Category Archives: Burkina Faso

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.)

Median Ages in Africa + Leader Tenure in Power

There’s nothing like a political crisis to get me blogging again. Following last week’s mass protests in Burkina Faso that resulted in the resignation and exile of Blaise Compaoré, who had ruled the country since 1987, I thought it would be cool to juxtapose the median ages African countries with the tenure in power of Compaoré and the seven other African leaders who have been in power longer than he was. The result is the graphic below:


For many of the youth in these countries, the sitting (or recently deposed) president is the only head of government they have ever lived under.

(Photos courtesy of Wikipedia & Africa graphic courtesy of Global Post)

Compaoré is gone, but Burkina Faso is gripped by uncertainty

(Originally published in Al Jazeera America on November 1, 2014)

On Oct. 30, protesters calling for the ouster of Burkina Faso’s longtime leader, President Blaise Compaoré, torched government buildings, stormed radio stations and burned the homes of government officials in the capital Ouagadougo and the country’s second largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso. The protests followed months of heightened speculation that Compaoré was planning to have the parliament revise Article 37 of the country’s constitution, which stipulates presidential term limits, to seek another term in the November 2015 elections.

Under public pressure, Compaoré announced his resignation on Friday and left the capital for an undisclosed location. Several protesters were killed and others injured in clashes with the military earlier this week. Despite Compaoré’s ouster, there is still a palpable fear that the military could crush the uprising, inflicting further human rights violations and increasing their incentives to preserve the status quo ex ante.

(Read the rest of the article on the Al Jazeera America website)

The Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership: Building Partner Capacity to Counter Terrorism and Violent Extremism in the Sahel & Maghreb

A few months ago, I published the study I had been working on during my IPA Assignment at the Center for Complex Operations at National Defense University – The Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership – Building Partner Capacity to Counter Terrorism and Violent Extremism. The study discusses the origins of TSCTP, which is rather unique by U.S. government standards, for its regional and interagency focus . It dissects the “anatomy” of the program (including which U.S. government agencies are involved, what their roles are, and who their partner nation counterparts are), and derives six functional areas of TSCTP engagement in order to better understand the program’s lines of effort across the various agencies. These are: Military Capacity-Building, Law Enforcement Anti-Terrorism Capacity-Building, Justice Sector Counterterrorism Capacity-Building, Public Diplomacy and Information Operations, Community Engagement, and Vocational Training. The study then discusses some of the planning and implementation challenges associated with a program of this nature, derived from the over 70 interviews I conducted across the interagency and in nine of the ten TSCTP countries (Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal) last year.

 The study contains a lot of information on TSCTP, but as it’s rather dense, I also published a handful of shorter articles that either summarize or draw out some of the more salient points of the larger study:

Happy reading!

Burkina Faso’s Compaoré needs an Exit Strategy

(Originally published in World Politics Review on January 21, 2014)

Despite its status as a poor, landlocked country in the midst of West Africa, Burkina Faso plays an important role in the region and for its international partners. During his 26 years in power, President Blaise Compaore has cast himself as an indispensible mediator, having brokered negotiations to end crises in Togo in 2006, Cote d’Ivoire in 2007 and 2011, and Mali in 2012, among others. With the diplomatic skill and networks necessary to negotiate the release of Westerners held by terrorist groups in the Sahel, Burkina Faso under Compaore has also become a “hostage whisperer.” In addition, Compaore has capitalized on the country’s geostrategic location to provide access to both the United States’ Joint Special Operations Air Detachment, which conducts surveillance missions across the Sahel, and a detachment of French special operations forces.

By the time of Burkina Faso’s next presidential election in November 2015, Compaore will have served two seven-year terms and two five-year terms, but will only be 64 years old—meaning that he could live long enough to rule another 15-20 years. However, the increasing momentum of opposition to the Compaore regime points to a pressing need for the Burkinabe leader to find an exit strategy.

(Read the rest of the article on the World Politics Review website)

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