Burkina Faso’s President Reinstated and Elections Rescheduled after Coup

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and interim President of Burkina Faso, Michel Kafando
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Burkina Faso’s interim President Michel Kafando was reinstated on September 23, 2015, following a truce agreement between coup leaders and the national army. [BBC News: Reinstated; Al Jazeera: Coup leaders sign truce] This truce agreement came after the September 16th coup in which members of the Regiment of Presidential Security (RSP, for its French name: Régiment de sécurité présidentielle), calling themselves the National Democratic Council, under the leadership of General Gilbert Diendéré, kidnapped interim President Kafando, Prime Minister Zida, and two ministry officials, Augustin Loada and Rene Bagoro. [The Guardian: Warning Shots; The Guardian: Violent Protests] Following this, the military announced that it was in power and that the transitional government, which had been put into place in November 2014, had been dissolved. [Al Jazeera: Military Claims Control; Al Jazeera: Transitional Government] Under the agreement that was reached on September 23rd, the RSP agreed to step down and return to its barracks and the national army agreed to withdraw its troops from the capital, Ouagadougou, and guarantee the RSP’s safety. [Al Jazeera: Coup leaders sign truce]

Background to the Coup

The RSP is an elite army unit of 1,300 soldiers, originally established by and still loyal to former President Blaise Compaoré. Compaoré had established the unit for his own protection after his predecessor and ally, Thomas Sankara, had been killed during a coup. Compaoré currently remains in exile after popular protests in October 2014, in which hundreds of thousands of people participated, forced him to resign and flee after he had attempted to force a constitutional change that would allow his rule to be extended beyond the 27 years that he had been in power.  [BBC News: Behind the coup; The Guardian: Power struggle; International Crisis Group]

Several reasons have been put forth as to why the coup took place. These include Diendéré’s claims that the coup was a way to prevent disruptions that would likely arise in the time period leading up to elections which had been scheduled for October 11th. He also pointed to the transitional government’s refusal to allow associates of former President Compaoré from contesting the elections and its decision to dissolve the RSP as a reason for the coup. Others have suggested that the coup was a way for the RSP to reestablish its power and a way to prevent the autopsy results of former president Sankara, which were to be published on September 17th, from becoming public out of fear that their results would incriminate Compaoré or Diendéré. [The Guardian: What You Need to Know; BBC: Seven Lessons; International Crisis Group]

Following the coup, hundreds of protesters clashed with soldiers loyal to Diendéré. A radio station, Citizen’s Resistance Radio, called on activists to take action against the RSP and their attempt to take power. [The Guardian: What You Need to Know; The Guardian: Violent Protests]

Truce Agreement

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) played a key role in brokering a compromise between the National Democratic Council and other politicians in Burkina Faso. This included meetings between Diendéré and the ECOWAS chairperson, Senegalese president Macky Sall as well as Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi,; additionally, once the truce agreement was reached, six ECOWAS heads of State arrived in the capital to oversee the process of Kafando being reinstalled in power.

The final truce included the following provisions: the RSP would step down and the army would withdraw its troops and ensure that RSP members and their families were safe. The agreement was presented to Mogho Naba, known as the “king” of the Mossi tribe in Burkina Faso, who had also played an important role in negotiations and mediations following the coup. [Al Jazeera: Coup leaders sign truce; Al Jazeera: Mogho Naba]

There remain some elements of the agreement that are not clear, however; for example, questions remain as to whether the coup leaders, including Diendéré, will be immune from prosecution for the coup and the violence that accompanied it as well as whether Compaoré’s associates will be permitted to take part in the rescheduled elections. [NYT]

International and Regional Response

The United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), and ECOWAS swiftly condemned the coup and issued a joint statement demanding return of control to the transitional government and reaffirming their commitment to support Burkina Faso’s pursuit of democratic transition. [UN News Centre: Condemning coup] Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner of Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein pressed for the release of the detained officials and urged them to avoid the use of force, particularly against demonstrators. [UN News Centre: Condemning coup]

The AU issued a statement on September 18, 2015, following a meeting of the Peace and Security Council, suspending Burkina Faso from participation in any AU activities. [Al Jazeera: African Union] It gave coup leaders a deadline of 96 hours, or until September 22, to restore the transitional government or face travel bans and asset freezes. [Al Jazeera: African Union] The European Union [EU] also called on the coup leaders to lay down their arms in conformity with the national army’s requests to avoid bloodshed. [BBC News: Defies ultimatum]

French President François Hollande urged coup leaders to disarm and return power to the transitional government or “face consequences,” and called for the suspension of civilian, financial, and military cooperation until power was returned to the interim government. [Agence France-PresseBBC News: Hand over power] The United States also publicly condemned the extraconstitutional seizure of power and urged the release of the detained individuals. [NBC News]

Following the truce agreement and the reinstatement of the government, in addition to praising the role that ECOWAS, the African Union, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas played in achieving the resolution that was reached in Burkina Faso, the Security Council also called for “free, fair and credible” elections and noted that it would keep monitoring the situation. [UN News Centre: Security Council]

Human Rights Implications

Among pro-democracy campaigners in sub-Saharan Africa, Burkina Faso had been viewed as a model after its citizenry deposed the Compaoré autocratic regime. [The Guardian: Coup to be reversed] Following the protests that resulted in the ouster of Compaoré, some activists in Africa had hoped for a “Black Spring,” of protests and opposition activities, particularly in countries where long-serving leaders are attempting to extend their mandates, including by changing legislation, and in States with high rates of unemployment and inequality. However, this has not happened, partially due to the fact that some of the factors that contributed to the success of the protests in Burkina Faso, such as a strong grassroots movement, a history of successful protests, and army sympathy with protesters, are not in place in States such as Angola, Equatorial Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. [Reuters: Black Spring]

Immediately following the coup, Amnesty International cautioned that the coup had resulted in human rights violations targeted at protesters and journalists, including the right to freedom of expression when, for example, radio stations were prevented from transmitting news, and members of the RSP threatened and beat journalists and seized their materials. In its statement, Amnesty International also impressed upon the coup leaders that civilians’ right to protest should not be abrogated and that steps needed to be taken to prevent more deaths and injuries, given that the protest, which involved hundreds of people, had resulted in at least ten deaths and injuries to more than 100 people. Finally, it emphasized that the abduction of President Kafando and Prime Minister Zida, along with other officials, violated the right to be free from arbitrary arrest and detention. [Amnesty international: Press Release; The Guardian: Violent Protests]

Additional Resources

For more information on the African human rights system visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.