sometimes accepting that policies will be enacted even if they don’t agree with that course (because sometimes the majority has to get its way).

There has to be a unified, national identity to make the country function and cohabitate peacefully in the long run. It can’t always be about trying to impose the will of one group on the other group or resisting the winning party’s agenda at all costs.

And in turn, however, the West needs to step up to the plate and stop hovering anxiously as if they have no role or influence. They can put pressure on Russia to stop pressuring/intimidating the Ukrainian leadership and its eastern, ethnically Russian population.

They can also reiterate to the pro-Western protesters (and the pro-Russian government for that matter) that there’s a middle ground between never getting your way and getting your way by any means necessary. To be part of the European project, those protesters can’t light the country on fire. That doesn’t fly in liberal-democratic communities. Sometimes you have to be willing to allow for differences of opinions and policy — such as whether to form trade partnerships with Russia versus with the EU — without taking to the streets and brawling with the police.

Right now, Ukraine is standing at a decision point about what kind of a country it wants to be, both politically and as a people. It’s a dangerous moment because the West is dithering and refusing to take action or speak up seriously. It’s time for a public expression of the nuances that come with liberal democracy… as well as a reminder that a unified nationalism, divorced from ethnic divides, will be necessary to make Ukraine work.

Anne Applebaum expressed a similar sentiment in Slate tonight:

It will take a while for these new truths to sink in, but once Ukrainians realize that the ideal of the color revolution is dead, and that the West has no tools to revive it, there may be consequences. If peaceful demonstrations don’t work, after all, some may logically conclude that it’s time to use violence. Ukrainians have indeed constructed violent resistance movements more than once in the past century. It’s even possible that the Ukrainian government hopes they will do so again, as that might rapidly render all opposition illegitimate.

There is a less worst-case scenario, but it will require more patience than almost anybody has, and more thinking than almost anybody wants to do. What Ukraine really needs now is a slower, deeper, cultural change, led by Ukrainians who want to live in a less corrupt state. The Ukrainians need to create strong alternative institutions such as media, or trade unions or schools, as well as political organizations. They need to persuade their businessmen to change the climate. They need to found companies that refuse to do “business as usual.”

 

Building a nation and a true liberal democracy is tough stuff. There are no easy solutions here. Both sides are intensifying the situation and responding inappropriately (and would likely do the same if power roles were reversed). Everyone needs to step back now and figure out if this path is the one they really want to go down. There has to be something that can bring everyone together as one nation, without regard to language or ethnic differences.

For more discussion, listen to our most recent radio episode, “Arsenal for Democracy 70 – Afghanistan, Ukraine, Christie.”

The Right to Resist

revolution-of-1830Another excellent article by Ta-Nehisi Coates (aren’t his always?):
Mandela and the Question of Violence

Funny how Americans reserve the right to resist tyranny through violence — it’s one of the core premises of hardline Second Amendment fans — but they also want to reserve the right to declare when it is acceptable for others to do the same. By arming some groups and opposing the arming of others. By calling some “freedom fighters” and some “terrorists” who must renounce violence. And so on.

Who made us the arbiters anyway?

I’m not going to say I’m not sometimes guilty of some of the same double standards, but I’m also a lot more open than most to considering the legitimacy (or at least understandability) of armed resistances, even if I think it’s inadvisable in many cases.

Related Reading – The Globalist: Slavery and Guns: America’s “Peculiar Institutions” | How U.S. “gun rights” today are an extension of a right created to preserve slavery.

Deja vu in Thailand and Ukraine

I think there are some pretty interesting parallels between the current wave of protests in Thailand and in Ukraine, as barricades are thrown up yet again in the capitals.

The central theme in both is a recurring cycling back and forth of two major political and economic factions under the same sets of leaders, reversed more by political upheaval than constitutionally-approved changes in government, without any sign of a permanent resolution.

In Thailand

After the 2006 military coup against the rural-backed, Red-led government, there was an uprising in 2008 by the Yellow faction and then another uprising in 2010 by the Red faction, which leads us to the current uprising (Yellow).

Commitment to democracy in Thailand is pretty low, in both the military and the urban middle class/business elites. (The latter are both generally aligned with the Yellow faction, against the Shinawatra family’s Red faction. The military and riot police tend to side with the Yellow faction but sometimes intervene against both sides.)

Then again, the Redshirt protestors in the capital’s downtown area in 2010 were basically attempting to lead an armed popular overthrow of the government and were only suppressed when the military decided to remain aligned with the Yellow-led government and cracked down. So, they’re no winners on the democratic values front either.

Now, it’s certainly not unheard of for political parties in developed democracies to have overt, semi-official, or informal party alignments based on class (middle class vs. populist poor) or geography (urban vs. rural and/or suburban), if not both. In fact, it’s probably the norm, if you look at the UK, Japan, France, the United States, etc.

But Thailand, which is still (clearly) not an established democracy, is probably taking the alignments a bit literally. That is despite the low likelihood that either side achieving total political control would result in any kind of social revolution of any serious depth.

But until they solve their political geography and class warfare problem — and until they get the military to stop intervening — Thailand isn’t going to break the endless cycle of totally unproductive but headline-grabbing popular uprisings. And for a country whose economy is heavily centered on tourism, the political situation for the last seven years has not been helpful to anyone.

Meanwhile in Ukraine…

I’m not going to comment on why Ukraine seems to capture more U.S. attention than Thailand, but it seems to. Anyway: Russian-aligned Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych recently ended efforts — initiated by his political opposition years ago and already on the skids anyway — to join the European Union, and announced plans to seek closer economic ties with Russia instead.

This triggered huge protests in the capital because the rival faction’s distaste for a foreign policy decision means it’s time to overthrow the government, again, it would seem. They are the largest protests seen since the late 2004 October Revolution.

I could well be wrong — and there are indeed a lot of dominoes falling inside his own government right now — but I suspect Yanukovych is secure in power, contrary to the excited Western reporting.

Ukraine has long been split between the pro-Russian side and the pro-European side (with high levels of animosity on both sides) and there have been plenty of protests on both sides with varying degrees of success since the USSR broke up in 1991. The pro-Russian side, largely concentrated toward the eastern end of the country, which borders the Russian Federation, is largely composed of ethnically Russian citizens, including President Yanukovych. They weren’t happy about the USSR’s collapse and fear(ed) reprisals.

The ethnic Russians fear reprisals because of the many terrible things the Russian Empire and especially the Russian-dominated Soviet central government perpetrated against the ethnic Ukrainian population, such as the Holodomor planned-starvation genocide under Stalin. The ethnic Ukrainian population is concentrated toward the western side of the country and has aligned itself with Europe, like many of the former Soviet satellites and postwar Soviet Republics (Ukraine is an interwar Soviet Republic).

So why is Yanukovych probably not going anywhere (or at least not anywhere far)? For one thing, it’s worth recalling right off the bat that while it’s true the last time we saw protests this big, in 2004, he was the one pushed to the side, the current protests exist because that uprising didn’t actually permanently get him out of the picture. If it had, he wouldn’t be in office now getting protested.

Much like the Thailand cycles discussed above, such is the rota fortunae of ex-Soviet Republic politics outside Russia: the same set of people cycling up and and down, facing Russia then Europe then back again. Lately we’ve seen the pro-Western/anti-Russian president of Georgia, who arrived in a parallel uprising in 2004, similarly finds his political fortunes fading as an opposing pro-Russian coalition rose to power. Other examples are strewn across the Central Asian ex-Soviet republics.

In Ukraine, it’s especially pronounced and more rapid. Current President (and target of protests) Viktor Yanukovych, as prime minister running for president, literally poisoned his opponent with dioxin in 2004 (see this 2006 photo of then-President Yushchenko’s face post-poison attempt), was kept out of the presidency by popular uprising, and then became prime minister again less than two years later. By early 2010 Yanukovych was elected president anyway, barely five years after the “Orange Revolution.”

But the second reason I don’t see him being flung from office is more specific to this situation: the Russians can do all sorts of things to bolster the Yanukovych government and blackmail the rest of the country into certain foreign and economic policy directions, while the EU can’t.

In contrast to the Russians, the European Union has offered very little and continues to be pretty powerless in helping the opposition. I have no idea what big plan they could suddenly float here, particularly given that Yanukovych is the democratically elected leader of Ukraine and, although repressive, isn’t just some guy who seized power and can be pressured from office. Unlike in 2004 when he tried to steal the election, he’s already in office, because he won. A lot of people don’t want him in office, but a lot of people definitely do. That’s the reality of the East/West split in Ukrainian politics and the citizenry.

Most of the EU’s offers to Ukraine are predicated upon Yanukovych first releasing political prisoners from his opposition, which isn’t going to happen by magic. Unfortunately, it’s not like they have much of a carrot or a stick to back that demand up, particularly since he never wanted a European alliance in the first place. Such demands only work when you have something the other person a) wants and b) can’t get elsewhere.

Now, as I said, I could be proven totally wrong here on the outcome of this latest round of protests, but the excitement of first-person POV camera phone shots doesn’t always translate to political reality.

And, even if Yanukovych falls from power again, he’ll probably be right back on top within 5 years. Ukraine won’t solve any of this for real until they solve their East/West Russia/Ukraine divide. The EU would probably me more useful to Ukraine if it made an effort to bridge this divide and bring everyone together so they can compete democratically and constitutionally for power, without endless recriminations and fear of sudden, repressive policy shifts one way or the other.