African leaders in Burkina Faso to broker army hand-over deal

President John Mahama is among three west African leaders who arrived in Burkina Faso on Wednesday, November 5, to engage with the country’s army on its promise of a speedy handover to a civilian government following the fall of President Blaise Compaore.

President Mahama was joined by Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan  and Senegal’s Macky Sall to press the issue after Canada suspended its aid and other nations considered similar moves.

He added that the transitional period leading up to elections should last up to a year.

Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Zida, the interim leader appointed by Burkina Faso’s military, told unions on Tuesday that he would return the country to civilian rule within two weeks, a day after the African Union threatened sanctions if the army failed to relinquish power within that timeframe.

The military has filled the power vacuum left by Compaore, who was forced to resign on Friday after 27 years in power after being chased out by a violent popular uprising that some have likened to the Arab Spring.

The leaders were to hold talks at a hotel near the presidential palace and were expected to fly home in the evening.

In the aftermath of Compaore’s exit, the army’s decision to take over the reins of the country once again sparked angry protests at home and prompted threats of sanctions from abroad.

But the army has claimed that “power does not interest us” and pledged to install a unity government with a “broad consensus”.

Zida has repeated the promise in meetings with opposition and civil society leaders as well as foreign envoys.

“If everyone agrees, there is no reason that the transition (from military rule) shouldn’t be done within two weeks,” Zida said on Tuesday, according to union leader Joseph Tiendrebeogo.

Mogho Naba, the “king” of Burkina Faso’s leading Mossi tribe, told AFP he had met Zida on Tuesday.

“They came to tell us that they would hand back power to civilians,” he said. “The country should regain peace and quiet.”

The army has made similar pledges over the past couple of days, without taking concrete action.

Under the constitution, which has been suspended, the parliament speaker was supposed to take over as transitional leader.

But the whereabouts of current speaker Soungalo Ouattara, a close Compaore ally, are unknown.

French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that Paris helped evacuate Compaore to prevent a potential “bloodbath”.

Compaore and his wife are staying in a government mansion in Yamoussoukro, the capital of neighbouring Ivory Coast.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara has said Compaore “can stay as long as he wishes”.

Meanwhile, international donors whose funding is instrumental in financing impoverished Burkina Faso’s domestic budget and external trade, are watching the situation with concern.

Canada, which provided some $35.6 million (28 million euros) in aid between 2012 and 2013, raised the pressure on Tuesday by suspending development assistance.

It said funding would be restored when a “legitimate and accountable civil authority has been re-established”.

Washington said it was still “gathering facts” but could yet withdraw its $14 million annual aid package.

Opposition leaders have met with international mediators from the United Nations, ECOWAS and the African Union, which has named Togo’s former prime minister Edem Kodjo as a special envoy to the landlocked west African nation.

The opposition is not necessarily against the military playing a role in the transition.

“We have to see what model is best for the situation and the context,” said the opposition’s main leader Zephirin Diabre.

The ousted ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress, has also expressed its willingness to “work with the transitional authorities”.

Ouagadougou is largely returning to normal life. Last week, hundreds of thousands of protesters had gone on a rampage against Compaore’s bid to extend his 27-year rule, setting parliament and other public buildings ablaze.

Hospital sources say at least 10 people died and 200 were wounded in the violence, while the opposition have given a figure of 30 deaths.

Credit: AFP