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Monthly Archives: February 2022

Rise of a Coup in West Africa

Burkina Faso
Photo by Sam Phelps

The other day one of my friends looked over my shoulder and saw the name “Burkina Faso.” She politely asked me what this “Burkina Faso” was. For those who find themselves in a similar situation: stay tuned. Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa near Mali, Niger, Togo, Ghana, and Ivory Coast. It is categorized as a Least Developed Country (LDC), and in recent years, this small country has affected the seething in West Africa.

West Africa experienced its fourth coup in two years within Burkina Faso. On January 24th, the militia overthrew Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Kabore. Burkina Faso is struggling not solely from instability in its government, but also a “deepening security crisis.” This originates from the violence of Jihadist insurgents. Specifically, in June 2021, there was a particularly violent attack on the village of Solhan (in the northeast region of Burkina Faso near Niger). This attack killed at least 132 people. Not only was this one of the deadliest events in the country but was also not an isolated case. There were 1337 violent incidents with 2294 casualties in the
year 2021. These violent acts significantly impacted the civilians' trust in President Kabore’s efforts. He made efforts to prioritize security including, reading a mobilized civilian auxiliary to support the national defense, and increasing the national budget for defense by 217.14%. Despite these investments, it did not impact this situation much, primarily due to financial management problems. In fact, “persistent equipment and supply problems have made (the country) weaker while jihadist groups grow stronger.” This is evident in the increase of violent actions in 2021. It also explains, in part, the military takeover in the country.

Captain Sidsore Kaber Ouedraogo said that the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding the Restoration (a military group) has “decided to assume its responsibility before history.” As a result, the military regime suspended Burkina Faso’s constitution and dissolved the National Assembly. Additionally, the borders within the country were closed. The military set a curfew from 9 PM to 5 AM. Due to the harm and danger that violence from Jihadist groups posed to citizens, the citizens were primarily concerned with ending this violence and stopping these insurgent groups. So, after the televised announcement (about the military takeover), crowds took to the streets celebrating the coup and the end of President Roch Marc Kabore's inefficient methods. People are hopeful that this coup will help decrease the violent actions that have plagued Burkina Faso for the last year. One protester in downtown Ouagadougou (the capital of Burkina Faso) states that “This (the coup) is an opportunity for Burkina Faso to regain its integrity.” Several people remark on the way the previous regime “sunk” them. People and soldiers were continually dying, and thousands were displaced, and there was little progress in ending these acts. Several people also state that “they no longer cared if they had a
democratically elected leader. They just wanted to live in peace”. The people of Burkina Faso are primarily concerned with their safety. Additionally, Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at Humans Rights Watch, said, “The military authorities now in control need to act urgently to protect people’s rights and ensure they don't make a bad human rights situation even worse.” This shows that safety within Burkina Faso is also an international focus. According to the people and international community, the previous regime did not work. As a result, the military took over. The people of Burkina Faso were forced to decide between hope for increased safety or a
democracy, and the winner is evident.

The international community's opinion of the coup is more complex than the citizens' opinion. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Burkina Faso’s membership as a direct result of this coup. In line with the 15-member bloc of ECOWAS, the United Nations has been critical of the coup. However, ECOWAS is also concerned with the growing insurgent groups in Mali and Burkina Faso. The United Nations Secretary, General Antonio Guterres asked the coup leaders to lay down their arms and reiterated the UNs full commitment to the preservation of the constitutional order.” The US State Department joins the UN in condemning the actions. The State Department expressed its concern over the coup and suspension of the constitution, including the detention of the leaders. However, the UN and US are not in support of the violent groups in Burkina Faso. Ned Price (spokesman for the US) stated, “We condemn these acts and call on those responsible to deescalate the situation … and return to civilian-led government and constitutional order.” The people of Burkina Faso are looking for a change in governance that will promote safety; however, several international actors see this struggle in leadership as even more dangerous than the threat of the insurgents.
Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory (which provides intelligence analysis) states that the coup is just a “signal of frustration” on the threat of militants, but does not express his vote of faith in the coming change. The international community is less hopeful of the new regime's efficiency and worried about the suspension of democratic methods.

The International Communities (specifically the US and UN) also remark on the contagious nature of coups in West Africa. The UN chief said that this military coup in Burkina Faso as part of “an epidemic of coups around the world and in that region.” Over the last year, ECOWAS has imposed sanctions on the coups in Mali and Guinea. These sanctions are primarily because the military is reluctant to return to civilian rule. As a result, they have increased sanctions when the nations have refused to meet the election timelines. This same pattern has emerged in Burkina Faso. This calls into question not only the danger coups bring to democracy but also to the stability of a region.

Finally, let us review the US and Burkina Faso's relationship. US relations with this country have been relatively smooth. Since its formation, the US has given Burkina Faso large amounts of money to advance its economy and provided training for the military and other government agencies. Additionally, Burkina Faso has been supportive of democracy. Additionally, the US and Burkina Faso are members, or support, many of the same international organizations. The shared relationship shows the relevance and validity of the situation with the rebels. The government and several corporations are dependent on the US, so the fact that they would
oppose—not only the anti-coupe sentiment but also the democratic institutions that the US supports—is telling of the situation in Burkina Faso. However, the US is also distracted by other international affairs, and the current leaders of Burkina Faso are sure to take advantage of this. Moving forward, I see the US keeping the anti-coup stance, but I do not see them being aggressive because of their current involvement in other world affairs.