JOHANNESBURG – IS longtime former President Blaise Compaore – deposed by his people last year – behind this week’s military coup in Burkina Faso? And will he now return to the Presidential Palace he was forced to flee a year ago by a popular uprising which interrupted his 27 years in power?
The long-reigning Compaore seems an obvious suspect since Gilbert Diendere, formerly Compaore’s longtime right-hand man and chief military adviser, was installed yesterday as the chairman of the “National Council for Democracy”, the military junta which has assumed power.
Diendere’s men stormed into a meeting of the cabinet on Wednesday and seized interim President Michael Kafando and Prime Minister Isaac Zida and several other members of the government.
The new military rulers announced they were dissolving the country’s transitional institutions to prepare for new elections.
The National Transitional Council, which has been running the country since Compaore was toppled in a popular uprising last October, was planning to hold elections for a permanent new government on October 14 this year.
But Compaore’s former ruling party, the CDP, were angered by a new law forbidding many of his former political allies from running in the election.
Compaore was forced out of power by a huge public demonstration when he tried to change the constitution to run for office again.
The transitional government has barred from next month’s elections, any of his allies who were involved in his bid to remain in office.
And the strong hand of the 1300-strong Régiment de sécurité présidentielle (RSP) or Presidential Security Regiment – aka the Presidential Guard – is also being seen in this week’s coup. Compaore created this guard and it was his main enforcer, keeping him in power against his political enemies during his long reign.
The guard was disturbed by plans which were announced just this week by the transitional government to dissolve it, as part of a wider reform of the military, said David Zounmenou, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria. He believed that triggered the coup.
He said yesterday (Thursday) that the Presidential Guard had been a powerful force in Burkinabe politics and could not accept the loss of power which was being contemplated in the planned shake up of the military.
“The objective of the coup is to re-establish the primacy of the Presidential Guard in the Burkina Faso political dispensation, not necessarily to bring back Compaore,” he said.
Zounmenou said it was possible Compaore was behind the coup but he thought it would be too difficult for him to return to the presidential palace. “I don’t think they will be stupid enough to try to restore him to office, but they would put in place someone who would protect him.”
He also noted that this was the fourth time this year that the Presidential Guard had flexed its muscles by storming into the presidential palace to try to intimidate the transitional government into backing off its plans to defang the guard and the CDP.
Zounmenou said when news broke on Wednesday that the guard had taken the transitional government leaders hostage, he believed this was yet another attempt to scare them into backing off. But this time they seemed to have gone further, in a complete seizure of power.
The journal Africa Confidential had warned in July that “the RSP’s reluctance to accommodate itself to service without elite status or the privileged access to luxuries that characterised its life under Compaoré is causing deep concern. The Regiment sees itself as a legitimate protector of Burkina’s political institutions but it is fuelling fear of a comeback by Compaoré or people very much like him.”
Zounmenou’s colleague William Assanvo, a senior researcher in the ISS office in Dakar, said the next big question was how the Ouagadougou “street” would respond to the coup. Last year political parties, civil society and youth organisations rose up as one in massive demonstrations which forced Compaore to abandon his bid to change the constitution to allow him to run for president again.
But this time the opposition was more divided and there was no evidence yet that the capital would witness the same huge crowds as a year ago. For one thing, Assanvo said, Compaore’s old party, the CPS has deliberately refused to condemn the coup and has instead said the transitional government brought it on itself by barring Compaore supporters from participating in next month’s elections.
The military junta was quick to disperse crowds trying to form in the centre of the capital yesterday.
Zounmenou said excluding Compaore’s supporters had been a mistake by the transitional government which had been criticised the court of justice of Ecowas – the Economic Community of West African States.
What the African Union and the wider international community does next is also crucial. The AU, UN and Ecowas all condemned the military takeover – which they called a “flagrant violation of the Constitution and the Transitional Charter”, in a joint statement.
They called for the immediate release of the detained transitional leaders and for the military junta to restore power to the civilian authorities.
The AU has an explicit policy which calls for the suspension of any government which seizes power by “unconstitutional means” – especially military coups. This could happen now, although the AU also seems likely to send envoys to Ouagadougou first to try to persuade the junta to relinquish power.
Assanvo said with such strong condemnation of the coup by the international community, he believed it would be impossible for the military junta to remain in power for long.
Observers believe that the junta might agree to step down if the ban on Compaore supporters from participating in the elections and the plans to scrap the Presidential Guard, are rescinded.
The South African government joined the chorus of international condemnation yesterday saying it “strongly condemns any attempt to seize power through extra-constitutional means or the resolution of political disagreements through the use of force. This incident is a serious violation of Burkina Faso’s Constitution and the country’s Transitional Charter.
“South Africa calls for the immediate release of Interim President Kafando, Prime Minister Zida and other leaders, and appeals to the people and all political leaders in the country to refrain from any violent activities that may further undermine peace, security and stability in the country. We urge all involved, including Burkina Faso’s security forces, to adhere to non-violence, and to debate issues in a peaceful and inclusive manner.”
The US also condemned the extra-constitutional seizure of power and called for the immediate release of the interim leaders.
“We call for an immediate end to violence, urge the military personnel involved to return to their primary mission, and reaffirm our steadfast support for the civilian transitional government to continue its work of preparing for free, fair, and credible elections on October 11.” – ANA