Last week, Burkina Faso seemed a bright spot in the troubled Sahel region of Africa. Little known and rarely discussed, the country found its way into international headlines after a dramatic popular uprising in October 2014 put an end to President Blaise Compaoré’s 27-year reign, analysts Daniel Eizenga and Leonardo A. Villalón write for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage:
Subsequent events demonstrated a strong popular commitment to democracy. Perhaps the best example was when civil society rallied to thwart an attempted coup against the transitional government in September 2015. Back on track, Burkina Faso organized the freest, fairest and most competitive elections in its history in November, and one month later inaugurated its new president, Roch Marc Kaboré. On Jan. 13, a new government under Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba was announced.
Sadly, only days later, Burkina Faso was back in the headlines. A terrorist attack on Jan. 15 on the Hotel Splendid and the Cappuccino café in the capital Ouagadougou left more than 30 dead and many more wounded.
What the Ouagadougou attack is NOT
It is important to say something about what the attack in Ouagadougou is not, Eizenga and Villalón add:
First, it is not an indication of political failure on the part of the new government. Burkina Faso has shown remarkable resilience throughout the long democratic transition. The transition’s successful conclusion points to the relative capacity of the state in Burkina.
Second, the attack should not be read as a sign of increased “radicalization” of Burkinabé Islam. Indeed, the attack is quite alien to the country’s religious landscape. Nothing specific about the Burkina context can be identified as the cause. Rather, the country is one more victim of a global phenomenon over which it has strikingly little control or influence.
Short- and long-term consequences
“Much care should be taken to balance the securitization or militarization reflex with the need to ensure a viable and legitimate political order,” they suggest. “In Burkina Faso, where there is clear popular support for democracy, nongovernmental organizations, the international community, and donors can take steps to help provide the kind of support needed to sustain the successes of the past year.”
Daniel Eizenga is a research associate with the Sahel Research Group and a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Florida.
Leonardo A. Villalón is dean of the International Center, professor of African Politics, and coordinator of the Sahel Research Group at the University of Florida.