Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso… the temptation of a coup in West Africa
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Since the coup in Mali in August 2020, two other West African countries, Guinea and Burkina Faso, have fallen into the hands of the military, despite condemnations and sanctions from regional organizations. How to explain this phenomenon of contagion? Decryption.
Soldiers determined to assume their “responsibilities in the face of history”. Monday, January 24, after a day of uncertainty giving way to many rumours, a group of officers from Burkina Faso confirmed that they had “put an end to the power” of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré during a speech on national television.
Gathered under the banner of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration (MPSR), the latter claimed to be acting in the name of national sovereignty to respond to “the exasperation of the various social strata of the nation” in the face of a leader incapable of putting end to “the continued deterioration of the security situation”.
After the recent coups in Mali and Guinea, the putsch by Burkinabè soldiers further strengthens the grip of military powers in the region. A worrying situation for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which, despite condemnations and sanctions, seems powerless to stop this phenomenon.
States weakened by the security crisis
These coups come as the region is experiencing a significant deterioration in the security context: concentrated for a time in northern Mali, jihadist groups have extended their presence towards the center in recent years, in the so-called “three borders” area. (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger), multiplying attacks against the symbols of institutions but also against civilians.
“This deterioration of the situation has considerably weakened the States and revealed the glaring shortcomings of the administration, particularly in terms of justice and the protection of the populations”, underlines Alioune Tine, founder of the think tank Afrikajom Center, which works on questions of democracy and security, contacted by France 24. “In Mali as in Burkina Faso, the political crises which led to the coups d’etat largely stem from the security issue. This problem goes far beyond the countries of the three borders: it worries and weakens the whole region”.
Poor governance and authoritarianism
Another major grievance of the population vis-à-vis its leaders is poor governance. In Mali, legislative elections with contested results led to the fall of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in 2020, already accused of favoring his entourage to obtain positions and contracts.
In Guinea, the authoritarianism of Alpha Condé who imprisoned his opponents and had subjugated the army, again aroused strong resentment among the population, which enabled the soldiers to act. Finally, in Burkina Faso, the glaring lack of equipment and even provisions made available to the gendarmerie detachment of Inata, massacred by jihadists last November, has considerably tarnished the image of the president and further reinforced the animosity soldiers towards him.
“Security problems and the lack of probity of the leaders constitute fertile ground for coups d’etat”, analyzes for France 24 Aly Tounkara, Malian sociologist and director of the Center for Security and Strategic Studies in the Sahel (CE3S). “The putschists are well aware of this and use these questions to legitimize themselves with the people. They highlight political failures, but never talk about their responsibility for these setbacks. However, in our countries, the army plays an important political role and several senior officers are themselves accused of having embezzled money intended for military equipment”.
International partners in decline
Despite the accusations of corruption and abuses hanging over the army, the Malian junta has managed to unite a large part of the citizens around the defense of sovereignty and the rejection of international interference.
“The recent events in Mali have considerably damaged the credibility of ECOWAS and as such constitute a turning point,” says Alioune Tine. “Before the putsch, the West African heads of state had undertaken a mediation mission which failed. Since then, they have multiplied sanctions to force the military to organize elections, but their inability to prevent political crises has been the subject of much criticism. The very legitimacy of some of its members is called into question. This is the case for Togo, which has never experienced democratic alternation, Côte d’Ivoire, where President Alassane Ouattara granted himself a third term, or even Benin, where the opposition is fiercely suppressed”.
>> Read also: ECOWAS sanctions constitute “a dead end for Mali as for its neighbors”
Accused of adopting a firm tone in the face of the putschists but of turning a blind eye to the autocratic excesses of elected leaders, ECOWAS seems to have lost the battle of public opinion. France, already very criticized on the military level, is the subject of the same reproaches, in particular for its support for Chad, the main armed force of the G5 Sahel, where, last April, Mahamat Idriss Déby succeeded his father in violation of the constitutional rules.
“It’s a dynastic transition that was smooth and received less media coverage, but in reality it was indeed a coup d’etat,” denounced Alioune Tine. “France’s support exposed the inconsistency of its policy. This episode made the Malian military more daring and contributed to what could today be described as a domino effect in the region”.
The #France and the countries of #G5Sahel, who together fight the jihadists in this region, expressed their “common support for the process of civil-military transition” to the son of the Chadian president #IdrissDeby Itno killed by rebels, announced the French presidency #AFP pic.twitter.com/eH8cFnN1Th
– Agence France-Presse (@afpfr) April 23, 2021
An inevitable phenomenon of contagion?
The fall of Burkinabè President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré is not a surprise, as his open conflict with the army had made his position untenable. Interviewed on France 24, Antoine Glaser, journalist and writer specializing in Africa, insists on the very particular context of the events that led to the putsch: “There had already been several mutinies, a certain number of soldiers had been arrested recently. (…) The situation is completely different from that of Mali where it was a popular uprising that brought the military to power”.
>> To read also: The complicated relations between Roch Kaboré and Paris
“Certainly the soil was favorable to Burkina Faso but the phenomenon of training from Mali is undeniable” judge for his part Alioune Tine. “In Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, the modus operandi is the same: the special forces arrest the president, force him to sign his resignation before seizing the public radio station where they decree a curfew and the closure of the borders. It should be remembered that these coups are taking place today in countries that could be described as repeat offenders, already accustomed to military putschs, and there are many others in the region”.
Tuesday, several hundred people gathered in Ouagadougou, at the call of the Burkinabè soldiers. As during the demonstrations in Mali, some displayed signs hostile to ECOWAS and France as well as Russian flags. “This type of mobilization is growing everywhere in West Africa and worries the leaders; the unpopularity of ECOWAS has become a weapon for the military who wish to take power,” underlines Aly Tounkara. “Two members of the organization, Niger and Côte d’Ivoire, are particularly at risk, in particular because of their link with France. Today the question is no longer whether a contagion phenomenon exists but which country will be the next to fall into the hands of the military”.
Engaged in a standoff with Mali and Guinea to force the authorities to organize elections as soon as possible, the West African organization has not so far managed to obtain any concrete progress. On Tuesday, ECOWAS split from its usual statement “strongly condemning” the coup in Burkina Faso and denouncing a “major democratic setback”. She announced the holding of a virtual summit on Friday, during which sanctions against the country’s new leaders will be considered.
Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso… the temptation of a coup in West Africa
| Local Business News Today Headlines