This blog series would not be complete without the inclusion of its final dramatic chapter. Burkina Faso has been quiet today (Sept 30) and yesterday, like old times, before the disturbance of the coup. But everyone was waiting for news which came trickling slowly out of the Burkina government.
What we knew late Tuesday night was that the army was preparing an attack on the RSP barracks Naaba Koom II. General Diendere had asked RSP elements to stand down and disarm, however it was clear that there were still some RSP holdouts, who may have even gone rogue and were now acting on their own. The New York Times just today cited that there were only 20 die-hards refusing to disarm. They had even taken hostage the army personnel that was in charge of overseeing the hand over of their weapons.
Atmosphere in Ouaga was tense as the army closed in and took positions around the area of Ouaga 2000 on Tuesday afternoon. A government announcement was made asking citizens to stay away from the Ouaga 2000 area. The government declared the situation to be at an impasse and accused the regiment of soliciting help from “jihadists” in the following statement:
“This handful of die-hards has taken hostage not only members of the former R.S.P. who wanted to rejoin the side of reason, but also officers of the national armed forces tasked with disarming them. But even more seriously, the government knows that they have called foreign forces and jihadist groups to their rescue to realize their dark scheme.”
Western nations fear the advancement of jihadist groups in the West African region (such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM) and the Compaore regime’s strongman tactics had kept them at bay, in large part through the support of the US and France via military training, intelligence, etc. Some analysts have expressed concern about the possible rise of terrorists groups in the area after the fall of the Compaore regime. Although that remains to be seen, it is widely known that General Diendere was a chief negotiator in the region and would have access to these jihadist groups. Diendere would later “categorically deny” this accusation that he had approached such groups to come to the aid of his ill-fated coup attempt.
By late Tuesday evening, the army was prepared to strike Naaba Koom II, the RSP barracks, which was said to be largely abandoned at that point save for the remaining few RSP soldiers refusing to surrender. The Burkina Faso army fired several rounds of heavy artillery. They then advanced into the compound without meeting any resistance and the last holdouts surrendered without a fight. The army had succeeded in doing what it set out to do- take Ouaga back from the RSP and coup leaders without any further bloodshed.
The following day there was no news for many hours. People were not sure what had taken place and whether there were any casualties. Although Diendere had said he thought there would be many deaths, his fears proved to be unfounded. By the late afternoon the Burkina government released the following statement:
“The coup elements of the former R.S.P. remained unbending in their will to define the Burkinabe people… Using delaying tactics in the expectation of foreign reinforcements and in the hope of an eventually rallying of internal support, these coup elements, surrounded by a group of die-hards, have held the daily lives of millions of Burkinabe people. Faced with a situation that had become intolerable for our people, and determined to turn this dark page in our common history, our patriotic Defense and Security Forces carried out their responsibilities successfully.”
With RSP now officially disbanded and the last remaining stalwarts defeated, the only remaining piece of the puzzle was General Diendere himself, whose whereabouts were still unknown. He was not in Naaba Koom at the time of the shelling. His car was reported to have been burned. Tweets were sent saying he had tried to seek refuge at the US Embassy which turned him away. The Embassy later tweeted, “We are following the situation closely. General Diendéré is not located on the premises of the Embassy of the United States”, followed by the tweet, “Embassy networks is not and could not shelter any person or family seeking refuge.” The number of Embassies at which Diendere tried to seek asylum is unknown, however sources say he received several refusals before eventually finding temporary refuge in the Embassy of the Vatican, located near Diendere’s office and the US Embassy which are also situated close to the Presidential Palace. This was not actually confirmed until Wednesday by the BBC, although it had been widely talked about on Twitter beforehand. Interestingly, the Vatican never confirmed the presence of Diendere, however it was closed to the public for two days and guarded by several armored vehicles and trucks.
Diendere remained holed up in the Vatican Embassy for two days, negotiating the terms of his surrender. Sources close to the negotiations say he had wanted to be able to leave the country and come back to Burkina to face justice when “the voltage lowers”, but knew that this would never have been accepted by the population at large. On Thursday, October 1, former President of Burkina Faso Jean Baptiste Ouedraogo handed Diendere over to the Burkina authorities. He was driven to the National Gendarmerie in an armored truck, Prime Minister Zida having assured his personal safety as part of the terms of surrender.
The final move in this 2-week drama, took place on Friday evening, when the national army units that had left their regional barracks to converge on the capital of Ouagadougou to restore Democracy, returned to their regional posts. Thousands of Burkinabe filled the streets of the nation on foot, on bicycle, on motos, motorcycles and in cars to welcome the troops home. This is after all, the people’s army. This is the army that stood by the side of the people during the October 30 revolution last year. Now they were returning home after finishing the job. The soldiers from Fada, where we are based, left Ouaga at 1pm. Although it would normally be a 3 hour drive for the convoy, they didn’t arrive to their destination until after 10pm because the streets were so full of joyous, celebrating citizens, proud of their army and grateful to them for their show of force and peaceful resolution.
Many analysts had said the coup was disastrous for Africa as Burkina had become an indicator for the continent as a whole with regard to autocrats and dictators who are clinging on to power and making constitutional amendments to remain in power. All eyes are watching Burkina as it set its own course toward democracy with a transition government that proved to be quite vulnerable. The fact that Burkina Faso so quickly foiled this coup attempt and got its democratic process back on track is proof that the era of the African military coup could very well be giving way to a new era in which power is achieved through the ballot box and popular elections. Burkina is once again providing an example of how true democracy can be achieved in Africa in the 21st Century.