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On Burkina Faso, UN's Chambas Met Diendere, Sall on the Way

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 17 -- As political leaders in Burkina Faso were put under military detention on September 16, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held a carefully controlled press conference, his first one at the UN in 2015, and did not take a single question about Africa, much less Burkina Faso.

  On September 17, after a closed door meeting of the UN Security Council about the coup in Burkina Faso, UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman rushed out, stopping to speak to the press on the steps.

 Feltman said that UN envoy Chambas met earlier with General Diendéré, and that Senegal's Macky Sall would be there on September 18. Inner City Press recorded and uploaded this on-the-fly audio, here.

  US Ambassador Susan Rice issued a statement that concluded, "The United States will continue to work with our partners, including the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, and the United Nations, to bring about a peaceful resolution. We will review our foreign assistance to Burkina Faso in light of evolving events."

  Earlier on September 17, the Inter-Parliamentary Union put this out:

"The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has condemned the overthrow of the transitional government in Burkina Faso and the derailing of the transition to democratic rule. The Organization is urging a rapid and peaceful resumption of the democratic process that should conclude with free and fair presidential and legislative elections next month.
“The military should not meddle in the political process. It should instead ensure the interim government and parliament are safeguarded and elections go ahead as planned in October,” says IPU Secretary General Martin Chungong. “The Burkinabé people rightfully demand democratic rule and it is their will that should be respected above all.”
"The Organization is also calling for the immediate release of acting President Michel Kafando, Prime Minister Isaac Zida and two cabinet ministers and for all parties to refrain from violence.
"The West African country has been in a period of transition since a popular uprising against constitutional changes led to the dissolution of parliament and the demise of then President Blaise Compaoré."


  The UN Security Council, after consulting, issued a unanimous 15-member Press Statement, here:

"The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms today’s forceful detention of the President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Isaac Zida of Burkina Faso, as well as a number of Ministers, and demanded that they be released safely and immediately. The members of the Security Council stressed that their detention by elements of the Régiment de sécurité présidentielle is a flagrant violation of the Constitution and the Transitional Charter of Burkina Faso. The members of the Security Council urged all actors in Burkina Faso to refrain from any violence.
"The members of the Security Council expressed their strong support to the transitional authorities of Burkina Faso and urged all actors to comply with the transitional calendar, notably the holding of free, fair and credible elections, scheduled for 11 October 2015. They urged all actors to respect the legitimate aspiration of the people of Burkina Faso for a peaceful transition.
"The members of the Security Council expressed their strong support for the efforts of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, as well those of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and other international partners to support the transition in Burkina Faso."

  The US released this statement:

"The United States is deeply concerned about the unfolding events in Burkina Faso.  We call for the immediate release of President Kafando, Prime Minister Zida, and all other officials being held.

"The United States strongly condemns any attempt to seize power through extra-constitutional means or resolve internal political disagreements using force.

"We call for an immediate end to violence, urge the military personnel involved to return to their primary mission, and reaffirm our steadfast support for the civilian transitional government to continue its work of preparing for free, fair, and credible elections on October 11."

  After 5 pm, Ban's office sent this out - "outraged" --

"The Secretary-General is outraged by reports of the detention of President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida of Burkina Faso, as well as a number of Ministers of State, by the Régiment de Sécurité Présidentielle today in Ouagadougou. The Secretary-General calls for their immediate release. This incident is a flagrant violation of Burkina Faso's Constitution and Transitional Charter.

"The United Nations stands firmly behind the transitional authorities and President Kafando. The Secretary-General notes the strong support of the people of Burkina Faso for a peaceful transition and urges compliance with the transitional calendar, including the upcoming elections.

"His Special Representative for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, is presently in Ouagadougou and working closely with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and other international partners to support and safeguard the transition in Burkina Faso."

 We'll see.

Back on July 7 when the head of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) Mohammed Ibn Chambas briefed the UN Security Council on he noted that in Burkina Faso "our concerns increased following [the] recent incident on 29 June when elements of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) reportedly attempted to arrest Prime Minister Zida upon his return from a foreign trip. Several gun shots were heard in the Regiment's camp that evening."

  In the past, Chambas has come to the Security Council stakeout to take questions after briefing the Council. Not this time. When the President of the Council for July Gerard van Bohemen of New Zealand emerged and said the Council urged Chambas to continue his work including in Burkina Faso, Inner City Press asked what Chambas' plan is in light of the attempt to arrest the Prime Minister.

  In response, van Bohemen said he couldn't speak to Chambas' plans - fair enough - and also said that on last week's draft Burundi press statement, it was decided that the previous week's Presidential Statement -- before the June 29 elections -- was strong enough. Periscope video here, at least for 24 hours.

Burundi is on the Security Council's agenda for July 9, so we'll have more on that. But perhaps not on the UN in Burkina Faso. Chambas never returned to take questions, of which there are many.

  On the Srebrenica draft resolution, twice postponed on July 7, van Bohemen confirm that it now set for 10 am on July 8. We'll be there.

Back on November 17, 2014, the Security Council in a French-drafted Press Statement "welcomed the appointment of Mr. Michel Kafando as the civilian President of the Transition."

 That's the same Michel Kafando who was the Blaise Compare's Ambassador to the UN during the country's last turn on the Security Council. Inner City Press has asked Kafando questions, UN now-archived video here.  Some ask, Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

 On November 13 when the International Monetary Fund held its biweekly embargoed media briefing on November 13, Inner City Press asked about Burkina Faso: "does the IMF have any comment or response to the change of government, any impacts on IMF programs or forecasts for the country or its neighbors?"

  IMF deputy spokesperson William Murray replied that "in terms of Burkina Faso there were some issues with a mission recently but now the situation is evolving. As soon as an internationally recognized transitional government is in place, we look forward to resuming discussions with the authorities."

Citing "signals for donor engagement," Murray said the IMF "anticipates the transitional government  is likely to want to continue a program engagement of some sort. Depending on the authorities' wishes and the commitments they are willing to undertake, options might be a one year program under the Rapid Credit Facility or continuation of the current ECF supported program."

  And there you have it.

From the IMF's subsequently released transcript:

IMF's William Murray: I have a question, again from Matthew Lee, on Burkina Faso. On Burkina Faso, does the IMF have any comment or response to the change of government and any impacts on IMF programs or forecasts for the country or its neighbors. Let me -- I'm going to have to dive into my brief here, Matthew. In terms of Burkina Faso, you know there are some issues there with the mission recently, but now the situation is evolving and we are following developments in Burkina Faso closely. As soon as internationally recognized transitional government is in place, we look forward to resuming our discussions with the authorities. Burkina Faso has a long track record of strong performance with programs supported by the IMF. Since the current program provides a signal for broader donor engagement, we anticipate that the transition government is likely to want to continue a program engagement of some sort. Depending upon the authorities' wishes, and the commitments that they are willing to undertake, options might be a one year program supported by the rapid credit facility or possibly continuation of the current ECF supported program. Program implementation capacity will also be an important consideration. That's our latest update on Burkina.

All right, I think we can wrap this up. Is there any other questions we can? Okay, great

 At the UN on November 4, with the military claiming control of Burkina Faso, after days of silence from the UN Security Council, the Security Council got a briefing on the topic from UN Political Affairs chief Jeff Feltman.

  Afterward Inner City Press asked Quinlan if there had been any discussion of the spread of what some call the African Spring, noting for example that a statute of Joseph Kabila was toppled in Beni in Eastern Congo, even as Kabila asks UN Peacekeeping for military support.

  Quinlan said there has been some discussion of the regional aspect, but not in detail. Inner City Press asked if France had acknowledged in the Council's consultations having helped Burkina Faso's 27 year ruler -- who came to power on the back, so to speak, of Thomas Sankara -- escape the country.

  Quinlan said he hadn't heard of the allegation that France help Compaore get away. Well, here it is: president Francois Hollande told reporters in Quebec City that "we did it... to avoid drama and other convulsions."

   The UN never criticized Blaise Compaore's 27 year rule or his bid to extend it; in the DR Congo, UN Peacekeeping unself-consciously offers military support to Joseph Kabila.  But how will the UN Security Council react, if at all, to military rule in Burkina Faso?

* * *

   For days the UN's Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had been vaguely calling for calm. On October 31 at noon Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric:

Inner City Press: the UN seems to in peace processes work pretty closely with Burkina Faso.  So I wonder when, if you can maybe say, when the President began to talk about changing term limits and going beyond his current 27 years of rule, did anyone in the UN system say, maybe it's a bad idea, maybe it's time… maybe your Government is too strong, maybe it's time for somebody else?  Or was it hands off?  What was the view of that?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I think it's… first of all, I doubt that there were any consultations by the President and the UN on what his decisions were, what the parliament's decision was going to be, you know, so I think we're trying to imagine conversations that were not had.

Inner City Press: What I'm saying is, the UN has actively asked the Burkina authorities to play a role in a variety of regional conflicts; it seems like there are kind of discussions, and also by making that request, they're saying that this 27-year person is a…

Spokesman:  I think, you know, Burkina Faso has a role to play in the regional… in keeping regional peace.  I think every country in any region has that role to play.

Inner City Press:  What's Mr. Chambas doing there?

Spokesman:  He was sent by the Secretary-General.  He'll be meeting with key stakeholders.  He arrived this morning.  Obviously, the situation is changing at a very rapid clip, and he will be talking with key stakeholders. 

   Ah, the UN.

  Why did the US - and the UN Secretariat -- support his 27 year rule, while criticizing others?

 Twenty seven years ago, Thomas Sankara was overthrown and killed in a coup led by Blaise Compaore.

  It was under Sankara that the country's name change from "Upper Volta" to Burkina Faso, land of the upright. History records two meetings of Sankara and France's Francois Mitterand. At the Vittel conference, Mitterand stared stony-faced ahead as Sankara spoke of seeking foreign relations with countries beyond France.

  And later, after South African apartheid leader Pieter Botha had visited France, Sankara criticized Mitterand to his face in Ouagadougou, after Mitterand drove through the streets waving at the crowd. Soon the Compaore coup would kill Sankara, and France and Boigny would congratulate Compaore. The rest is history.

  What would Thomas Sankara say? On this day, and going forward, we must ask. Watch this site.


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