Mass protests lead to arrest of Burkina Faso coup leader

burkina_faso_1008Gen. Gilbert Diendéré, who led a coup aimed at derailing upcoming elections in Burkina Faso, was arrested on Sept. 30 in the Burkinabe capital of Ouagadougou.

Earlier reports suggested that he had gone to the Vatican representative’s residence in the capital of the impoverished and underdeveloped West African state. The coup was designed to derail the national elections, which were scheduled for Oct. 11.

The 1,200-strong presidential security regiment (RSP) had refused to disarm, even after an agreement had been reached through negotiations mediated by the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Broader elements within the Burkinabe military had entered the capital threatening to disarm the RSP by force if they did not return to the barracks.

The Associated Press reported that Diendéré said, “I am willing to turn myself over to face justice. I would like the people of Burkina Faso to find a solution to this crisis through dialogue. All parties must talk to find an inclusive solution for the future of the country.”

Due to the political crisis, the elections have been postponed to a later date.

A national uprising against the dictatorial rule of ousted military leader turned head-of-state, Blaise Compaoré, during late October 2014, created the conditions for the formation of an interim government. After intensive negotiations, Michel Kafando and Isaac Zida were named temporary president and prime minister respectively .

Hundreds of thousands of workers and youth took to the streets demanding an end to the 27-year rule of Compaoré. The leader soon fled to neighboring Ivory Coast, where he has close political and family ties.

In order to calm the October 2014 revolt, military and political forces agreed to hold internationally supervised elections one year later. A coalition of parties claiming the political legacy of revolutionary socialist leader Capt. Thomas Sankara pledged to run as a bloc during the elections.

The coup this Sept. 16 placed Kafando, a career diplomat, and Zida, a former military official, under detention. The two were eventually released and have returned to their positions.

Diendéré was a longtime intelligence director for the 1,200-member elite RSP, which worked closely with French and U.S. imperialism. Fear that the RSP would be disbanded and some of its members prosecuted for war crimes against the people probably led to the coup. In addition, political parties allied with Compaoré were barred from participating in the national elections.

Mass demonstrations, international pressure and dissent within the broader military forces finally converged to force Diendéré to surrender on Oct. 1. Earlier, he had refused to disarm for several days in the wake of a brokered agreement by the ECOWAS.

Interim leaders pledge to continue transition

After his release, President Kafando traveled to New York City to address the 70th United Nations General Assembly. He said: “The transition I am leading is the result of a popular uprising in October 2014. It is a response to the arbitrariness, nepotism and injustice of an anti-democratic regime.” He called those behind the Sept. 16 coup, “heinous.” (U.N. News Center, Oct. 2)

Burkinabe Confederation of Labor leaders are demanding that Diendéré be put on trial for the coup as well as other crimes, such as involvement in the assassination and overthrow of Capt. Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader who ruled the country during the 1983-1987 period.

The labor federation, which represents 17 unions, had staged a general strike in opposition to the coup. Their efforts were instrumental in bringing the RSP to the negotiating table with the ECOWAS mediators.

Secretary General of the Confederation of Labor, Bazie Bassolma, outlined what he thought was the proper course to take in bringing the coup makers to justice. Bazie said of the 10 people killed and others wounded fighting the coup: “We also know that at this moment there are many bodies in our hospitals. So we need to try him [Diendéré] to get justice for our people.” (VOA, Oct. 1)

Bassolma accused Diendéré of playing a negative role not only regarding Thomas Sankara, but also Dabo Bokari and Charles Taylor in Angola and Liberia. He insisted the Burkinabe people will not accept amnesty for him.

The labor leader appealed to the Burkinabe people from across the country saying: “You know the solution to our problem is not in elections. If we are not organized, if we are not mobilized, it would be difficult to find solutions to our problems.” He also expressed his gratification to the people throughout the continent.

Growing economic crisis

Despite the positive reports about the phenomenal growth of African economies, countries like Burkina Faso have not been able to translate the escalation of foreign direct investment (FDI) into better living standards for workers, farmers and youth. Burkina Faso is the fourth largest producer of gold in Africa but remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

Even leading exponents of FDI such as Mo Ibrahim, a wealthy African business person, are worried. He said recently that he is concerned about the immediate prospects for growth and development on the continent considering the precipitous decline in oil and other commodity prices.

In an interview published by the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 5, Ibrahim said: “Things are stalling. We can’t pat ourselves on the back and pretend everything is hunky-dory. It’s not.”

This same Wall Street Journal article noted: “An annual index of economic, political and developmental indicators compiled by Mr. Ibrahim’s philanthropic foundation and released Monday (Oct. 5) showed that the security and business environment in many of Africa’s 54 nations isn’t improving as rapidly as a decade ago, when the continent was hailed as the next great global economic frontier.”