During Burkina Faso's recent coup, Complexas has had staff on the ground providing insights and support.
The recent coup in Burkina Faso (Burkina) may come as a surprise to those looking from the outside in, but for the Burkinabè, the steadily declining satisfaction and trust with the government reached a climax in late January, with calls on social media for the military to take responsibility and oust the president. The reasons given by the new military leaders for the deposition of President Roch Kaboré (Kaboré) have long been voiced in Burkina: insecurity; lack of soldiers; a need for more resources; and failure to combat the extremist militant insurgency. Reasons similar to those given by the junta in neighbouring Mali in August 2020.
According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, in 2021 Burkina faced 1,446 crisis events, amounting to 2,535 recorded deaths. While not all of these were directly linked to extremist violence, the rise of Islamist terrorism in the country fuelled concerns about the effectiveness of the security forces under Kaboré. In November, the Inanta military post was attacked leaving 53 police officers dead as they waited for logistical support and supplies. This incident highlights how the 100.17% increase to the country’s military budget since 2017 (from $191,065,838 in 2017 to $382,464,677 in 2021) has failed to improve operational performance — a failure largely due to the mismanagement of government funds. Anger at the government’s inability to deal with the security crisis subsequently incited countrywide protests and calls for Kaboré’s resignation.
Growing pressure led to larger and more charged protests at the start of the new year. The Government responded by taking down 3G, Facebook, and WhatsApp for 10 days. However, after a week of increasingly violent demonstrations (beginning around the 17th) and several mutinies in military camps across the country, Kaboré was ousted on January 24th and the leader of the junta, Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba (“Damiba”), was named as acting president.
Following the transfer of power, Burkina’s borders were closed, and a curfew was ordered. These restrictions were lifted a week later on January 31st. Politically, Burkina Faso has been suspended from all ECOWAS institutions until the former president is released and the constitutional order is returned. Whether further sanctions will be levied is subject to the release of Kaboré, who is still being held. While the junta is currently saying what the Burkinabè want to hear, pledging to fight corruption and depoliticise the public administration, this doesn’t preclude the junta from using their newfound political clout for personal enrichment.
Whilst a military government has its political downsides, it brings substantial benefits to security. Weaponising and orders for military action now come straight from the president, giving the army the benefit of quick decisions and large resources (albeit, subject to sound management). This is illustrated by Damiba’s proclamation as he was sworn in as president on February 16th that he will uphold and defend a “fundamental act” of key decisions approved by the junta.
According to the Chinese ambassador, China, the European Union, France and Mali will also work to help restore security to the country. This was following a meeting they had with Damiba on February 4th. Burkina and China only recently rekindled diplomatic relations in 2019. However, this has not stopped the influx of migrants (approx. 600) — the majority of which are private entrepreneurs — or investment, especially in the telecommunications and retailing sectors. In 2020, Chinese exports to Burkina stood at $322.52 million, with the three biggest sectors being: electrical — electronic equipment ($78.50M); vehicles ($52.55M); and machinery — nuclear reactors & boilers ($41.74M). Moreover, China is investing in a smart city initiative that will see the installation of 400 miles of fibre optic network, connecting all the major cities to a Huawei-powered smart city. The project is being funded by a $94 million loan from Exim bank. As well as its investment into Burkina’s technological infrastructure, China also offers 72 scholarships for military training to students and officials.
Nonetheless, China’s relationship with Burkina has not been without difficulties. In 2019, after Burkina cut ties with Taiwan, China pledged to build a $1.75 billion highway and $100 million hospital; however, these projects have not come to fruition. This highlights the failure of the two governments to agree on bureaucratic terms — most likely China’s push for an ‘agreement’ between governments. Differences in cultural and social norms have also caused friction as the Chinese population attempts to assimilate with the Burkinabè. This socio-political tension between the countries forms the basis for disagreement and a volatile relationship.
While there will always be uncertainties with transitional military governments, the diplomatic meeting shows promise that Burkina will have a stable political situation in which business can continue unaffected. If they cannot provide a stable and secure state, they face the prospect of losing millions of dollars from international business. The capital, Ouagadougou, tells much the same story as people resume work and life unperturbed. The popular support behind the coup means there has been little economic impact as people returned to work quickly. As the new leadership looks to consolidate its power it would harm Burkina’s international credibility if they were to interfere with foreign investors’ businesses, as with any country. Although risk is an inherent part of business, the recent events show a larger capacity for opportunity above all else. A new government will provide fresh faces looking to improve economic growth and national security.