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Coups in Africa: how to explain them?

Africa coup

Burkina Faso's army confirmed last month that it had seized power and ended the mandate of President Roch Kaboré. What to expect from this new military-led transition? And should we expect a domino effect?

Burkina Faso's military junta — dubbed the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration (MPSR) — finally made his long-awaited statement on national television the 24 last January.

On the video, which has since been broadcast on social networks, a captain of the military aviation, Sidsoré Kader Ouédraogo, affirms that "Burkina Faso will respect its commitments vis-à-vis the international community" and announces "a transition period whose the deadlines will be announced within a reasonable time. A message sent to ECOWAS, which should once again meet to decide on the situation in Burkina Faso.

To the right of the young captain, the new president of the transition, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, already seemed to have his mind elsewhere. It must be said that the mission of the MPSR is not simple. Unlike the Malian or Guinean juntas, the Burkinabé soldiers will have a lot to do to convince ECOWAS, the African Union or even Western countries of the legitimacy of their claims, especially since Kaboré was re-elected barely fourteen months ago. .

But on closer inspection, the demands of the military are quite legitimate. Among these, ensuring the safety of Burkinabés, the official reason for this new coup in the West African region.

Coups in Africa: what do they have in common?

In just over a year, Africa has seen four successful coups — two in Mali, one in Guinea and one in Sudan. Added to this is an unsuccessful coup attempt in Niger and an arbitrary transfer of power to Chad following the assassination of its president Idriss Déby.

Mamady Doumbouya (Guinea), Mahamat Déby (Chad) and Assimi Goïta (Mali)

For the three neighboring West African countries, now under the control of their respective armies, reasons for coups vary. Mali's latest putsch was born out of a quest for self-determination by the country's youth, who view the ubiquitous French forces as an army of occupation. The socio-economic situation, caused by the very questionable governance of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, has catalyzed the desire for change among the populations. Then, and above all, the insecurity due to the hegemony of the terrorist groups AQIM and EIGS in a large part of the country and the inefficiency of the French to do battle militarily had lasted for too many years.

For Guinea, it is above all the autocratic reign of former President Alpha Condé that could not last, especially after a highly contested constitutional referendum. Under these conditions, the first interlocutor of the West African juntas, ECOWAS, had no credibility to impose its conditions. Indeed, the economic and political body was already no longer, in the words of the Bissau-Guinean President, Umaro Sissoco Embaló, more than a "union of heads of state".

Heads of state, like Faure Gnassingbé in Togo or Alassane Ouattara in Ivory Coast, who pursue their unconstitutional mandates, in addition to installing corruption and brutality as standards of governance.

The security failure of Roch Kaboré

In Burkina Faso, however, the institutional aspect of the takeover could not reasonably be criticized. President Roch Kaboré was in the second year of his second term, elected according to democratic criteria. But it is above all the weakness of its security policy that is criticized. There are just over 900 civilian deaths and 200 deaths among the police, in 2021, in Burkina Faso.

The country had become the twelfth country in the world threatened by terrorism according to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI 2021), and the fourth in Africa after Nigeria, the DRC and Mali. And it must be said that overtaking Cameroon, Libya and the CAR in this area is a disaster, especially since Ouagadougou is one of the most active African contributors within the Blue Helmets, after Senegal.

A criterion which also shows a certain diplomatic "follow-manship", inherent in the former French colonies. Between 2016 and 2020, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré showed a good predisposition to forget the real causes of terrorism in the country: the absence of the State in the threatened regions and the poverty which pushes civilians, sometimes, to collaborate with the terrorists.

And it was not the "Houne" strategy that changed the situation. The first phases of this anti-terrorist operation, consisting of the establishment of a network of informants against humanitarian aid, proved insufficient to be able to curb the terrorist threat in the east and north of Burkina Faso.

This is due, in particular, to the obstacle posed by the borders of the countries of the Sahel in the confrontation of cross-border crime in general. If the States have a limited range, the weak military presence along the borders, inherited from French colonization, delimits the movements of terrorist groups.

A chimerical diplomacy

All this does not, however, exempt the ousted Burkinabe president from all responsibility. It has been discovered in recent months that the army of Burkina Faso was poorly informed, especially when it came to terrorist attacks inside the country. As for the self-defense groups established by the government, they were — and the junta makes this clear — disarmed and left to their own fate.

So for the inhabitants of central Burkina Faso, including those of the capital Ouagadougou, the prospect of the terrorist threat is that of a State which has gradually abandoned civilians in the border regions with Mali and Niger.

Also, as Kaboré found himself abandoned by neighboring countries in this war, he relied more and more on France. And the latter, in addition to the successive dispatches of its ministers to “express their solidarity” with Burkina Faso, has not invested much effort in supporting its “brother country”.

Worse still, under pressure from global financial bodies, such as the World Bank and the IMF, Kaboré had, at the beginning of 2021, reduced the military budget by 18%. And to top it off, Burkinabe diplomacy, which is relatively sovereign, has only assumed the role of an extra in the decisions of ECOWAS, particularly when it comes to the treatment reserved for countries where coups have taken place. place.

Read: Mali: what ECOWAS sanctions really mean

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