Burkina Faso’s Presidential Guard, a military elite created by longtime dictator Blaise Compaoré, seized power in mid September, but a popular uprising backed up by the Burkinabe army has reversed the coup and restored civilian rule – twice.
These events unfolded nearly eleven months after hundreds of thousands of Burkinabe filled the streets of the capital, set the Parliament Building on fire, and forced Blaise Compaoré to step down. Compaoré, who ruled Burkina Faso for 27 years, is infamous for organizing the assassination of the country’s revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara with the help of France and the French backed government of the Ivory Coast.
At least 10 citizens of Burkina Faso were killed and more than 100 were wounded when the country’s presidential guard fired on the uprising against the coup. In a decisive moment the Burkinabe army of 11,000 surrounded the capital and demanded that the elite presidential guard behind the coup disarm. This is how Paul Sankara, democracy activist and brother of the late Thomas Sankara, described that moment, on Pacifica’s WBAI AfrobeatRadio, 09.26.2015:
“Yeah, it was very patriotic, what they did. The story of Burkina Faso, when we read and we learn a little bit about how people do things in Burkina Faso, it’s not a surprise that Thomas Sankara was born in Burkina Faso, or that Thomas Sankara came from Burkina Faso.”
“Let me tell you something that many people may not see. When Thomas Sankara came to power on August 4, 1983, he was imprisoned after he resigned from his position of prime minister. The same thing that we saw today, the same thing happened in Burkina Faso in 1983. Those who wanted to go and free Thomas Sankara, they were being helped by the population. So this was not like a regular coup d’état. The military intervened after a popular uprising, after mass protest in Burkina Faso, people chanting and singing, ‘Free Thomas Sankara. Free Thomas Sankara.’ It was after the ‘Free Thomas Sankara’ protests that the military – most stood up – were going to be part of the process.”
After this year’s mid-September coup, negotiators from ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, brokered a deal in which both the army and the presidential guard stood down until power had been formally restored to the transitional government on 09.26.2015.
French President Francois Hollande warned all parties in Burkina not to try and stop the ECOWAS mediation. ECOWAS produced a draft proposal, which would have allowed the presidential guard to return to their previous armed authority, despite the attempted coup, and would have allowed the party of deposed dictator Blaise Compaoré to participate in upcoming elections. These elements of the agreement were very unpopular with the people of Burkina Faso, who took to the streets with signs reading “No Amnesty for Assassins” and told reporters that they had little use for ECOWAS. As soon as the transitional government was restored to power, it invoked African Union principle and the will of the Burkinabe people to disarm and disband the presidential guard and exclude coup plotters from the upcoming election.
US and French special forces in Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso hosts both US and French special forces and has served as an important military ally of both France and the United States in West Africa, under the guise of counterterrorism. Dr. Gnaka La Goke, an African History professor at Maryland’s Montgomery College, also speaking to WBAI AfrobeatRadio, said that anyone who thinks that the presidential guard would have attempted a coup d’état without the knowledge and complicity of the U.S. and France is refusing to see how things are done in the 21st century.
“If you want to talk about how things are, the different buildings in Burkina Faso, from the presidential palace, there’s the presidential guard, a military base, then the American Embassy. So this is one thing.”
“Second thing. Two weeks before the coup d’état, I heard that the State Department sent a warning to its citizens, telling them that if they go to Burkina Faso, they should be cautious, they should not go out at night, they should avoid some locations because something could happen in Burkina Faso. I was surprised. I said, ‘What is going to happen in Burkina Faso?’ So it means that everyone was watching, But at the same time in Ivory Coast, people were trying to take to the streets. A few people were already killed, but the State Department did not issue that warning.”
“And third, in February 2015, there was a military training of some officials, of African military officials, to fight against terrorism. Gilbert Diendéré was – I don’t know how they did it – but he was there representing Burkina Faso and training with the American military experts. That was February 2015. And then there are other sources that say that he has some close ties with the French secret service.”
“So, if somebody wants to tell me that Gilbert Diendéré just decided to do this on his own, or that Blaise Compaoré supported him, or that France and America did not have anything to do in that coup d’état, I think that the person is either expressing bad faith, or the person does not want to look at the reality, and the person does not want to see how things are done in this world of the 21st century.”
“So, based on everything that I just said, I believe that they knew that this was going to happen, and they thought that it was going to succeed. It was when they saw the mobilization of the people, then they decided to turn coat, as usual, or to change their position, to show to the world that they are on the side of democracy.”
The coup d’état in Burkina Faso appears to be the second U.S.-backed African coup to fail this year, after it became clear that there was too much popular will against it. The first was in Burundi in May.
Burkina’s national army disarms the presidential guard
On September 28:
The New York Times reported that the Burkinabe presidential guard, formally known as the Regiment of Presidential Security, or RSP, had refused to disarm. The Times quoted a transitional government statement that said, “This handful of die-hards has taken hostage not only members of the former RSP who wanted to rejoin the side of reason, but also officers of the national armed forces tasked with disarming them. But even more seriously, the government knows that they have called foreign forces and jihadist groups to their rescue to realize their dark scheme.”
September 29: The BBC reported that Burkina’s national army had surrounded the presidential guard base, that gunfire had been heard, and that the Ouagadougou airport had been closed.
Reuters reported that the Burkinabe national army entered the presidential guard base and met little resistance, but that coup leader General Gilbert Diendéré had escaped to an undisclosed location.
September 30: The Associated Press/ABC reported that coup leader Gilbert Diendéré had taken refuge in the Vatican Embassy.
October 1: The Voice of America reported that General Gilbert Diendéré had surrendered.
Bloomberg quoted reinstated interim president Michel Kafondo, who said “It was quite a feat but we’ve conquered the camp without casualties.”
Manganese, gold, and the mining contracts review
Burkina Faso’s richest resources are manganese and gold. Manganese is one of the most industrially essential ferrous metals and one of the few for which the United States is totally dependent on imports. It is a mineral with many applications in the manufacture of iron, steel, aluminum alloys, batteries and chemicals.
The U.S. government classifies manganese as a strategic and critical mineral because a steady supply is essential to weapons manufacture, steel manufacture, and an industrial economy. In May 2014, five months before the Sankarist uprising that drove Blaise Compaoré from power, his government issued a permit to Pan African Minerals to mine Burkina’s Tambao manganese deposits, which are some of the world’s largest, for $1 billion. In March 2015, five months after Burkinabe filled the streets and Blaise Campaoré fled, the transitional government ordered that work stop at the Tambao mine until they complete a review of how the permit was issued. The government also said that it is reviewing all mining contracts awarded under Compaore’s 27-year rule.