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Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Feltman to brief on Burkina Faso under Any Other Business

Tomorrow (10 February), Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman will brief Council members on his recent visit to West Africa, with a focus on the latest developments in Burkina Faso. The briefing will be under “Any Other Business”, following consultations on the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei. There is a possibility that Council members may react to the situation with a press statement following the meeting.

Feltman was in the region from 2 to 4 February, first traveling to Ghana and Togo, and then visiting Burkina Faso on 4 February, accompanied by Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) Mohammed Ibn Chambas. Tensions in Burkina Faso have emerged between the interim Prime Minister Isaac Zida and the presidential guard. On 4 February, the same day that Feltman visited the country, members of the presidential guard called for Zida’s resignation, disrupting his participation at a weekly meeting of the Council of Ministers. Their actions came amidst Zida’s plans to reduce the size and pay of the unit. Also known as the Presidential Security Regiment, this is Burkina Faso’s most elite unit of soldiers, created to protect long-standing former President Blaise Compoaré, who was forced to resign amid protests in late October when he sought to amend the constitution to run for another presidential term. Following Compoaré’s resignation, a charter on the transition for Burkina Faso was negotiated between Burkinabe stakeholders, establishing a transitional government and a roadmap for holding elections by November 2015 to restore constitutional order.

Following the presidential guard’s call for Zida’s resignation and after holding meetings with Burkinabe officials, Feltman issued a statement while still in Burkina Faso, stating that the “international community will not tolerate any obstacle to the transition.” He noted that the international community was watching and would hold accountable those who threaten the transition. The AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also issued statements last week. The Chairperson of the AU Commission Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma strongly condemned any act that could undermine the transition, reaffirming “the need for all defense and security forces to scrupulously respect the transitional institutions and Charter.” ECOWAS chairman, President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana, condemned the actions of some elements of the presidential guards, and called on the military to ensure the transition’s success. The AU, UN and ECOWAS have continued to work closely together since first dispatching a joint mediation team to respond to last year’s crisis in the country.

During his briefing, Feltman will likely stress the need for the international community to closely follow developments in Burkina Faso, and for Council members’ support of the transition. Members will be interested in hearing more details about these recent developments, and the level of risk that the situation represents to Burkina Faso’s transition. They may seek more information on the efforts to diffuse tensions. Interim President Michel Kafando announced on 4 February the creation of a commission to make recommendations on the future role of the presidential guard, and on 5 February, the members of the unit pledged not to interfere with the transition. Council members may also inquire about protests that have broken out in response to the recent incident, with demonstrators over the weekend calling for the dissolution of the presidential guard. The meeting could also be an opportunity to hear Feltman’s broader assessment of the challenges facing Burkina Faso’s transition, as well as receive updates on his visit to Ghana and Togo. In Togo, there have been ongoing demonstrations calling for constitutional reforms to prevent President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé from running for a third term in elections scheduled for March.

Until recently, Burkina Faso’s transition seemed be progressing well. On 8 January, when Chambas briefed the Council on the activities of UNOWA in an open briefing (S/PV.7357), followed by consultations, he seemed to be optimistic about the country’s transition. The International Follow-Up and Support Group for the Transition in Burkina Faso held its first meeting on 13 January, co-chaired by the AU, ECOWAS and the UN with the participation of 34 countries and intergovernmental organisations, and Burkinabe stakeholders were praised for their political maturity and sense of responsibility in the meeting’s conclusions. A UN Needs Assessment Mission deployed to Burkina Faso from 12 to 23 January to review electoral needs. And on 22 January, the transitional government announced that presidential and legislative elections to restore constitutional order would be held on 11 October.

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