Burkina Faso: President Kafando is back in charge, but now what?

Almost exactly one week after being taken hostage by his own presidential guard (the RPS), President Michel Kafando has been reinstated. Kafando and the international community declared on Wednesday (23 September) that the military coup led by Gen. Gilbert Diendéré failed. This comes after a special ECOWAS mediation team met with Diendéré to negotiate a peaceful conclusion to the political crisis. The ECOWAS team, led by Senegalese and Beninois presidents Macky Sall and Thomas Boni Yayi, identified thirteen points for a proposed peace agreement, first presented at a Special ECOWAS Summit this past Tuesday (September 22) in Abuja.

When the thirteen propositions outlined by Sall and Yayi became public here in Ouagadougou, the population was shocked and dismayed. The RSP and Diendéré appeared to have won their every demand. Among the most contentious proposed points were: amnesty for the coup perpetrators, an agreement to leave any future reform of the RSP to the next elected president of the country thereby temporarily guaranteeing an objective the RSP; it’s self-preservation, the restoration of the political transition’s institutions, but the removal of their ability to accomplish anything other than organize elections, and finally the inclusion in upcoming elections of political party members regardless of past political allegiances. This last point remains crucial, since the Burkinabè Constitutional Court recently ruled to exclude politicians who had supported former president Blaise Compaoré’s bid to change presidential term limits in 2014. In short, if accepted, the proposed points would have completely changed the trajectory of Burkina Faso’s political transition.

The proposal was summarily shot down by nearly all segments of Burkinabè civil and political society, ultimately motivating the country’s regular army to intervene. Cherif Sy, president of the Transition’s Parliament, immediately rejected the ECOWAS proposal, President Kafando announced that he held significant reservations regarding the proposal, and civil society leaders deplored the proposal as shameful support for the ‘domestic terrorism’ which instigated this political crisis. The popular rejection of the ECOWAS mediation attempt led the national army to descend on the capital, Ouagadougou. During the morning of Tuesday, September 22nd, the Chief of Staff of the army issued an ultimatum to the presidential guard to return to their barracks and disarm. The RSP refused in an effort to buy time while the special ECOWAS summit in Abuja concluded. Just as the national military began to mobilize in order to disarm the RSP, the summit closed and its leaders called on the RSP to lay down their weapons and the national military to avoid violent confrontation at all costs.

So, what happened with all of the contentious points in the original proposal? Nothing.

Demonstrations throughout the country insured that the Burkinabé people and the President of their Transition were heard. The controversial points originally laid out by the ECOWAS mediators were left completely unaddressed. Diendéré and the RSP lost their only potential ally in what now seems to be a catastrophe for the elite military unit. Indeed, after sidelining President Kafando in the original mediation efforts, ECOWAS has now thrown their full support behind him.

Despite a highly publicized and ceremonious reinstatement of Kafando and the transition, much remains unanswered. Surely, the first order of business will be rescheduling presidential and legislative elections to bring the political transition to a close. Yet, while the coup can been seen as failure, it nevertheless reignited divisive political debates which beforehand the transition considered resolved.

The segments of Burkianbè society in support of inclusive elections are even farther from accepting the decision to exclude their candidates. A decision which never received the support of ECOWAS and has now resurfaced under the spotlight of the international community. Meanwhile, the segments in support of exclusion have never been so adamant that it’s upheld as inclusion is now synonymous with supporting Diendéré’s coup. What does the future hold for the former political supporters of Blaise Compaoré? Will the transition be able to lead the country through an electoral process without dividing society?

Then there’s the RSP. Previously slated to be dismantled and reintegrated into the regular army, the future of this elite unit seems almost certainly finished. As I’ve noted elsewhere, taking the president you’re charged with protecting hostage, is far from the best approach to instill confidence in the president’s successor. And yet, in the current context of the national military demanding the RSP disarm, it’s even more difficult to envision the integration of the RSP into the regular army. Moreover, who within the presidential guard will be held responsible for those civilians who were wounded or lost their lives in defense of the country’s transition? What possible role could any of the coup-leaders play in future of Burkina Faso?

And there we have it. The military coup is over and pronounced a failure. President Kafando and the transitional government in Burkina Faso are back on track. But the trajectory of the political transition will face perhaps its greatest challenges in the coming weeks as the unity of this country hinges on the decisions of its leaders.

Daniel Eizenga

Daniel Eizenga is a Research Associate with the Sahel Research Group and Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Florida. He is currently based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso conducting his dissertation research.

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