An Unpopular Coup in Burkina Faso
By William Tucker
Chief Correspondent for In Homeland Security
Members of the Presidential Security Regiment in Burkina Faso have seized control of the government in Ouagadougou and have kept the transitional government representatives under house arrest. Media reports suggest that the President has been released, but there are conflicting reports stating that this hasn’t happened.
There are reports of fresh violence in the capital where protesters have gathered to express their solidarity with the transitional government. Just one year ago, Burkina Faso strong man Blaise Compaoré was forced into exile after attempting to modify the constitution allowing for a longer presidential term. After all, 27 years in power is simply not long enough.
Public discontent led to mass protests and Compaoré’s eventual removal. But Compaoré had the support of the Presidential Security Regiment – the best trained and equipped military unit in the country – but a few members of this unit were worried about going down with Compaoré and thus decided to side with the public. That said, there are still plenty of Compaoré loyalists in the RSP. The declared coup leader, General Gilbert Diendéré, was a close advisor of Compaoré; however he claims that he hasn’t been in contact with the former president and he will not interfere with the ongoing treason proceedings against the former strong man.
Diendéré stated in an interview with France 24 earlier this week that he will release acting President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Isaac Zidavery soon and will hold elections for a new government “as soon as all the conditions have come together, we will be ready to return [to civilian rule]. We are not here to take power.
Despite Diendéré’s claim that he has the backing of the military, Gal Honoré Nabéré Traoré, a ranking official recently involved in talks amongst the different military components at Camp Guillaume, issued a statement calling on the RSP to lay down their weapons. This statement was followed by the chief of staff of the military, Gal Pingrenoma Zagré, declaring his intention to resist the coup. The situation doesn’t look good for Diendéréand his fellow putschists. Indeed, the entire coup seems to be a bit of a farce without any support beyond the RSP, though two political events may have played a role in sparking the government overthrow.
When Compaoré was forced from power the transitional government that was stood up in the following weeks declared that any member of Compaoré’s party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), would not be allowed to stand for election for fear that they would once again seek to illegally change the constitution. Though this wasn’t likely the catalyst for the coup it may have been the calls from the public to disband the RSP that likely spurred Diendéré and his fellow conspirators to act. It may indeed be true that Diendéré didn’t have contact with his previous boss – though it is unlikely – this coup may well be nothing more than an attempt by Diendéré to save his own skin. Without a strong presence from the CDP party the RSP would have very little support from both inside and outside of government.
Beyond the selfish attempt for self-preservation there is simply very little to suggest that the RSP has any other motivation for exercising this coup. Hopefully the impeding mediation by ECOWAS members will help to diffuse the situation and return the government to civilian control. An escalation in violence is a very real possibility if these mediation talks fail.