Burkina Faso: Ibrahim Traoré granted blank check to remain in power

Image of Ibrahim Traoré, President of Burkina Faso. Screenshot from BF1 Télévision YouTube Channel

In Burkina Faso, on May 25, 2024, a national conference took place to establish the country’s new political agenda. This conference concluded with a five-year extension to its military transition, thus dashing any hope of a return to democracy.

Since Burkina Faso’s latest coup d’état on September 30, 2022, Capt. Ibrahim Traoré has led the transition government ruling this country. Many Burkinabé citizens expected their government to step down at the end of the transition period on July 2, 2024. However, holding elections to end this transition has never been a priority for Traoré. In September 2023, he stated that the country’s security remained his priority, as the digital channel TRT Afrika highlights in this article:

Les élections, ce n'est pas une priorité, ça je vous le dis clairement, c'est la sécurité qui est la priorité. Il n'y aura pas d'élection qui va se concentrer uniquement à Ouagadougou et à Bobo-Dioulasso (deux villes épargnées par les attaques terroristes fréquentes) et dans quelques villes autour, il faut que tous les Burkinabè choisissent leur président.t.

Let me be clear: elections are not a priority, but security is. Elections will not take place exclusively in Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso (two cities spared from frequent terrorist attacks), or any surrounding towns. All Burkinabé citizens must elect their president.

The security issues in Burkina Faso are primarily related to those in the Sahel region, which frequently comes under attack from terrorist groups.

Read: Burkina Faso changes tactics in its fight against jihadist attacks

On May 25, 2024, Burkina Faso passed a new transition charter at its national conference, keeping Traoré in office until 2029. Colonel Moussa Diallo, chairman of the national conference organizing committee, stated:

La durée de la transition est fixée à 60 mois à compter du 2 juillet 2024.

The duration of the transition is fixed at 60 months from July 2, 2024.

Is Ibrahim Traoré Burkina Faso’s president for life?

For the politicians who largely boycotted this major national conference, this power extension has dashed their plans. After the coup d’état on September 30, 2022, politicians already had to cease all political activities throughout the country. However, they must now deal with the rulings outlined in Article 22 of the charter that give Traoré and other members of the military transition the right to stand in future elections. Colonel Moussa Diallo reiterates:

Selon l'article 22 de la charte, des élections peuvent toutefois être organisées “avant cette échéance si la situation sécuritaire le permet”. Le capitaine Traoré, dont le statut passe de “président de transition” à “président du Faso”, pourra par ailleurs se présenter aux “élections présidentielles, législatives et municipales”, qui doivent être organisées à l'issue de cette période.

According to Article 22 of this charter, elections can take place “before this deadline if the security situation so permits.” Capt. Traoré, whose role has changed from “transition president” to “President of Burkina Faso,” will be able to stand in the “presidential, legislative, and municipal elections” that must take place at the end of this period.

This charter also calls for the establishment of a new body known as Korag to outline and monitor the country’s strategic approach in all areas and by all means.

Many citizens celebrated the announcement that Traoré would remain in office, as shown in this Faso TV YouTube video:

Neighboring countries also expressed their support, as the comments under another Faso TV  YouTube video highlight:

Les réactions et commentaires de soutien sous la vidéo

This is the first time in the history of Africa that a nation truly loves its president. I am very proud of you. You are honorable people. Long live the revolution, and the fight continues.

Democracy is dead; long live democracy. Thank you, my Burkinabé brothers. As a Cameroonian citizen suffering under the control of [Cameroonian President] Paul Biya’s democracy, I long for Burkinabé democracy and its freedom filled with love, determination, and integrity. Congratulations, the real work continues. Stay united like you know how to do so well. Thank you.

Bravo to the people of Burkina Faso, who understand what’s at stake. Thanks to you, Ibrahim Traoré is in his rightful place. A worthy son of Burkina Faso and Africa. May God protect Burkina Faso and Ibrahim Traoré.

Some people, including Tshikamba Nawej Claudel from the Democratic Republic of the Congo on X (formerly Twitter), even believe this should be a 10-year extension to give the president of Burkina Faso a chance to rebuild his country:

Burkina Faso 🇧🇫: The military transition has been extended for five years. This isn't long enough!

This is excellent news. However, I'm a little sad because Captain Ibrahim Traoré needs at least ten years to get Burkina Faso back on track, restore peace, end terrorism in the Sahel, and be a model for the sub-region. pic.twitter.com/WPqnbP8W93

— 🦋Tshikamba Nawej Claudel (CTN) 👑 (@lephoenix84) May 26, 2024

One possible explanation for this enthusiasm is the people’s clear intention not to trust the country’s democratic system or its democratically elected leaders. This is also due to the country’s repeated coups d’état and the people’s support for the military regime since the coup in September 2022. In March 2024, the research network Afrobarometer conducted a survey confirming this hypothesis. The results of the survey show that the majority of Burkinabé citizens support this military regime:

Deux tiers des citoyens burkinabè soutiennent les gouvernements militaires (66%) et affirment qu'il est légitime que les forces armées prennent contrôle du pays dans le cas hypothétique où les leaders élus abusent de leur pouvoir pour leurs propres intérêts (66%).

Two-thirds of Burkinabé citizens support military governments (66 percent) and say it is only fitting that the armed forces take control of the country in the hypothetical event that elected leaders abuse their powers for their own interests (66 percent).

What’s more, Burkina Faso’s geopolitical decision mirrors the policies undertaken in Mali and Niger, where homeland security remains a priority. Also, these three countries left the Economic Community of West African States (CEDEAO) to form the Alliance of Sahel States (AES).

Armed militia describing themselves as “Volunteers”

Burkina Faso’s new political agenda comes at a time when the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland (VDP) threaten to disarm. The VDP have joined forces with the military regime to help combat terrorism and the armed attacks the country has experienced since the jihadist insurgency began in 2015. As this Wikipedia entry explains:

On November 7, 2019, following a jihadist attack on a mining convoy, the president of Burkina Faso called for the creation of a civilian self-defense force. On January 21, 2020, the parliament of Burkina Faso passed a law establishing the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland. The law stipulated that people could voluntarily join the VDP and that after 14 days of training they were to be equipped with communication and vision equipment, together with weapons.

Support from the VDP is vital in Burkina Faso, where the government is trying new strategies to end its insecurity. However, the VDPs’ day-to-day activities in the field are discouraging, as they don’t receive enough support from the armed forces in their missions.

According to the France24 media outlet, volunteers, including young people and adults, must deal with poor working conditions. France24 highlights:

(…) les VDP déplorent l'absence de tenues et d'équipements de protection. Ils se partagent un nombre limité d'armes automatiques individuelles (AK-47), dont la qualité n'est pas toujours bonne. Et alors que leur mission doit les amener à couvrir un territoire plus large, ils manquent de véhicules et de carburant.

(…) The VDPs complained about the lack of protective clothing and equipment. They share a limited number of automatic weapons (AK-47), which are often of poor quality. Also, they lack vehicles and fuel to cover more expansive territories in their missions.

Moreover, the VDP are the primary targets of the terrorist groups’ jihadist attacks.

In the long run, the VDP’s disengagement and grievances could be a hard blow for Ibrahim Traoré, who relies heavily on these civilians to combat terrorism.

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