In Burkina Faso, meetings under close surveillance to prolong a transition without peace

How much longer will the military transition led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré last in Burkina Faso? In Ouagadougou, the question should be decided by the national meetings, organized on Saturday May 25 and Sunday May 26, to determine the duration during which the head of the junta will remain in power.

Prepared in total opacity, the consultation is supposed to bring together “the living forces of the nation”, according to the military regime which has held the country since the putsch of September 2022. But civil society organizations deemed too anti-establishment were not invited. As for the political parties, they only had a few hours to nominate their representatives – ten for the former majority, ten for the former opposition.

Captain Traoré is following the method launched by his Malian neighbor, Colonel Assimi Goïta, who has been in power for almost four years. Closed on May 13 in Bamako, the inter-Malian dialogue, boycotted by political parties and a large section of civil society, recommended an extension of the transition ranging from two to five years. The tactic aimed at putting, by organizing these so-called popular consultations, a democratic veneer on the political ambitions of the military regimes in place, has since been copied by all the putschists installed in power in West Africa, both in Guinea and in Niger and as far as Gabon.

In Ouagadougou, supporters of the junta are hammering in the streets and social networks that the captain must remain in power for at least five to ten years, while his regime is accused of trampling on fundamental freedoms. “Serious death threats are made on social networks all day long against delegates of political parties for their presumed opinions,” protested the Alliance of Political Parties and Formations of the Former Presidential Majority (APMP) in a letter sent to the authorities on Wednesday. In this unanswered missive, the coalition calls for the lifting of the suspension of the activities of political parties, banned since the putsch, the postponement of the date of the meetings and security guarantees for its participants.

“Conclusions known in advance”

Like the APMP, several civil society organizations have called for a boycott of these meetings. In a press release published on May 21, the Serve and Not Serve (SENS) movement denounced “the betrayal that is being prepared and which has no other aim than to give an illegitimate blank check to authorities who do not ‘have only the merit of arbitrary force’. “The conclusions are known in advance. No credible actor should be complicit in this,” continues the association, before demanding as a prerequisite for holding these meetings “the cessation of threats and intimidation of voices considered critical” and the “immediate and unconditional release of all those kidnapped” by the junta.

Among them, the national coordinator of SENS, Me Guy Hervé Kam, detained by state security since his kidnapping by men in civilian clothes at the end of January, despite the court decision ordering his immediate release at the beginning of March. Or the influential Sansan businessman Anselme Kambou, who remains missing since his kidnapping in mid-September by Burkinabé intelligence agents, just like Lieutenant-Colonel Evrard Somda. The former chief of staff of the gendarmerie was kidnapped from his home in mid-January by armed individuals.

Kidnappings by the secret services, forced recruitment alongside the army to fight against jihadist groups who have continued, since 2015, to utter death threats on social networks… Since coming to power, the Burkinabé military silenced protest voices. Only supporters are allowed to demonstrate. On May 11, a few thousand of them gathered in a stadium in the capital to demand an extension of the transition ranging from five to ten years, or even lifelong power for the young 36-year-old captain.

Since the beginning of May, posters calling on Burkinabés to gather on May 25 and 26 in front of the Ouaga 2000 conference room where the meetings are being organized to “say yes to the extension” of the transition have been distributed online. The Front for the Defense of the Republic (FDR), a civil society organization created in April 2024 to oppose the power of Ibrahim Traoré, also called on its supporters to invest the surroundings of the room, in order to “ say no to the power for life” of the junta, “claim democratic and popular foundations” and “say [one’s] rejection of the dictatorship.”

Russians in fatigues in Ouagadougou

The fear of clashes looms. “Since Wednesday [May 22], supporters of the regime have stormed the area around the conference room. They camp there day and night and make videos in which they openly threaten anyone who wants to go to the conference and who has ideas contrary to those of keeping Ibrahim Traoré in power,” relates an executive from Balai Citoyen, the association which was the spearhead of the popular uprising that led to the fall of President Blaise Compaoré ten years ago.

In an internal message distributed on Tuesday and consulted by Le Monde, the general staff “raised the alert level” throughout the territory “as part of the holding of the meetings”. In Ouagadougou, the security context has been particularly tense since shots were fired near the presidency, in the city center, on May 17. According to the official version, given by the Burkina Faso information agency (AIB), “an individual with indelicate behavior” “tried to attack the sentry stationed at the presidential palace”, but the incident was “very quickly brought under control” and “no damage was reported”. A version called into doubt by several security sources, who for their part evoke the thesis of an internal settling of scores between soldiers, against a backdrop of tensions within the army.

But the head of the junta knows how to protect his back. On May 18, more than a hundred Russians in fatigues, members of the Africa Corps – the new label of the Russian paramilitary presence since the death in July 2023 of Yevgueni Prigojine, Wagner’s boss, – landed in Ouagadougou , according to an eyewitness and several security and humanitarian sources. A contingent which comes to reinforce the first of around a hundred men, who arrived in the capital at the end of January. When contacted, the Burkinabe authorities did not respond to requests from Le Monde.