Burkina Faso: Coup or No Coup? What Security Assistance Might be at Stake

Was there or was there not a coup in Burkina Faso? The answer to that question is “Yes.” As of Monday, the United States was yet to determine whether the weekend’s events actually constituted a coup, which led to an interesting Egypt-circa-July 2013 exchange during the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing:

State Dept Daily Press Briefing (Nov 3, 2014)

By calling for a civilian-led transitional government, the U.S. government appears to be following suit with the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), which have called for a return to constitutional order. (See the AU statement and the ECOWAS statements here and here.) Meanwhile, the military has been given a two week ultimatum to transition to civilian rule, and if this deadline is ignored, it might make the line between Coup and NotACoup clearer for regional and international actors.

My determination is that then-president Blaise Compaoré’s resignation on Friday should have set in motion Article  43 of the country’s 1991 constitution, which gives presidential powers to the President of the Senate in case of vacancy, until a new president is elected within 60 to 90 days. The fact that both Compaoré and the military’s Chief of Staff, General Honoré Traoré, had each dissolved the government last Thursday created ambiguity as to whether or not these stipulations in the eventually-suspended constitution could still be enacted after Compaoré stepped down on Friday. Regardless, I would argue that if a coup took place in the past week, it occurred when the Burkinabé military – through Traoré and then through Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Yacouba Zida – put themselves forward as the interim head of government, thereby ignoring the guidance laid out in the constitution. 

On the U.S. side of things, if the determination is eventually made that there was a coup, the language in Section 7008 of the Foreign Assistance Act becomes relevant:

“None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to titles III through VI of this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or decree, or a coup d’état or decree that is supported by the military: Provided, That assistance may be resumed to such government if the President determines and certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office…”

If the military fails to cede power to a civilian-led transitional government, it will impact U.S. security force assistance to the Burkinabé  military. State Department assistance would be cut off as a matter of law, and Department of Defense assistance would be cut off as a matter of policy until a transition to civilian rule.

Given the current level of uncertainty as to whether the military will indeed step down, I though it would be interesting to provide some relevant facts about the U.S. relationship with Burkina Faso’s security forces:

  • One of the recent self-proclaimed leaders of Burkina Faso, Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Yacouba Zida of the Presidential Guard, received military training in Morocco, Taiwan, Canada, and Cameroon. As it turns out, he also received 17 days of U.S. military training in 2012: a 12-day counterterrorism training course at MacDill Air Force Base and a 5-day military intelligence course in Botswana funded by the U.S. government. (Recall that the leader of Mali’s 2012 coup, then-Captain Amadou Sanogo, participated in several iterations of U.S. training, including basic infantry officer training at Fort Benning, English-language training through the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base, an intelligence course at Fort Huachuca, and study at the Marine Corps Base Quantico.)
  • Burkina Faso was slated to receive $250,000 in International Military Education and Training funds, according to the FY14 Estimate and the FY15 request in the FY 2015 Congressional Budget Justification. Burkina Faso did not receive any Foreign Military Financing in these years. With 1,984 personnel (as of the end of September 2014) across seven United Nations peacekeeping operations, Burkina Faso is also a partner in the Africa Contingency Operations and Training Assistance (ACOTA).
  • Burkina Faso has been part of the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership since 2009. (Learn more about what DoD and non-DoD programs were taking place in Burkina Faso under TSCTP by reading The Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership Building Partner Capacity to Counter Terrorism and Violent Extremism).
  • Burkina Faso has received Section 1206 (Counterterrorism Train & Equip) funding, but I don’t know how much & when. A number I have from my notes last year is $5.8M to support a CT company (100-150 soldiers) in the army. I was also told that the U.S. could only work with designated units in the military for TSCTP – the Presidential Guard and the 25th Parachute Regiment.
  • Burkina Faso had been receiving the State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) since 2011, which covered hostage negotiation, crime scene investigation, surveillance detection, and airport security for the national police, gendarmerie, and customs. Burkina Faso also stepped up border security in response to the situation in Mali by dedicating a rapid-response counterterrorism company along its common border.
  • Burkina Faso hosts a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment (JSOAD), which is mostly for airlifting logistics or casualties and providing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) in the Sahel. (More info on the ISR part in the Washington Post. Note: these are not drones flying out of the JSOAD, but manned aircraft.)
%d bloggers like this: