Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

BURKINA FASO: Mutiny Suppressed, But Questions Remain

OUAGADOUGOU, Jun 10 2011 (IPS) - Despite decisively putting down the most recent mutiny by rebellious soldiers, the Burkinabé government is facing questions over its ability to provide a long-term resolution to a crisis that has gripped the country for several months.

Soldiers have taken to the streets since March, demanding a daily food allowance and a housing subsidy among other things. Provisional reports say the latest rebellion, at the end of May, resulted in dozens of injuries and seven deaths, including six mutineers and a 14-year-old girl who was killed by a stray bullet.

After three consecutive nights of violence, looting and shots fired into the air in Bobo-Dioulasso, the economic capital of the country, soldiers from the presidential guard were sent to put down the rebellion on May 31. Nearly 60 soldiers were arrested, according to military authorities, who have announced that they will be charged with “rebellion and theft”.

One earlier mutiny, on Apr. 14, involved the unit responsible for presidential security, leading President Blaise Compaoré to dismiss the top leaders of the military and replace the prime minister. He also personally assumed the portfolio of minister of defence.

“I am worried because everyone is asking how this could happen in Burkina Faso,” the former foreign minister, Ablassé Ouédraogo, told IPS. “We have lost the credit we had with the international community because we were perceived as a peaceful country, a stable country.”

“I believe we need a long-term, a structural solution to the country’s problems because the country’s problems are structural. Short-term solutions won’t definitively solve this question. Burkinabés must discuss this amongst themselves; there is a responsibility to deal with things differently than they have been thus far,” added Ouédraogo, now a private consultant.

Etienne Traoré, an opposition member of parliament from the Faso Metba party (the name means “builders” in the Moré language) said the protests by soldiers, who have demandied a daily food allowance and a housing subsidy, are an expression of wider frustration and a profound malaise in the population.

“This is the result of a style of governance that produces social exclusion, oppression, alienation and which has created frustration for people,” he told IPS.

“There is distrust (of the government) and one of the reasons for this is that people are tired of the system and want change,” said Traoré. Several opposition parties suspect Compaoré, whose term will expire in 2015, of wanting to amend Article 37 of the constitution which limits the number of presidential terms a person may serve, to allow him to stand for re-election. Compaoré has ruled the country since a 1987 coup d’etat; he was first elected to the presidency in 1991, and if he were to stand again, it would be for a fourth term as head of state.

“The question of Article 37 is on everyone’s mind at the moment. Let those who are not involved with a change to the article say so clearly, and that will lift the weight of suspicion,” says Ouédraogo. But the former foreign minister also says it is a mistake to focus on the question of another term for Compaoré.

“When we analyse the national situation, Article 37 is not the most pressing issue… we should be focusing on problems of development, because in Burkina Faso, we have three major challenges on this level,” said the former minister.

According to Ouédraogo, these challenges are the high cost of living, the struggle against poverty – especially the equitable sharing of wealth – and justice.

“There is no justice in Burkina. People do not trust the judicial system. It’s essential to have a fair judicial system,” said Ouédraogo.

The string of mutinies were preceded by violent student demonstrations in February, demanding justice after the killing of a university student, Justin Zongo, in Koudougou, in the centre-west of the country. The authorities initially said he died from meningitis before retracting this statment under pressure. Since then, five police officers have been charged with beating Zongo to death.

The outgoing European Union repesentative in Burkina Faso, Amos Tincani, was also critical of inadequate reforms to the judicial system, before leaving the country at the end of May. He said he believed the success of reforms in Burkina was linked to success in similar efforts in other West African countries.

According to Tincani, a 22 million dollar project to pursue reforms never saw the light of day because of a lack of political will.

“In Burkina Faso’s present crisis… there are deep problems which go back a long time, but justice is the most important concern for all social groups in the country,” he said.

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