A wave of protests last Friday in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, have led to the resignation of the country’s long-serving President Blaise Compaoré and an apparent military coup. One of Compaoré’s former allies, General Honoré Traoré, appeared at first to take control, announcing that there would be a swift transition back to civilian rule, including elections, but now a new army figure, Lt. Col. Isaac Zida has now emerged as the army’s preferred choice as the interim Burkinabè leader.Some of our readers may be asking themselves why this particular coup matters. Burkina Faso, after all, probably enters most Americans’ consciousness only when it pops up every so often as an obscure African trivia clue on Jeopardy!. The FT explains:
Over his 27-year rule Mr Compaoré evolved from being a host to traders in blood diamonds and regional rebels into an elder statesman capable of finding solutions to intractable conflicts on behalf of France. . . .In a note to clients, Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, an analyst at DaMina Advisors, a frontier-markets consultancy, compared the fall of Mr Compaoré for France to the collapse of the Mubarak regime for the US. Washington long relied on the Egyptian leader to mediate in conflicts in the Middle East.
“Mr Compaoré’s quiet, behind the scenes political, intelligence, financial and military support [was] critical to maintaining the regimes of several domestically challenged west African governments”, he said.
For example, Mr Compaoré hosted talks between Mali’s government and rebel Tuaregs, leading to the deal that made possible a presidential election there in 2013. France had been forced to launch a military operation in Mali in late 2012, deploying more than 4,000 soldiers.
President Compaoré was a cornerstone of the West’s (and in particular France’s) anti-jihadist efforts in the increasingly lawless Sahel—the Pentagon, for example, flies surveillance drones out of a base near Ouagadougou airport. The FT reported that the relief with which both Paris and Washington welcomed the swiftness of the coup is a sign of the Burkina Faso’s importance to both countries—and presumably, that they feel like they can continue to work with Colonel Zida going forward. In any case, that’s the critical dynamic to watch going forward.