ECOWAS suspends Burkina Faso

The country becomes the third in the regional bloc to be punished for a coup in the last 18 months.

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The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Burkina Faso on Friday for ousting its democratically elected government, but will not impose sanctions for now, sources say.

The decision came as West African leaders held a three-hour virtual meeting on Friday to discuss their response to the coup, hours after the new military ruler addressed the nation for first time since overthrowing the president.

In a televised address Burkina Faso’s new leader, Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, promised to restore constitutional order “when the conditions are right” and blamed the president for failing to quell jihadist violence in the country.

The 15-member council toughened sanctions on Mali on January 9 after a failure by the military government to hold elections following a coup in May 2021. The bloc also imposed sanctions on Guinea following a military coup in September 2021.

Burkina Faso’s military arrested President Roch Kabore on Monday, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the government and parliament.

In a televised statement on Monday, Captain Sidsore Kader Ouedraogo cited the “ongoing degradation of the security situation” in the country and the “incapacity of the government” to unite the population as the driving forces of the takeover.

The mutiny marks the fourth military coup in West and Central Africa in the past year, with coups in Mali, Chad and Guinea.

Military frustrations

Growing insecurity in Burkina Faso’s northern border with Mali and Niger is fanning discontent as civilian death tolls spiral. Up to 1.4 million people were displaced by the conflict in 2021, representing more than 6% of the population.

Real GDP grew by a mere 1.9% in 2020, while inflation rose 3.2%. Spiralling security costs and the pandemic shock widened the fiscal deficit to 5.7% in 2020 (3.2% in 2019), according to the World Bank. 40.1% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Gunfire erupted early on Sunday in the capital Ouagadougou when soldiers seized control of a military barracks in the capital in a spat over the government’s allocation of resources in the battle against ISIS and ISIL.

Four coups since 2021

The ousting of Roch Marc Christian Kaboré – in power since 2015 and re-elected in 2020 – followed waves of protests in recent months surrounding frustration about spiralling deaths of civilians and soldiers by armed groups, some of which were associated ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda. Kaboré won the presidential election in November 2020, and the ruling People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) party and its allies held a comfortable majority in the National Assembly.

Up until 2020 West Africa seemed to have shed its reputation as ‘the Coup Belt’ but the onset of Covid-19 and domestic factors have signalled a dispiriting new era of military coups.

In September, Guinean President Alpha Condé was deposed by the self-styled National Committee for Reorientation and Development, a military junta which dissolved the government and constitution after removing senior public officials from office.  

The coup was West Africa’s third in the last year, after a recent military takeover in Mali and allegations of a “dynastic coup” in Chad following the army’s appointment of President Idriss Déby’s son after the former’s death in combat.

International backlash

Meanwhile S&P Global Ratings cut Burkina Faso’s sovereign credit rating deeper into “junk” territory, to ‘CCC+/C’ from ‘B/B’ on Wednesday following military coup, and placed its outlook on review from a previous status of ‘stable’.

South Africa’s government condemned the coup and called on the military to return to their barracks and restore democracy.

With the whereabouts of the president unknown, United Nations’ Secretary-General António Guterres called on coup leaders to lay down their arms and ensure president Kabore’s safety.

A tweet posted to the president’s twitter account called for dialogue and restraint.

“Our nation is going through difficult times,” the tweet said. “We must in this precise moment, preserve our democratic achievements. I invite those who took arms to lower them in the superior interest of the nation. It is through dialogue and listening that we must resolve our contradictions.”

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