Burkina Faso Coup Leader Promises Civilian Transition

As of today, Burkina Faso coup leader General Gilbert Diendere has apologized and announced that power will be transferred to a civilian transitional government.

Diendere gained power in Burkina Faso following a military coup. The coup dethroned Michel Kafando, the interim President since 2014. During the military operation, the Presidential Security Regiment kidnapped Kafando and Prime Minister Lieutenant Isaac Zida. The UN, African Union, and Economic Community of West African States have urged the coup forces to release the leaders.

Following the coup, Diendere disbanded political institutions and declared a new “National Democratic Council.” The coup sparked mass violent protests and the UN Security Council has since threatened sanctions against the leaders unless they hand over power to a civilian government.

Demonstrations in the country’s capital, Ouagadougou, turned deadly last week, as the presidential guard forces shot protesters. Cheriff Sy, transitional parliamentary speaker, instigated the opposition, calling for civilians to “immediately rise up” . Sy also declared himself the legitimate leader of Burkina Faso.

Following the Presidential Guards’ firing on civilians, The Burkina Faso military leadership released a statement contending “All the national armed forces are converging on [the capital] Ouagadougou with the sole aim of disarming the presidential guard without any bloodshed…” Additionally, the army maintains that they are devoted to protecting the public from the presidential guard.

Burkina Faso, a former French colony and one of the world’s poorest countries, gained independence in 1960 and adopted its current name in 1984. Since independence, the country has predominately been ruled by the military and is no stranger to coups.

In 1966, the first president, Maurice Yameogo, was overthrown in a military coup due to a discrepancy over government austerity; In 1982, Colonel and President Saye Zerbo was overthrown by Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo, who was ousted a year later by Captain Thomas Sankara following unrest; In 1987, Sankara was killed in a coup led by Blaise Compaore, who was later re-elected without opposition.

Compaore reverted Burkina Faso back to a democracy, establishing the Organization for Popular Democracy-Labor Movement. He was re-elected several times over his 27-year reign, however tension started to rise, and he was eventually driven from office amongst mass uprisings opposing constitutional changes.

The military once again took control, and implemented a transitional government in 2014. Lieutenant Isaac Zida was appointed the country’s interim Prime Minister, and insisted that the military had not seized power in a coup. His nomination marked the seventh time that a military officer gained control since independence. Former Foreign Minister Michel Kafando was soon announced interim President and was recently ousted in a coup, as stated above.

Burkina Faso’s deep rooted political issues are threatening its relationship with its Western allies. Both the US State Department and French President François Hollande have condemned the coup and expressed concern over the welfare of the country, especially since elections were scheduled to take place in the near future. Furthermore, Burkina Faso is an ally for the US and France in its operations against jihadists in North and West Africa; particularly in the region of Sahel, where al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) operates.