Keys to Understanding the Political Crisis in Burkina Faso
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Last week’s coup in Burkina Faso is another symptom of the political problem the country has been dealing with since the end of the 1980s when a plot ended Thomas Sankara’s life and took Blaise Compaoré to power.

Burkina Faso

teleSur English talked to Yiboula Bazier Emmanuel about the key aspects of what’s going on in his country. A prominent political activist and fiercely opposed to Compaoré, he currently lives in Spain, hoping of returning to a stable and democratic Burkina Faso. For that reason, he has never stopped contacting other groups and holding meetings in order to propose solutions and alternatives. At the same time, his group, the Humanitarian Association of Help and Development for Burkina Faso has been involved in many projects focused on improving the quality of life of his people.

According to Bazier, “The cornerstone of this crisis is the ousted President Blaise Compaoré and the whole structure.” The former soldier took power after Thomas Sankara’s assassination under mysterious circumstances by soldiers in 1987. He remained in office until a massive social uprising overthrew him in October last year. The reason behind the uprising was his attempt to reform the constitution in order to extend his mandate. The new Magna Carta approved in 2000 limited presidents to two terms, each of them lasting five years.

About to finish his time in power, his bid did not get much sympathy among the local population. His policies of change were not fulfilled and they led to high prices and low salaries in a country that still remains at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index. Distrust gave way to protests resulting in a tremendous outburst that set the parliament on fire and ended with Compaoré resigning and going into exile in the Ivory Coast, leaving 32 dead and hundreds wounded. And this was not new for Compaoré, who had already faced various violent street demonstrations, including a military mutiny in 2011.

The apparent calm ever since then turned again to tension when Gen. Gilbert Diendere led a coup against the assigned interim President, Michel Kafando, last week. Many believe this undemocratic maneuver was due to the unhappiness of the Presidential Security Regime (RSP in its French initials) with the new direction the country was adopting. On the one hand, the new electoral law banned several candidates who supported Compaoré’s bid to run for presidency in the elections that were due to happen Oct. 11. On the other hand, it pushes the integration of the RSP with the national army.

“The RSP is a group of 1,300 mercenaries coming from different countries with hidden interests in Burkina. Compaoré set it up in 1996 to protect himself and mutually benefit,” says Bazier. He adds that “the real ones behind the coup are Blaise Compaoré and some Western allies because they want to destabilize, in the shadows, the West African sub region [this favors a strategic position of European powers in a wave of neocolonialism] as they previously did in the Ivory Coast, Mali, Togo and currently Burkina. France, for instance, which has condemned the coup, has an ambiguous position when it comes to deeper actions.”

That is why, he emphasizes that “only when Compaoré, Diendere and all these perpetrators are arrested and judged for the crimes they committed over 30 years, will the country finally be able to rest peacefully and the bigger issue will be resolved”. The two major crimes people are still expecting to be judged are the cases of Thomas Sankara and Norbert Zongo.

The outcome of the judgment for the plot against and killing of Thomas Sankara is around the corner and France is not keen on attracking worldwide attention as the European country backed Compaore’s move to power in 1987. For that reason, “having Compaore’s network ruling would play in favor of these elites and justice will not be done,” stresses Bazier.

Norbert Zongo was the editor of the weekly newspaper L’Indépendant and was also assassinated in 1998, at the age of 49, while investigating allegations linking the brother of Burkina Faso's former president to a high-profile unsolved murder. Zongo himself had warned that he might end up killed as he had received many death threats. The government initially claimed it was an accident, sparking long demonstrations. “This is still very present in Burkinabes’ minds and we want to know what really happened. A new democratic government, out of Compaore’s hands would expose the truth,” says Bazier.

There is more, as the former president also backed rebels and fuelled civil wars in neighbouring countries. Western countries, particularly France and the U.S., seemed to turn an eye blind to this. Compaoré became the strongest ally in the region by claiming to be an indispensable mediator. Besides he has used his networks to assist Western powers in their battle against Islamist groups in the Sahel to protect their interests.

At the moment, tensions have lowered after the truce was signed overnight on Wednesday by coup plotters and the national army in front of the country’s most influential leader, Mogho Naba. With this temporary agreement, the RSP agreed to remain in barracks and depose Michel Kafando, who was already acting as interim president again, from power. The army, meanwhile, has retreated 50km from the capital, Ouagadougou, and has guaranteed the safety of RSP members and their families.

For Bazier however, “It is just a strategy that Diendiere normally uses and will not solve anything because the population does not have any trust in him or it.” Burkinabes and other political parties support the national army. However, it lacks weapons, and so the agreement seems to be a rational decision for the good of the community in the short-term. At least it has served to avoid more bloodshed as between 10 and 20 people (official numbers still unclear) have lost their lives in clashes since the beginning of the coup.

The accord came ahead of the arrival of the delegation of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to Burkina Faso with a proposed plan to stabilize the country. This would give full amnesty for Diendiere and his troops as well as allowing candidates of former Blaise Compaoré to run for presidency in the upcoming elections likely to take place in November.

Bazier is skeptical and thinks that Ecowas is just “hypocritical” because although they are apparently looking for solutions, “they are committed to European interests, particularly those of France as a former colonial power”. Indeed, the majority of the population openly rejects Ecowas’ approach as they do not accept amnesty for those who led the coup.

Ecowas is made up of 15 West African states, with Burkina Faso being one of its founding members. It aims to promote economic integration across the region, where it also serves as a peacekeeping force. Edward Snowden’s documents in December 2013 showed that the surveillance of British and American intelligence agencies included this institution.

The Land of the Upright People (the meaning of Burkina Faso in More and Dioula languages) honors its name more than ever. 

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