The mil­i­tary’s mis­ad­ven­ture in Burk­ina Faso

Daily Trust - - SPORT - Cor­po­rate Of­fice: La­gos of­fice:10

The Septem­ber 17 2015 coup in Burk­ina Faso against the coun­try’s in­terim lead­er­ship con­tains im­por­tant lessons in demo­cratic con­sol­i­da­tion in Africa. Un­der pres­sure from de­mon­stra­tors, strik­ing labour unions and the con­ti­nen­tal re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tions - the African Union and ECOWAS - the coup leader, Gen. Gil­bert Dien­dere was forced to ‘step aside’. Pres­i­dent Michel Kafando and Prime Min­is­ter Ya­couba Isaac Zida were re­stored to power as tran­si­tional lead­ers of the coun­try.

The trig­ger for the coup was dis­sat­is­fac­tion by mem­bers of the elite pres­i­den­tial guard (RSP), which was set up by Blaise Com­paore af­ter he over­threw Capt Sankara in a mil­i­tary coup in 1987. Sankara, re­garded as Africa’s ‘Che Gue­vara’ who had changed the name of the for­mer French colony from Up­per Volta to Burk­ina Faso (“land of hon­est men”) - lost his life in the coup. In 2014 a failed at­tempt by Com­paore, (who had trans­formed him­self into a civil­ian Pres­i­dent and had then ruled for a to­tal of 27 years), to ex­tend his ten­ure be­yond the con­sti­tu­tion­ally al­lowed two terms led to up­ris­ings that forced him into ex­ile. A new tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment in the coun­try came up with a new elec­toral law ban­ning can­di­dates linked to the failed 2014 bid to elon­gate the ten­ure of Blaise Com­paore - mostly mem­bers of the elite RSP and the for­mer rul­ing party CDP - from con­test­ing in the elec­tions sched­uled for Oc­to­ber this year. One of those af­fected by the ban was Gen­eral Dien­dere’s wife.

There are a num­ber of lessons to be learned from the short-lived coup:

One, though demo­cratic con­scious­ness is grow­ing in the con­ti­nent, the coup re­veals that the con­ti­nent does not lack ad­ven­tur­ist sol­diers who may want to ex­ploit pop­u­lar dis­con­tent to sup­plant le­git­i­mately con­sti­tuted au­thor­ity. There have been over 26 at­tempted mil­i­tary coups in the con­ti­nent in the past five years alone. The failed coup at­tempt in Burk­ina Faso was the sec­ond mil­i­tary coup in the coun­try in one year.

Af­ter decades of mil­i­tary rule, the ra­tio­nal­iza­tions for the mil­i­tary’s in­ter­ven­tion in African pol­i­tics no longer wash with peo­ple who are old enough to re­mem­ber what life was re­ally like un­der mil­i­tary rule. The good news how­ever is that only very few mil­i­tary coups suc­ceed these days. Gen­eral Dien­dere who led the re­cent coup in Burk­ina Faso was later to con­fess that “this coup was the big­gest mis­take…. One should not have taken such ac­tion”. Cer­tainly the cur­rent in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment does not en­cour­age mil­i­tary in­cur­sion in pol­i­tics and both the African Union and re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tions such as ECOWAS are in­creas­ingly tak­ing very hard line ap­proaches to coup mak­ers. In Nige­ria, most of the cur­rent struc­tural prob­lems fac­ing the coun­try were ar­guably cre­ated by the mil­i­tary.

Two, Africa seems to have moved from the era of mil­i­tary coups to con­sti­tu­tional coup at­tempts. As mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ships and one party rule be­came passé with the end of the Cold War, Africa en­tered the so-called ‘third wave’ of its experiment with lib­eral democ­racy. Across the con­ti­nent lib­eral democ­racy was be­ing uni­ver­sal­ized, usu­ally with term lim­its. How­ever the con­ti­nent’s lib­eral democ­racy pro­ject faces re­sis­tance from two forces: ad­ven­tur­ist sol­diers who nurse a nos­tal­gia for the pe­riod when the mil­i­tary was the short­est route to power in Africa and civil­ian ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this ‘third wave’ of democ­racy who nurse a nos­tal­gia for the pe­riod of one party dic­ta­tor­ship that pre­vailed in most parts of the con­ti­nent shortly af­ter in­de­pen­dence un­til the end of the Cold War. Nearly all the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the cur­rent ‘wave’ of de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion which be­gan in Africa in the 1990s tried to elon­gate their tenures be­yond the con­sti­tu­tion­ally al­lowed term lim­its. Even those once li­on­ized by the West as rep­re­sent­ing a new crop of African lead­ers such as Oluse­gun Obasanjo of Nige­ria, Ab­doulaye Wade of Sene­gal and Paul Kagame of Rwanda all tried (or in the case of Kagame sus­pected of nurs­ing the am­bi­tion) to elon­gate their tenures. While Obasanjo tried and failed in Nige­ria, Wade suc­ceeded in chang­ing his coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion in Sene­gal to per­mit him to run for a third term but then lost the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2012. Paul Kagame, of Rwanda, who was much beloved in the West had been Rwanda’s Vice Pres­i­dent and Min­is­ter of De­fence from 1994 to 2000 when he be­came his coun­try’s sub­stan­tive Pres­i­dent. He won an elec­tion in 2003, un­der a new Con­sti­tu­tion adopted that year and was again elected to a sec­ond term of seven years in 2010. Though his term ex­pires in 2017 and should not be con­sti­tu­tion­ally ex­tended, his body lan­guage has clearly shown an in­cli­na­tion to tinker with the con­sti­tu­tion to elon­gate his ten­ure.

Re­sis­tance to ten­ure elon­ga­tion has been fierce in sev­eral coun­tries. In Burk­ina Faso, the 2014 coup was caused by at­tempts by Com­paore to ex­tend his ten­ure. In Niger, where four suc­cess­ful mil­i­tary coups have oc­curred since 1974, the Fe­bru­ary 2010 coup in that coun­try which ousted Pres­i­dent Ma­madou Tandja fol­lowed the grum­blings that at­tended his de­ci­sion to amend the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion to re­main in power be­yond the con­sti­tu­tion­ally al­lowed two-term limit. Bu­rundi’s Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza who vi­o­lently re­sisted months of pop­u­lar dis­con­tent even­tu­ally got his third term in of­fice but at a bloody cost. From Bu­rundi to Benin, Rwanda and Congo Kin­shasha to Uganda, Al­ge­ria, An­gola, Chad, Dji­bouti and Camer­oun, there are or have been at­tempts at ten­ure elon­ga­tion – of­ten lead­ing to vi­o­lent clashes on the streets or an­i­mat­ing the hunger of some mil­i­tary ad­ven­tur­ists for a piece of the ac­tion.

Three, the fight against ter­ror­ism in Africa em­beds in it a po­ten­tial threat to democ­racy. Counter ter­ror­ism mea­sures have not only led to mea­sures that cur­tail cit­i­zens’ free­doms such as im­po­si­tion of cur­fews and road­blocks, but also peo­ple trained in the new tech­niques for fight­ing ter­ror­ism could be­come se­cu­rity risks to the state. For in­stance the leader of the re­cent coup in Burk­ina Faso Lt Gen­eral Dien­dere was the pres­i­dent of the coun­try’s Flint­lock 2010 Com­mit­tee, which is a ma­jor US-led mil­i­tary ex­er­cise de­signed to “en­able African part­ners to com­bat vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions” and pro­vide “in­creased in­ter­op­er­abil­ity, coun­tert­er­ror­ism and com­bat skills train­ing while cre­at­ing a venue for re­gional en­gage­ment.” Re­mark­ably, Lieu­tenant Colonel Ya­couba Isaac Zida who served as Burk­ina Faso’s act­ing head of state in Novem­ber 2014 af­ter seiz­ing power in the af­ter­math of the 2014 upris­ing that forced the ab­di­ca­tion of Com­paore, also pre­vi­ously re­ceived US mil­i­tary train­ing. Again Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led a rene­gade mil­i­tary fac­tion that over­threw the demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment in Mali in 2012 equally re­ceived US mil­i­tary train­ing. We may there­fore have to keep an eye on sol­diers re­ceiv­ing ad­vanced mil­i­tary train­ing to help com­bat the cur­rent ter­ror­ist chal­lenges. In the 1960s and 1970s, the ‘mod­ern­iza­tion the­sis’ – the idea that rel­a­tive to the civil­ian po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, the mil­i­tary, by its train­ing could be con­sid­ered mod­ern and there­fore bet­ter equipped to run than the civil­ians, was one of the ex­cuses used to jus­tify mil­i­tary coups in Africa. With new train­ing in counter in­sur­gency, the sol­diers may also get into the temp­ta­tion of feel­ing that by their new train­ing they are bet­ter equipped to con­front the cur­rent chal­lenges of our time.

Five, the im­passe in Burk­ina Faso fol­low­ing the short-lived coup was re­solved, not through mil­i­tary means but through di­a­logue. There were fears that the coun­try would de­scend into chaos or fac­tional armed con­flicts af­ter the ECOWAS me­di­a­tors ini­tially failed to re­verse the coup. Though Burk­ina Faso’s Army chiefs sent reg­u­lar troops to Oua­gadougou they re­frained from lead­ing a di­rect of­fen­sive against the RSP but rather were per­suad­ing Dien­dere’s men to re­turn to their bar­racks. The ECOWAS me­di­at­ing group also toned down its rhetoric. Di­a­logue pre­vailed through­out as even ri­val gen­er­als sought to find a peace­ful so­lu­tion to avoid fur­ther blood­shed. By em­brac­ing di­a­logue, Burk­ina Faso’s Army chiefs gave Africa’s armies an im­por­tant les­son in show­ing re­straint and try­ing to avoid con­fronta­tion at all costs.

The above les­son is also ap­pli­ca­ble to other African lead­ers con­fronting other chal­lenges - whether we are talk­ing about ter­ror­ist groups like Boko Haram or in­sur­gency move­ments such as MASSOB and OPC or deal­ing with other ‘de-Nige­ri­an­ized’ Nige­ri­ans. Di­a­logue is never a sign of weak­ness. Rather it re­mains the best tool for achiev­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion es­pe­cially in deeply po­lar­ized so­ci­eties.

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