What's In Blue

Posted Tue 4 Nov 2014

Briefing on Burkina Faso

This afternoon (4 November), Council members will discuss Burkina Faso under “Any Other Business” following consultations on Libya and South Sudan. Members will receive a briefing via video teleconference from Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa and head of the UN Office for West Africa, who is currently in Burkina Faso.* Council members will be eager to receive information on the situation following the resignation of President Blaise Compaoré on 31 October after four days of protests. There is a possibility that Council members may react to the situation in Burkina Faso through a press statement or elements to the press following the meeting.

Protests were ignited over attempts by Compaoré, in power since 1987, to push through a constitutional amendment that would extend presidential term limits in order for him to run for president in 2015. A vote in parliament on a draft bill to amend the constitution was scheduled for 30 October. Protests started on 28 October, and on 30 October protestors stormed the parliament to break up the vote. The parliament was subsequently set on fire, and during the day at least three protestors were reportedly killed by security forces. Compaoré announced that he was withdrawing the vote on the constitutional amendment. That same day, the military dissolved parliament and Chief of Staff of the armed forces General Nabéré Honore Traore announced that a new government would be installed following consultations with all political parties. The next day Compaoré resigned and left the country for Cote d’Ivoire, reportedly with the assistance of France.

The military filled the power vacuum, appointing Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Yacouba Zida as transitional leader the next day. This led to further protests by the opposition on Sunday, 2 November, with protestors calling for the military to cede power to a civilian government. Until Zida’s appointment, there was uncertainty over who was running the country since both Zida and Traore had made remarks indicating that they were in charge.

So far it seems that there has been a high degree of convergence between the AU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the UN. Statements were separately issued on 30 October, the day protestors stormed parliament, by the AU, ECOWAS and the UN Secretary-General. Both the AU and UN Secretary-General expressed concern over the situation and announced the deployment of a joint mission of AU, ECOWAS and the UN to consult with relevant stakeholders. ECOWAS meanwhile, in its statement, called for dialogue among all the parties involved to get consensus on having elections consistent with constitutional provisions. (Burkina Faso’s constitution calls for the leader of the House of Assembly to become the transition leader in the absence of the president and for elections to be held between 60 and 90 days.)

The joint mission deployed from 31 October to 1 November. Chambas represented the UN, and was joined by AU Commissioner for Political Affairs Aisha Laraba Adbullahi and President of the ECOWAS Commission Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo. On 2 November, they issued a communiqué on their mission. Members are likely to be keenly interested in learning about Chambas’ consultations with stakeholders and with regional leaders while in Burkina Faso, along with the UN’s efforts to coordinate with the AU and ECOWAS.

The Chairperson of the Commission of the AU, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in a press statement on 1 November highlighted the need for a civilian-led transition and the holding of elections as soon as possible. Yesterday, Dlamini-Zuma briefed the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) on the situation. Following the meeting, the AU PSC issued a communiqué in which it condemned the acts of violence in Burkina Faso and gave the Burkina Faso military authorities two weeks to hand over power to a civilian-led transitional government and suggested the possibility of appropriate measures including suspension from participation in AU activities and sanctions. The communiqué also took note of Compaoreé’s resignation and condemned the military’s assumption of power as a coup d’etat and appealed to AU’s international partners to extend full support to finding a solution to the crisis. It further welcomed the appointment of a Special Envoy for Burkina Faso, Edem Kodjo of Togo, who was immediately dispatched to the country. ECOWAS also announced yesterday that the Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority and President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, accompanied by two other African heads of state, would visit Ouagadougou on 5 November.

Zida announced yesterday that the military intends to hand over power to a civilian authority, though he did not provide a timetable. The opposition meanwhile has reportedly dropped its demands that the military immediately hand over power to a civilian led government, and instead has called for negotiations. Council members will likely stress the importance of a civilian led transition, and will want to hear Chambas’ views on the prospects for this happening quickly. Some members may particularly stress the importance of the AU and ECOWAS’ role and express support for their positions.

While this is the first discussion on Burkina Faso by Council members since the outbreak of violence, the Secretary-General’s 11 December 2013 and 26 June 2014 reports on UNOWA (S/2013/732 and S/2014/442) have noted the tensions in Burkina Faso since July 2013 over the possibility that the government would seek to amend the constitution on term limits, and it has been a situation that the UN has been monitoring closely. UNOWA and ECOWAS conducted a mission to Ouagadougou from 20 to 25 April, and the UNOWA June report noted that in meetings with the ruling and main opposition parties, as well as civil society, the members of the mission were warned of the potential of violence over changing the constitution.

* After this story was published we learned that Chambas was unable to brief due to the curfew in Ouagadougou and instead Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed Council members.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails