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Burkina Faso: Progress and Problems after Two Years of Transition

Leaders of Burkina Faso’s two coups in 2022 both cited insecurity and various forms of misgovernance as reasons for their military takeovers. Both promised to restore constitutional order by June 2024, as agreed in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)-coordinated transitional framework.

Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who led the second coup and is the country’s interim president, committed to fighting terrorism and respecting ECOWAS’ transition timetable. But Burkina Faso, along with neighbours Mali and Niger (countries that also experienced coups in the past few years), have given notice of their immediate withdrawal from ECOWAS. That decision adds to doubts about Burkina Faso’s ability to meet its transition deadlines.

The updated 14 October 2022 Transitional Roadmap set out four main objectives for the new regime. Traoré’s first commitment was to fight terrorism and restore the country’s territorial integrity. The government reorganized the defence and security forces, acquired new military equipment and recruited about 10,000 army and navy officials.

The hiring of 90,000 Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland received mixed responses from the army and the public due to concerns over their training, supervision and long-term prospects – all of which could worsen insecurity. Government also created the Patriotic Support Fund to boost citizen engagement with security efforts. The initiative received funding from multinationals, including mining companies.

Increasing violence and the spread of extremist activities places Burkina Faso on the brink of collapse
Burkina Faso has strengthened its political and military cooperation with Mali and Niger, although as the ECOWAS withdrawal shows, this has come at the expense of stronger regional, and in some cases, international ties. Last September, these three countries formed the Alliance of Sahel States to combat terrorism and promote economic cooperation. The alliance gives them political cover and support in the face of growing pressure from ECOWAS and other regional institutions to comply with their transition deadlines.

Despite these initiatives, however, security in Burkina Faso has worsened. According to the African Center for Strategic Studies, deaths caused by militant Islamist violence have nearly tripled compared to the 18 months before the January 2022 coup, and violence has increased by 46%. This trend, combined with the spread of extremist activities around Ouagadougou, places Burkina Faso on the brink of collapse.

Traoré’s second commitment was to deal with the country’s humanitarian crisis. With nearly two million people internally displaced and over 36,000 refugees, Burkina Faso needs about US$877 million to provide essential aid, shelter, healthcare and support. But the funding gap remains, with dire consequences for those in need.

Regarding the third goal of rebuilding the state and improving governance, the junta has passed important new legislation targeting clientelism and political patronage in the public service. Anti-corruption efforts led to the arrest of Vincent Dabilgou, former transport minister, and four others who received 11-year prison sentences for embezzlement and money laundering. But overall, progress on implementing reforms and combating corruption has been slow, raising doubts about the government’s commitment to this objective.

Last September, Traoré said his priority was addressing insecurity and safeguarding the nation – not elections
The last of Traoré’s pledges was to supervise the holding of elections to restore constitutional and democratic rule. With barely five months until the end of the transition, there’s a lack of urgency on this score. In a state TV interview last September, Traoré said his priority was addressing insecurity and safeguarding the nation – not elections.

This raised concerns among political parties that polls would be delayed, especially since the technical preparations haven’t started. The poor security situation could also offer a pretext to postpone the elections indefinitely. The ECOWAS withdrawal adds to these fears, considering that the election deadline was agreed with the regional body.

It is also worrying that political parties complain about a lack of dialogue and have called for an end to the suspension of their activities. Civil society has denounced the repressive use of the April 2023 General Mobilisation Act, and several of its representatives who criticized the government’s security choices have been forced to join the Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland. There are also allegations of abuses by defense force members – which the authorities deny.

Government says it is controlling communication as part of its measures to defeat jihadist groups. But the authorities shouldn’t ignore calls for a more consensual approach that protects civilians, especially when national cohesion is vital for security and durable state governance.

Beyond these concerns, the country has drawn further away from erstwhile international allies. Although Traoré has maintained a veil of secrecy over his alliances, the steady increase in Russian soldiers on missions, the landing of Russian aircraft, and a visit to the Kremlin in July 2023 suggest new links with Russia.

The ECOWAS exit throws into doubt the elections planned for June 2024, and the entire transition process
These ties were forged shortly after French operations in Burkina Faso ended. On 6 August 2023, France suspended development and budgetary aid to the country after the junta supported Niger’s coup leaders. In response, Burkina’s government denounced the double taxation treaty with France, and Air France suspended all flights to and from Ouagadougou and Bamako.

All these challenges provide lessons for countries in transition after military coups. Electoral and institutional reforms are vital to fortify the political landscape. And civil society organizations have a key role in countering the misinformation and disinformation that undermines democracy. The space for civic action and digital communication education is however limited in the current political environment, and CSOs will need to strategize around this.

Lastly, ECOWAS should review its protocols on democracy and good governance so that the bloc can tackle contemporary challenges. Shortcomings such as the absence of term limits, have been identified. The protocol has been used for over two decades, and the rise of coups and unconstitutional changes of government, and the recent withdrawals, suggest that reforms are vital.

The major challenges facing Burkina Faso’s transition are exacerbated by its decision to exit ECOWAS. The withdrawal questions not only the junta’s commitment to holding elections by June 2024 but also the entire transition process. The decision, together with internal conflicts, escalating security concerns and diplomatic shifts, underscore the fragility of Burkina Faso’s transition. Dialogue is urgently needed on the withdrawal and the transition timetable.

**This article was first published in ISS Today


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