Arguably the résistance populaire across Burkina Faso in September 2015 against the coup led by members of the old regime was as significant as the uprising that toppled Blaise Compaoré in October 2014. In a  recent Briefing in the Review of African Political Economy I attempt to unpick the significance and extent of the popular resistance.

At the beginning of September 2015, Burkina Faso was once again shaken by profound and important changes. These events – the coup attempt on 16 September 2015, the popular resistance to it, and the delayed elections that were eventually held on 29 November – merit a short Briefing in a journal that focuses on the continent’s ‘political economy of inequality, exploitation and oppression, and to struggles against them’. For reasons of space I am not discussing the attacks in Ouagadougou of 15 January 2016 that killed 30 people. The attack targeted two popular cafes and a large hotel in the city popular with Europeans and situated on the same crossroads. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility. ROAPE has already covered the 2014 uprising in Lila Chouli’s account of the aftermath to the insurrection populaire – as it is known in Burkina Faso – that unseated the 27-year regime of Blaise Compaoré, the President involved in the assassination of the radical leader of the Burkinabé revolution, Thomas Sankara (see Chouli, 2015a. “L’insurrection populaire et la Transition au Burkina Faso.” Review of African Political Economy 42 (143): 148155 and Chouli 2015b. “The Popular Uprising in Burkina Faso and the Transition.” Review of African Political Economy 42 (144): 325333).

In 2015 Burkina Faso was moving towards elections that had been scheduled for 11 October when a coup was launched by members of the Régiment de sécurité présidentielle (RSP) – the presidential security regiment. The RSP was a ‘private’ army of approximately 1200 heavily armed and trained men created by the former president Blaise Compaoré and charged with the security of members of the political elite. The coup leader was General Gilbert Diendéré, head of the RSP and a loyalist to the former regime. Partly an expression of the exclusion of the Compaoré elite by the Transitional government, officially the coup sought to correct what it saw as political imbalance in the nature of the Transition.

On the evening of 16 September it was clear that the Conseil national de transition (National Council of the Transition [CNT]), charged with preparing the country for democratic elections in October, was under attack. Leading members of the Transition were arrested, including the two most important, President Michel Kafando and the prime minister, Yacouba Isaac Zida. Diendéré declared in the evening of the same day that the coup was suspending elections and ‘restoring order’. Very quickly the streets of Ouagadougou were occupied by the RSP, with patrols of armed personnel carriers moving around the capital and suburbs in armoured vehicles.

During the Transition a major disagreement had resulted in an electoral code that precluded certain members of the former regime from standing in the election. However, the coup represented more than a quibble over the conduct of the next elections. The message was clear: the popular insurrection that had overturned the old government and sent its president of 27 years into exile, would not be tolerated. The coup signalled the first desperate attempts to take the initiative back from the moderate Transition that had issued from the struggles in 2014. The young must stay away from the streets, the poor must once again learn their place.

No coup has been so shocking, or so short-lived. By 25 September the coup had been defeated and the RSP dissolved by the government of the Transition, which had taken its place again at the head of the state. Soldiers of the former Praetorian Guard – the RSP – were forced to return to barracks or face the consequences.. It was not until the end of the month that the disarmament of the RSP had really begun to take place. The coup leaders had either been arrested, where in ‘hiding’ in foreign embassies, or had faded back into the undergrowth of Burkina society.

Despite the rapid and decisive defeat, the coup was neither poorly executed, nor an amateurish seizure of power. On the first day, 16 September, the RSP clearly targeted areas expected to resist any attempt to usurp the gains made by the popular struggles that had blossomed across Burkinabé society in recent years. They also sought revenge. Smockey, a musician and founder of the grassroots organisation Le Balai Citoyen (the Citizen’s Broom), which had played a prominent part in the previous year’s insurrection, had his studio attacked with rocket-propelled grenades. At the time of the coup, he described some of the events:

Not only did they fire directly at people, but they have been targeting people. My house has been under fire. It is a real vendetta that is taking place. We have realised that we are in the midst of a real nest of serpents that has been in preparation for a long time. We call on all the people of Burkina Faso to step forward with pride. We also ask the armed forces of the republic to place themselves on the side of the people, because such treachery cannot be allowed to take place. (RFI [Radio France Internationale]. 2015. “Burkina: opposition et société civile mobilisées après le coup d’État.” . 

For a time the echo of gunfire could be heard across the city. Interviewed at the start of the coup, an old resident of Ouagadougou watching soldiers from the RSP amass in an adjacent street, spoke of the resistance to come:

They can shoot and kill as they please! But if the people of this country have succeeded in getting rid of Blaise, there is no monster who can resist them; you will see, they will soon scatter like rats fleeing a flood. (Interview, Ouagadougou, 17 September 2015)

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