Is Burkina Faso out of the woods?

The attempted military coup in Burkina Faso might have failed, but this should not overshadow the many issues that must still be addressed.

Burkina Faso is currently emerging from the worst crisis since the popular uprising in October last year, which led to the fall of former president Blaise Compaoré. 

The recent crisis was triggered by the 16 September military coup that was launched by members of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) – former presidential guards – who dissolved all the institutions of the transitional government. 

The crisis ended on 23 September when transitional president, Michel Kafando, was reinstated. The first post-coup cabinet meeting was held two days later.

While this marks the end of the military coup attempt, and heralds a gradual return to normal, various issues still have to be addressed. The international community has unanimously and strongly condemned the RSP’s interference in the transition process. To put an end to it, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) initiated a mediation process, which on 20 September resulted in a draft proposal to end the crisis.

Burkina Faso is emerging from the worst crisis since the popular uprising in October last year

This proposal has, however, been strongly contested by Burkinabe parties. On 22 September, following an extraordinary summit in Abuja, Nigeria, ECOWAS heads of state called on the putschists to disarm and demanded a return to the transition process.

Before this, on 21 September, some units of the national armed forces moved from the countryside to the capital, Ouagadougou, to disarm the RSP. This brought about a significant shift in the balance of power, to the disadvantage of the RSP. It also exacerbated tensions and raised fears of a possible military confrontation. A clash of this kind was, however, prevented after the RSP and the armed forces signed an agreement on the night of 21 September, with support from the Mogho Naba, the traditional authority of the Mossi people.

However, as the country tries to get the electoral process back on track and so end the transitional period, many issues remain unresolved or sensitive. These include the fate of the RSP and the proposal of amnesty for all crimes committed during the days following the putsch. There is also controversy over whether candidates from the former majority should be allowed to participate in the upcoming elections.

The actions of the RSP seem to have sealed its fate. During a ministerial council meeting held on 25 September, the decision was taken to dissolve the RSP. This seems to have definitively settled the debate after months of controversy with no concrete solution or consensus.

The aim of the transitional government is to neutralise the RSP's ability to interfere in the political process. The RSP is, however, likely to resist this decision. A governmental decree alone will not dismantle the institution, which has been a vital influence, and played an important role in the country's history and the various political crises of the past two decades.

As Burkina Faso tries to get the electoral process back on track, many issues remain unresolved

Currently, the members of the RSP are being confined at the Naaba Koom II military camp, located behind the presidential palace in Kosyam. The operation, which is now underway, should be accompanied by an inventory of RSP equipment, which is now being moved to other military sites.

It can also be viewed as a disarmament exercise that has already been resisted by elements within the RSP, who are reportedly requesting guarantees for their safety. This demand is related to the request for amnesty for coup leaders that was mentioned in the ECOWAS draft agreement. This proposal, which many see as a reward for impunity, has outraged a large majority of the Burkinabe population.

Members of RSP are suspected to have violated people and property rights, which, according to a provisional estimate, resulted in 11 deaths and 271 wounded.

During the 25 September Council of Ministers meeting, it was decided that a commission of inquiry would be established to ‘allocate responsibility [and] identify the perpetrators, accomplices, soldiers and civilians involved in the attempted coup.’ This does not reflect the transitional authorities’ willingness to grant amnesty.  The same can be said of the many steps initiated by magistrates’ trade unions and human rights organisations, with a view to collect evidence of the human rights violations committed in the days after the coup. However, these endeavours against the coup perpetrators could further complicate efforts to disarm and dismantle the RSP. It might even push some of its elements, feeling cornered, to commit desperate acts.

To justify the coup, the putschists also referred to the exclusion of some of the former political majority candidates from the forthcoming elections. The reintegration of candidates whose applications for presidential and legislative elections were made invalid by the Constitutional Council was included in the ECOWAS draft agreement.  However, since the coup failed and the transitional authorities are now working to put the electoral process back on track, this demand no longer seems relevant. In fact, the first vice president of the former ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), Achille Tapsoba, recently stated that the participation of CDP candidates in the forthcoming elections was no longer an issue.

Both Burkina Faso's transitional authorities and the political process remain fragile

Besides, the majority of political actors and civil society organisations are not willing to go back on decisions that were already taken by the Constitutional Council. Moreover, the ambiguous attitude adopted by the CDP – some of its leaders endorsed and even supported the coup – does not make the case for their inclusion any easier.

Efforts to normalise the political situation continue – and, although they have been restored, both the transitional authorities and the political process remain fragile. Burkina Faso’s political actors must take clear lessons learnt from the recent crisis, and try to find answers to outstanding issues. Only in this way can there be real prospects for a peaceful electoral process. It is therefore important not to give the impression that a payback is taking place, as this would most likely exacerbate frustrations and further undermine the country’s stability.

William Assanvo, Senior Researcher; Ella Abatan, Junior Fellow; and Pascaline Compaoré, Junior Fellow, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Dakar

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