Burkina Faso: Kaboré, A chronicle of a coup foretold

Marwane Ben Yahmed
By Marwane Ben Yahmed
Publication Director of Jeune Afrique

Posted on Tuesday, 25 January 2022 08:39

Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, the 12 November 2021.
Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, the 12 November 2021. © AP Photo/Michel Euler

After Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and Alpha Condé, it is the president of Burkina Faso who was swept away by a coup d'état on Monday 24 January. Since it is now possible to depose a president without blowback or the risk of external military intervention, this was bound to provoke copycats.

“I am very happy with the victory of my friend Roch. We are very close, and our destinies, strangely enough, have overlapped. We were prime ministers and then presidents of the National Assembly at the same time. And now he is joining the siblings…”.

Did the late Ibrahim Boubacar Keita imagine, when he uttered these words the day after the election of Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, in November 2015, that their twin trajectories, from the banks of the river Seine in Paris, where their political culture was shaped, particularly within the famous ‘Black African Students Federation in France’ (in French: Fédération des étudiants d’Afrique noire en France, abbreviated FEANF), to the presidential palaces they conquered, would emulate each other even to their respective falls, triggered by the military?

The epidemic of coups d’état continues, mainly affecting West Africa. It is the sixth in just one and a half years. A first in two decades. Twice in Mali, in Chad, in Guinea, in Sudan and now in Burkina.

The strange common denominator of the West African putsches is that they have all targeted leaders who are close to the Socialist International, who came from the same ideological matrix in their Parisian youth, anti-colonialist and Third Worldist, and who were close to each other, but also to François Hollande when he was at the Élysée Palace. Of this ‘club’ of once close-knit heads of state, only Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou has managed to leave power normally.

Pandora’s box

After IBK and Condé, therefore, the end of Kaboré looks like the chronicle of a predicted fall. On the one hand, because the Pandora’s box was wide open. The Malian and Guinean militaries hardly give the impression of being intimidated and even less of wetting their fatigues in front of the African Union (AU) or ECOWAS browbeating…

So, since it is possible to depose a president without a blow or the risk of external military intervention, if it is possible to become head of state, to share posts, to decide on the contours and duration of transitions and to disregard all the rules that have been in force up to now, this can only lead to copycat coups.

Especially since these seizures of power by force, most of the time acclaimed (in any case, there is hardly any rush to defend the presidents in question), take place in contexts of acute contestation of the leaders in place – revealing the widespread feeling that elections or ‘democracy’ are useless because they do not solve the problems of the citizens – and even, more broadly, of the entire political class.

Since none of the traditional players on the chessboard find favour with the population, there is nothing left but to throw oneself into the arms of an obscure lieutenant-colonel who promises the moon, the sky and the stars.

In the case of Kaboré, what he is accused of has nothing to do with nepotism, corruption, infringement of freedoms or truncated elections, unlike his former counterparts in Bamako or Conakry. Of all of them, he is certainly the most decently elected. It is his inability to manage the terrorist threat as well as the disarray of his army that is to blame.

On Sunday 23 January, when mutinies broke out at Camp Sangoulé Lamizana, the largest in Ouagadougou, as well as at the air base and in Kaya, in the north-central part of Burkina Faso, there was every reason to believe that the anger of the soldiers could explode. For several months, Kaboré had been aware of the exasperation of the military, regularly targeted by jihadist groups.

And since the attack on Inata on 14 November 2021, which left 53 people dead, the spectre of a coup attempt had been looming. On 10 January, Lieutenant-Colonel Emmanuel Zoungrana was arrested on suspicion of plotting a coup. However, the man who toppled Kaboré, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, was part of the same class year as Zoungrana…

The beginning of the end

Lack of human and material resources, distrust of the hierarchy in place, feelings of abandonment… “Roch”, the one his compatriots liked to call the “diesel president”, did not know how to read this resentment.

The one who was elected to embody the exact opposite of Blaise Compaoré, who never had to face terrorist attacks and whose grip was known, especially thanks to his elite corps, the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), stumbled on the security issue. This issue was imposed on him only a few weeks after his investiture with the first attack on the capital, and which has weighed on his two mandates like a sword of Damocles.

Since 2015, jihadist groups have killed more than 2,000 people (including 400 soldiers) and forced more than 1.4 million people to flee their homes. “Our citizens are asking questions. We must reassure them and show them that we are capable of defending our country,” Kaboré concluded after Inata, which marked the beginning of his end.

Criticised for his weakness inside the country – massive demonstrations against his regime took place from mid-November in Ouaga, Bobo-Dioulasso, Dori, Titao or Kantchari – as well as outside, notably among Burkina’s main allies in the fight against terrorism, including Paris, Kaboré did not get the time he asked for. The vase eventually overflowed. So there goes the “normal president”.

With the failure of the leaders (and the political classes in general) having been established, and the debate on democratic or institutional shortcomings in Africa having been opened for a long time, the thorny question of the post-coup d’état, these transitions that are supposed to put these countries back on track, remains to be addressed.

Those who applaud the fall of such and such, ready to lick the boots of the brilliant officer at the head of the victorious junta, would do well to be wary. Have Moussa Dadis Camara and Sékouba Konaté (Guinea), Amadou Haya Sanogo (Mali), Salou Djibo (Niger), Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz (Mauritania), Gilbert Diendéré (Burkina), to name but a few, demonstrated their ability to govern in the general interest, their leadership or their probity?

Not everyone is Thomas Sankara.

No acceptable timetable

Mistrust reigns, therefore. And all the more reason to supervise as much as possible the processes aimed at restoring constitutional order. The basic principles, moreover, have been laid down since 1999 and the OAU’s Algiers summit.

Reasonable time limits (six months for the AU), targeted sanctions against the regime if it refuses to comply beyond this period, a ban on standing for election, etc.

It is unacceptable, whatever the situation, that a Goïta (a double putschist by the way, against IBK and then Bah N’Daw) or a Doumbouya, for example, should arrogate all the powers to themselves, assume the presidency directly, consult no one and give no acceptable timetable for the end of the current transitions, the worst of which is once again Goïta’s possible five-year extension.

It is up to the citizens concerned, Malians, Guineans and tomorrow Burkinabes, to see to it, to put pressure on them, to demand guarantees. Moreover, they are the only ones, provided they mobilise massively, who have a chance of being listened to.

Anything that comes from elsewhere – continental or regional institutions or the international community (first and foremost France) – obviously only results in the populist ranting of our president-officials, who have no problem flattering the nationalist fibre of their fellow citizens, insisting that their countries have no lessons to learn from anyone and that their only concern is the happiness of the population.

In the case of Burkina, it seems unthinkable that the new masters of the country, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, can explain, after a revolution, a transition and two (transparent) elections, that they need more than six months to ‘restore’ the country’s fundamentals.

The Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration (MPSR) – the coup plotters are decidedly lacking in inventiveness, with the names of the juntas and the first televised addresses to the nation sounding furiously similar – deposed Roch Marc Christian Kaboré because the security of the country was at stake. This is a good thing, because it is their job. The Burkinabè no longer have anything to worry about…

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options