The political uprising in Burkina Faso which ousted 27 year President Blaise Compaore may present an imminent threat to U.S. security by removing an ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism in that region. Burkina Faso is in a unique position between two factions of Islamists, Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria and ISIS in Mali. In 2013, the State Department reported in the Country Reports on Terrorism that Burkina Faso held an important position as a security and defense partner to the U.S. The country has worked strategically with the U.S. in an effort to counter the religious extremist “unsavories” terrorizing the area.
The West African Project Director for the International Crisis Group, Gilles Yabi praised Compaore’s indispensable partnership with the U.S. government as a key ally in keeping the turmoil at bay. In the past year, the U.S. has provided millions in assistance to establish a border security task force with ranks numbering 1,000. Despite the transitional stage of Burkina Faso’s leadership, it is likely they will continue needing this aid which presents an incentive for continued cooperation.
Lt. Col. Vanessa Hillman, a member of the U.S. military’s African Command declined specific comment on the situation except to say that the military is closely watching the developments. Most officials believe it is unlikely that the change in leadership will have any affect on America’s standing in the region. Burkina Faso is surrounded by instability, so having the U.S. as a continued ally may keep the transitional government from turning a cold shoulder.
Early Saturday morning, there appeared to be some inconsistency in who had retained control of the country which could further exacerbate the presented threat to U.S. military security in Burkina Faso. Government officials in the nearby Ivory Coast have confirmed Compaore’s arrival with his family. After tens of thousands of protestors rushed and set the Parliamentary building on fire, military officials have battled over who will bring constitutional order back to the country. Initially, General Honore Traore claimed he had taken over. Troops under his command patrolled the now quiet streets to enforce an emergency curfew.
But early this morning, Lietenant Colonel Isaac Zida went on early morning radio to declare himself head of state during the interim. In an announcement to the military following the coup, Zida praised the martyrs of the uprising and bowed to their sacrifice. It is not clear at present which military guard will hold rightful position until democratic elections can be held in 2015.
Many are using the fiery occassion to remember Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s previous leader who gave the country its name. Some believe Compaore is the one who quietly murdered Sankara during the coup that lead to his almost 30 year reign. Nevertheless, many young Burkinabes who have never known another leader beside Compaore attribute Sankara with fondness and idealization. A local lawyer, Ismael Kabore, remembers Sankara with fondness as he recalls the meaning of the country’s name “Land of the Upright People.”
A self-admitted pan-Africanist, Sankara believed in the necessity of Burkina Faso to become self-sufficient, rejecting foreign aid and the influence of the International Monetary Fund, as well as the World Bank. He nationalized land and mineral wealth and was attempting to institute debt reduction policies with a focus on local landowners. He also made vaccinations for meningitis, yellow fever, and measles a standard practice. In the four short years of his reign, many believe Sankara had put Burkina Faso on the road to increased economic stability and power.
Still others are drawing connections between Sankara’s jilted regime and Latin America’s Che Guevara. Sankara studied Guevara and quoted him often. It is believed that the world-famous revolutionary predicted his own imminent death. Just one week before being murdered, Sankara mentioned that revolutionaries can be murdered, but “you cannot kill ideas.” This eerie statement has proven true as almost 30 years later, Burkinabes still remember and celebrate his ideas to improve the country which ranks 183rd out of 186 countries, according the human development index produced by the United Nations.
Burkina Faso’s citizens now have the task of selecting their next leader in an effort to restore democratic process. A large percentage of the protestors have voiced their desire to see General Kouame Lougue, the former defense minister, as the next leader. Many are conerned about Traore’s ties to Compaore. The two major parties in the country are the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), which was Compaore’s party, and the Union for Change. There are others, but these are the largest with the most widespread support.
In the last 10 years, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has heavily reprimanded leaders who gain their power through coups and uprisings, and then, wield their power unfairly to hold on to their contested positions. Several other African countries will be undergoing power transitions in the coming years including Angola, the Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. Some leaders have agreed to step down, but still others may fight to keep their positions.
Despite the very real threat presented by Burkina Faso in regard to U.S. security worldwide, military officials are hopeful that the power changes will not affect American forces in the area. The U.S. may have lost Compaore as a somewhat reliable ally, yet officials do not realistically see the political environment having any kind of devastating impact on American counter-terrorism operations. The world has its eyes on the country, and there is confidence democracy will triumph.
By Didi Anofienem