Saturday, September 26, 2015

Burkina Faso Government Disbands Elite Unit Behind Coup

Burkina Faso's cabinet on Friday dissolved the elite presidential guard that took the president and prime minister hostage in a failed coup just weeks before elections, according to a series of decrees read on state television.

The government, in its first cabinet meeting since President Michel Kafando was restored to power on Wednesday, also dismissed the minister in charge of security and created a commission to identify those responsible for the coup attempt.

The commission was given 30 days to submit a report on the coup, which began on Sept. 16. Prosecutions would follow.

"Judicial prosecutions will immediately be engaged against the authors and accomplices," state television RTB announced.

The cabinet also abolished the post of head of the president's military council.

Eleven people were killed and 271 others were wounded in the wake of the coup as presidential guard soldiers clashed with anti-coup protesters on the streets of the capital Ouagadougou, according to an official government figure announced on Friday.

Before the coup, Burkina Faso was planning to hold elections on Oct. 11, marking a return to democracy a year after demonstrators toppled President Blaise Compaore as he attempted to extend his 27-year rule. It is not clear if the vote will still go ahead on schedule.

General Gilbert Diendere, Compaore's former spy chief and right-hand man, said he staged the coup over the exclusion of several of the former leader's allies from participating in the polls and plans to disband the presidential guard.

He apologized for the putsch after it failed.

Under a deal brokered this week between Diendere's men and loyalist troops aimed at avoiding clashes in the capital, the presidential guard, or RSP, agreed to be confined to barracks.

"The process to disarm the RSP indeed began this Friday morning. The packing up of their weaponry started in the afternoon," chief of the army General Pingrenoma Zagre said in a statement.

(Reporting by Mathieu Bonkoungou and Nadoun Coulibaly; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Mark Heinrich and James Dalgleish)

How the people of Burkina Faso foiled a military coup

Simon Allison
Friday 25 September 2015 04.06 EDT

If there is one thing that Burkina Faso has proved, it is that the country has an almost unlimited capacity to confound the predictions of even the most seasoned observers.

When citizens protested against then president Blaise Compaoré last year, no one expected the mass movement to work – or to see the much-feared Compaoré, who had clung to power for 27 years, retreat into exile. And last week, when the head of the presidential guard arrested the interim leadership and declared himself in charge just three weeks before planned elections, few thought that General Gilbert Diendéré would be forced out within the week.

Yet this is exactly what happened.

The major reason for the coup’s defeat was that it was instantly unpopular. When the military takeover was announced on 18 September, there were spontaneous demonstrations in the capital Ouagadougou. In October 2014, it was protests just like these – organised under the banner of the Balai Citoyen (Citizen’s Broom) movement – that forced Compaoré out of office.

Emboldened by this success, the Burkinabé were not afraid to challenge the latest threat to democracy.

“The [popular protests against the coup] demonstrated that the Régiment de sécurité présidentielle [the presidential guard] did not have control over the vast majority of the country and would not be able to rule for long,” said Eloise Bertrand, a researcher from the University of Warwick and expert on Burkinabé opposition movements.

The second major factor was the resistance from the regular army, who made it clear that they were willing to act against the elite presidential guard. By ordering that Ouagadougou be surrounded, army chiefs told General Diendéré – in a language that the long-time military man would understand – that he would have to fight to maintain his grip on power.

The third reason was that Diendéré and his loyalists – who have strong ties to the Compaoré regime – were surprised by the vehemence of the continental response. The coup was instantly condemned in the strongest possible terms by the African Union (AU), while regional body the Economic Community for West African States (Ecowas) scrambled together a high-level mediation team.

“The AU considers the announcement by the military of the ‘dismissal’ of President Michel Kafando and the attempt of substituting him with ‘new authorities’ as null and void,” said the AU chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in a statement.

This is unusually strong language for an institution that has a reputation for hedging its bets.

Ecowas played a more direct role. It was only after talks with the Ecowas mediation team that interim president Michel Kafando was returned to office, with the mediators instrumental in persuading Diendéré to accept the deal.

“Ecowas played a highly significant role that demonstrates the potential for effective regional intervention,” said Frank Charnas, CEO of risk analysis firm Afrique Consulting. Charnas said that the Senegalese president, Macky Sall, had initially led the efforts to resolve the situation. But when civil society groups questioned his apparent willingness to grant immunity to the coup leaders, the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, took the lead.

This high-profile involvement has helped burnish Buhari’s credentials as an African statesman. “Certainly, this may aid his image with regard to foreign diplomacy … in the silent war for continental diplomatic influence between Nigeria and Ecowas, and South Africa and Sadc [the Southern African Diplomatic Community], the Burkina situation as it currently stands could be chalked up as a victory for the west Africans,” said Charnas.

David Zounmenou, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, agrees that Buhari’s role was pivotal. “Given his status as a former coup leader and now democratically elected president, [Buhari] might have been decisive in calling for the return of the interim president, and that message was directly conveyed to the coup-makers,” he said.

For Zounmenou, the peaceful resolution of the Burkina Faso situation reflects improving governance in the region as a whole. “Burkina Faso will be a reminder that coups or military intrusion can no longer be tolerated in west Africa. It is a strong signal to send coup-makers home empty handed. This is the third leader removed from power in disgrace, including Dadis Camara [Guinea], Amadou Sanogo [Mali] and now Gilbert Diendéré. Democracy has promising days ahead in the region,” he said.

In a further sign of progress in the region, Ecowas leaders narrowly failed to pass a resolution in May outlawing all third terms for presidents in the region (the move was blocked by Togo and Gambia).

Attention turns now to what happens next in Burkina Faso, where elections are tentatively planned for November.

Before they can go ahead, the country must tackle the issues which led to the short-lived coup in the first place: the outsized role of the presidential guard in government, the candidacy of members of Compaoré’s former ruling party in the upcoming poll, and impunity for officials implicated in crimes committed during Compaoré’s rule – including the death of the legendary former president Thomas Sankara, with which Diendéré has repeatedly been linked.

“It is a step in the right direction in the sense that the transition has been preserved … it shows that the Burkinabé people are still ready to defend what they fought for in 2014 and to prevent anyone from confiscating their revolution,” said Bertrand.

The rise and fall of Burkina Faso's coup: what you need to know

A seizure of power threatened to derail forthcoming elections, but a swift intervention from regional heads of state seems to have restored order – for now. Global Voices online reports

Rakotomalala and Nadia Karoui for Global Voices online, part of the Guardian Africa network
Thursday 24 September 2015 07.54 EDT

A coup in Burkina Faso threatened to pull the country further into political crisis, with leading ministers detained, violent clashes on the streets of the capital, and a wide-eyed general installed overnight as head of state.

But a swift intervention from west African countries including Senegal, Benin, and headed by Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, has restored the country to order in an unprecedented – and peaceful – turnaround.

The country was plunged into crisis a week ago when the powerful presidential guard detained the interim leaders – who had been in charge since a popular uprising deposed the iron-fisted president Blaise Compaoré last October after his failed bid to extend his 27-year rule.

Members of the Regiment of Presidential Security (RSP) detained Michel Kafando and his prime minister Isaac Zida for more than two days, naming General Gilbert Diendéré, longtime aid to Compaoré, as the new leader of the country.

But on Wednesday, Kafando was returned to power after emergency talks with the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), led by new Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari.

“The transition has been restored and this very minute I am resuming the exercise of power,” Kafando, said in an announcement on Wednesday.

The move came after marathon talks in Abuja, and threats by the French president, François Hollande, that the coup leaders should surrender immediately or face the “consequences”.

The Regiment of Presidential Security (RSP) is a branch of Burkina Faso’s military in charge of protecting the president, its institutions and any person designated by the president of Burkina Faso.

The RSP was created by Compaoré as a way to assert authority after the assassination of Thomas Sankara, Compaoré’s predecessor and beloved popular leader.

A force 1,200 men strong, the RSP is known amongst the Burkinabé people for its substantial weaponry, and its autonomy from any other armed force, since it exclusively operates under the president’s command.

Thomas Sankara was the charismatic leader of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987, loved for his anti-colonialist and pan-Africanist policies. He was overthrown in a coup led by Compaoré in 1987 and assassinated shortly after, though it remains unclear whether Compoaré was directly involved in the killing.

A principal figure in the RSP, Diendéré was also actively involved in the coup that deposed Sankara.

What does this have to do with the upcoming elections?

The presidential and legislative elections were supposed to take place in Burkina Faso on 11 October.

But in an interview with Jeune Afrique, Diendéré justified his takeover by claiming the RSP “decided to take action to prevent the disruption of Burkina Faso due to the insecurity looming during pre-elections.”

However, critics have suggested this is merely justification for the group to take power and to reestablish the preceding regime by force.

Furthermore, the autopsy results expected to shed light on Sankara’s assassination were supposed to be published on 17 September, the day of the coup. The autopsy has taken 30 years to come to fruition because the Burkina administration under Compaoré refused to allow an independent committee access to the body. The autopsy results are still held secret as of today leading many to speculate that the RSP don’t want to result to be made public for fear or incriminating Compaoré or Diendéré.

The overnight deal to restore the interim administration to power was signed after troops entered Ouagadougou, turning up the pressure on the elite RSP who staged the coup. Under its terms, the RSP agreed to stand down from the positions they had taken up in Ouagadougou, while the army also agreed to withdraw its troops and guarantee the safety of the RSP members as well as their families.

Did the citizen resistance make a difference?

The Balai Citoyen movement, initiated by Burkina Faso’s youth, was an important element in last year’s 30 October popular upheaval which toppled Compaoré. On that day, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of capital and other big villages, headed for the authorities’ headquarters and demanding that Compaoré should obey the constitutional term limits and cede power.

The hashtag #lwili (meaning “little bird” in Mooré, the most widely spoken language of Burkina Faso), was created to share the latest news updates on the crisis as well as promote various citizen’s initiatives.

On announcing the coup on 16 September, spontaneous opposition demonstrations once again took place in the streets of the capital. A radio station, Radio de la Résistance Citoyenne (Citizen’s Resistance Radio), was set up to call on activists to take action against the RSP’s attempt to take power.

Now that the interim leaders have been restored to power, Kafanda has promised the government will “take into account the will of the Burkinabé people” in the next steps, ahead of the general election.

There were signs that people on the streets are furious at the suggestion of an amnesty for the coup ringleaders. It was unclear early on Wednesday if the amnesty had made it into the deal signed between the coup leaders and the army.

A version of this article first appeared on Global Voices online

Associated Press contributed to this report

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