Burkina Faso: African leaders meet to plot path to civilian govt

A pro-democracy protester holds up a Burkina Faso flag at Place de la Nation in capital city Ouagadougou. (Joe Penney, Reuters)

A pro-democracy protester holds up a Burkina Faso flag at Place de la Nation in capital city Ouagadougou. (Joe Penney, Reuters)

A delegation of West African presidents opened talks with Burkina Faso’s new military leader on Wednesday to plot a path to a civilian-led transition in the wake of the resignation of longtime ruler Blaise Compaoré last week.

Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida had pledged to hand over power to a civilian transitional government, an influential tribal ruler said on Tuesday, a day before three West African leaders were due in capital city Ouagadougou to press the army to relinquish power.

Zida had promised on Monday to quickly cede power to a transitional government, in line with Burkina Faso’s Constitution, and appoint a new head of state amid mounting international pressure for a civilian to take the reins of the transition. 

Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama, who is chair of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), met briefly behind closed doors with Zida.

Mahama then held separate consultations with United Nations special representative for West Africa Mohammed Ibn Chambas and Ecowas commission president Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo, the latter of whom is from Burkina Faso.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Senegalese leader Macky Sall arrived in Burkina Faso on Wednesday at Mahama’s invitation as part of an Ecowas leaders delegation.

The three presidents were due to hold joint talks with Burkina Faso’s main political representatives later on Wednesday.

Sworn in
Zida, deputy commander of the elite presidential guard, was sworn in as provisional head of state on Saturday. He swiftly announced the suspension of Burkina Faso’s 1991 Constitution and the military dissolved the National Assembly and imposed a curfew.

Compaoré stepped down on Friday and fled to neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire in the wake of the mass demonstrations over two days that forced him to resign after 27 years in office. Demonstrators took to the streets on Thursday when Compaoré tried to force a reform through Parliament to allow him to seek re-election next year.

In the chaos that followed, the army’s move to take control of the transition drew criticism from opposition politicians and international partners.

Zida met with the influential king of the country’s majority Mossi ethnic group, Naba Baongo II, on Tuesday, who said Zida had pledged to step aside.

“Lieutenant Colonel Zida and his delegation came to say that they want to hand power over to civilians and we encourage them to move in this direction,” the traditional leader told reporters.
“The country must regain its peace and calm.”

Transitional authority
Zida also met with the head of the Constitutional Court, which could guide talks on the establishment of a transitional authority that would comply with the national charter.

The African Union (AU) on Monday set a two-week deadline for the army to abandon power or face sanctions, and sent the delegation of African leaders to Burkina Faso. 

“We’re already working in the aim of respecting the deadline,” opposition leader Zepherin Diabre said on Tuesday. “If we don’t manage, perhaps [the AU] will understand,” he added, suggesting the opposition might accept an extension to the deadline.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he was greatly concerned about the crisis in Burkina Faso and reiterated an earlier call for a shift to civilian rule.

The streets of the capital were calm for a second straight day as Burkinabés awaited the outcome of the various consultations.

“President Blaise is gone. I think we must unite for the future of our country,” said Alphonse Ouadreogo, a local merchant. “The soldiers must hand power over to civilians so we can have a peaceful transition.”

Robert Sangare, director general of the Yalgado Ouedraogo hospital, said on Tuesday that at least seven people had died and 180 had been wounded since Thursday’s protests began.

French-aided evacuation
Compaoré fled to Côte d’Ivoire with the help of France during the upheaval and is staying in the city of Yamoussoukro.

French President François Hollande confirmed that his country had helped Compaoré flee. France formerly colonised Burkina Faso. “We did it ... to avoid drama and other convulsions,” he told reporters in Quebec City.

France bases some of its special forces in the Burkina capital and is the country’s main bilateral donor.

Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara met with Compaoré on Tuesday and told reporters that he was welcome to remain in the country “as long as he would like”. He added that Côte d’Ivoire supported a political transition that complied with Burkina Faso’s Constitution.

Under that Constitution, the head of the National Assembly should take office if the president resigns, with a mandate to organise elections within 90 days. – Reuters

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