University of Pennsylvania

Security an Obstacle to Democratization in Burkina Faso by Oluwabomi Fagbemi @ University of Pennsylvania

Democratization efforts face many significant obstacles in Burkina Faso. The most notable one might however be the history of the country itself. Known as Africa’s coup capital, the country has seen 10 coups in its 41 year history with many others attempted. Burkina Faso saw its first democratic transition of power occur in 2016 after an uprising  against Blaise Campaoré. Campaoré had been in power since the death of Thomas Sankara, an outspoken  revolutionary leader in 1987. Since then he ruled for 27 years until October 2014, winning four elections that have been criticized for being unfair.   

The 2014 uprising was in response to Campaoré attempting to amend the constitution to allow h  im to run for the office of president t again and extend his rule. Campaoré in response to the revolt, fled the country and declared a state of emergency. Campaoré eventually resigned. The military declared a transitional government, however this was met with opposition from the African Union and local opposition. A new interim government was put in place with Michel Kafando as president

In 2015 a coup was initiated by Gilbert Diendere who detained the members of the transition government. The conspirators of this coup are currently being tried for treason among other charges  such as murder and assault. In total, 84 people are charged with crimes related to the failed coup. The trial opened on February 27 2018, however defense lawyers challenged the legality of the tribunal, claiming its composition did not follow proper procedure. This trial presents watershed moment for the judicial branch of the Burkinabé government. The credibility of the judiciary had been questionable as they are accused of being influenced by those in power. Also this trial involves many actors who are also presumed to have involvement in the assassination of Thomas Sankara and the journalist Norbert Zongo.

Roch Christian Kaboré was elected as president in November 2015. He had served as prime minister and had left Campaoré’s ruling party, the CDP the prior year citing reasons of corruption within the party. His new party the Movement of People for Progress is made upon former allies of Campaoré who defected months before the former president’s resignation. Regardless of this, Kaboré became the first democratically selected, non-interim head of state with no ties to the military. Since then, another coup attempt was foiled by the police in 2016.

Another significant drawback to improving civil liberties is the economic situation of the country. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in Africa. The country is land-locked and has no notable natural resource stocks. Enacting reform after 30 years of authoritarianism is a tall order and the country has received aid from the IMF. However that is not the only issue in Burkina Faso, security is a legitimate concern in the region . Terrorist groups have been operating in the region and jihadists see the large amounts of unemployed youth as prime targets for recruitment. In addition to this the ousting of Campaoré and the military rule has seen the security apparatus of the country fall apart. The centralization of power meant that with Campaoré gone, and later on Diendere that the intelligence system had nothing to sustain it. The role of the military has changed and it is no longer as tightly linked to the executive branch of government. Recognizing this, the international community has helped to train Burkinabé troops in combatting terrorism in the Sahel region.

Kaboré’s new government has to prove that it can improve upon the progress shown by the peaceful election that led to its formation. This progress must be made on economic terms, but also ensuring that all the branches of government can function as intended, independent from interference from the executive branch. Terrorism presents an unfortunate security issue that may impede progress, as conflict continues within the Sahel region. Recently there was an attack on the French embassy in Ouagadougou leaving 8 people dead and 80 more injured. There was also an attack going on simultaneously on the national army headquarters. This was the third instance of terrorism in the capital in the last 2 years.

There are jihadist groups operating in the region that also have the effect of radicalization, mass migration and human trafficking. These issues tend to affect Europe also due to the continent’s proximity to the region. It is entirely possible that without international intervention, Burkina Faso may have seen the state collapse. This had led to the formation of partnerships such as G5 Sahel with member states Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad. This sort of institutional framework allowing for multilateral cooperation can help to combat the underlying issues which are weak rule of law and poor governance.


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