Consultations on the Coup d’État in Burkina Faso
Tomorrow (8 February), Security Council members will hold closed consultations on Burkina Faso under the agenda item “Peace consolidation in West Africa”. The meeting follows last month’s coup d’état in Burkina Faso that deposed President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré—the fourth successful coup d’état in West Africa in the past 18 months. Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Mahamat Saleh Annadif is expected to brief during the session, which was requested by the A3 (Gabon, Ghana, and Kenya). Council members may issue a press statement on the situation.
The coup d’état in Burkina Faso, which has been fighting an insurgency by violent extremist and terrorist groups over the past six years, unfolded on 23 and 24 January. Initially, there were reports of mutinies at military barracks in the capital, Ouagadougou, and in the city of Kaya. By the evening of 23 January, gunfire was heard in the neighbourhood of President Kaboré’s home. On 24 January, a group of soldiers appeared on state television from the previously unknown Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration (MPSR) led by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba. A military spokesperson announced that the MPSR had removed Kaboré because of the “ongoing degradation of the security situation” and that it would “propose within a reasonable time…a timetable for a return to a constitutional order accepted by all”.
ECOWAS has been leading the international response. It held a virtual summit on 28 January, announcing Burkina Faso’s suspension from the regional bloc. On 29 January, it dispatched to Burkina Faso a mission of the ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff to meet with military authorities. This was followed on 31 January by a joint mission of ECOWAS and UNOWAS, headed by Ghana’s Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, whose President Nana Akufo-Addo is the current chair of the ECOWAS Authority. On 3 February, ECOWAS held a second summit in Accra, Ghana. In a communiqué issued following the summit, ECOWAS reiterated its “absolute condemnation” of the coup and demanded the unconditional release of Kaboré. It further called on the military authorities to establish transition institutions, adopt a transition calendar and “return to constitutional order within the shortest time”.
Among other reactions of the international community, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) suspended Burkina Faso from the AU during a 31 January meeting on the crisis. In a communiqué adopted at that meeting, the AU PSC endorsed ECOWAS’ 28 January decisions and expressed strong support for the regional bloc’s efforts in addressing the peace and security challenges facing the region. As events continued to unfold, UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the coup attempt in a 24 January statement. The Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel)—which is comprised of Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger—strongly condemned the coup in a 24 January statement issued by Chad, which currently holds the G5 Sahel presidency.
During tomorrow’s consultations, Annadif—who attended both ECOWAS summits and accompanied the joint ECOWAS-UNOWAS mission—will provide an overview of developments and may share insights from his engagement with the military authorities and ECOWAS. In a 4 February statement, Lieutenant-Colonel Damiba said: “Burkina Faso expresses its readiness to continue discussions with ECOWAS for the outcome of the transition process”. At tomorrow’s meeting, most Council members are likely to condemn the military takeover and echo ECOWAS’ positions by calling on the military to work with the regional bloc to quickly establish a political transition and restore democratic governance.
Members may reiterate their concerns about the security and humanitarian crisis facing Burkina Faso, which was already dire before the coup d’état. Over 1.5 million people have been internally displaced by the violence affecting much of the country, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In June 2021, Burkina Faso experienced its deadliest attack over the course of the insurgency when militants, including child soldiers, killed at least 138 civilians in the northern village of Solhan. An August 2021 attack on a military convoy killed 80 people, including 65 civilians. In November 2021, Burkinabe security forces suffered their single deadliest attack ever when suspected fighters of the Al-Qaida affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) killed at least 49 gendarmes, who were reportedly living in near-starving conditions, at a military camp in Inata, Soum province.
The worsening violence led to a growing loss of confidence among the public and the military in the former government’s ability to fight the insurgency. In December 2021, due to protests following the attack in Inata, Kaboré dismissed the government and appointed a new prime minister and government. On 12 January, Burkinabe authorities announced the arrest of eight soldiers plotting “to destabilise institutions”. On 22 January, a day before last month’s coup, violent protests took place in Ouagadougou and in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso, with demonstrators calling for Kaboré’s resignation. In addition to responding to the new political crisis, some Council members may recall tomorrow the need to address Burkina Faso’s socioeconomic and governance challenges. These are challenges, members may note, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and that have underlain much of the instability in the country and hampered counter-insurgency efforts.
Council members are also likely to highlight concerns over the trend of coups d’état affecting the region. Developments in Burkina Faso follow coups d’état in Mali in August 2020 and May 2021, a military takeover in Chad after the death of President Idris Deby in April 2021, and a coup in Guinea in September 2021. At a 9 January summit, ECOWAS reaffirmed that it would maintain sanctions on Mali’s transitional authorities and announced new economic and financial sanctions due to Mali’s continued delay in organising elections. Following an 11 January Council meeting on Mali, Council members were unable to agree on press elements that apparently would have reiterated their support for ECOWAS’ efforts, due to objections by China and Russia. ECOWAS has also been frustrated by the lack of progress in establishing an electoral calendar to restore constitutional rule in Guinea, where the regional bloc imposed travel ban and assets freeze sanctions last September on the coup leaders and their families. Moreover, Niger thwarted a coup attempt in May 2021, while last week, on 1 February, Guinea-Bissau’s President Umaro Sissoco Embaló escaped an apparent attempted coup during an attack on the presidential palace. At its 3 February summit, ECOWAS announced that it would deploy a stabilisation force to Guinea-Bissau.
While Burkina Faso is not on the Council’s agenda, Council members have followed the deteriorating security situation in the country as part of their regular briefings on the G5 Sahel Joint Force and UNOWAS. This includes visiting Burkina Faso in October 2017 and March 2019 during Council visiting missions to the Sahel.
In 2014 and 2015, Security Council members held four emergency meetings on Burkina Faso under “any other business” (in November 2014 and February, August and September 2015), following protests that ousted long-standing president Blaise Compaoré and subsequent coup attempts seeking to thwart the political transition, which culminated in Kaboré’s first election as president in 2015. In those instances, Council members regularly sought to coordinate their messaging with ECOWAS and the AU.