Attacks by Islamist militants, military operations, and waves of inter-communal violence have left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced since January in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, triggering an "unprecedented" humanitarian crisis that has caught many by surprise. Homegrown militant groups, as well as extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group, had been operating in the country's north since 2016, but have expanded to new fronts in eastern and southwestern Burkina Faso, threatening the stability of neighboring countries. Militants now launch near-daily attacks on Burkina Faso's embattled security forces, which have responded by committing numerous abuses against civilians in "counter-terrorism" operations, including mass summary executions and arbitrary arrests, according to witness accounts and rights organizations. As the state struggles to protect civilians, a growing number of "self-defense" militias have mobilized, escalating ethnic tensions in a country once considered a beacon of coexistence and tolerance in West Africa.
Panama announced June 13 that it is breaking its long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing relations with China—a clear political coup for Beijing. The Panamanian statement said it recognized "only one China" and considers to be Taiwan part of it. The change was spurred by an unavoidable fact: China is the second most important Panama Canal user after the United States. Last year it sent 38 million metric tons of cargo through the interoceanic waterway, accounting for 19% of its traffic. The announcement of the diplomatic switch also comes just as Chinese enterprises began building a container port, with natural gas terminals, in Panama's Colón province, on the Atlantic side of the canal. "I think Dominican Republic and Nicaragua will soon follow," Mexico's former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, tweeted soon after the announcement.
Jihadists attacked the Splendid Hotel in the central Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, setting cars ablaze and firing randomly, leaving 28 dead on Jan. 15. All but five of those killed were foreigners. The siege ended with a joint operation by Burkinabe and French commandos, in which at least four assailants were killed—including both Arabs and Black Africans. French special forces are stationed outside Ouagadougou as part of ongoing counter-terrorist operation in the Sahel. In an online statement entitled "A Message Signed with Blood and Body Parts," al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said the attack was carried out by "mujahideen brothers" of its West African franchise, al-Mourabitoun. The statement boasted of "many dead Crusaders," although the victims appear to have been entirely civilians. (BBC News, DW, RFI, AP, NYT)
The leader of last month's attempted military coup in Burkina Faso, Gen. Gilbert Diendere, was charged Oct. 16 with crimes against humanity. Prosecutor Col. Sita Sangare, Burkina Faso's director of military justice, said that he has charged 23 people so far with charges ranging from murder and concealing the bodies of the dead to threatening state security and fraud. The prosecutors are also looking to charge Diendere's wife for her part in the events. During the military coup attempt at least 11 people were killed and more than 250 injured. The coup started when Diendere took the president and his cabinet hostage right before elections last month. The election has been rescheduled for Nov. 29.
The interim government of Burkina Faso on Oct. 1 apprehended the leader of the week-long military coup in September, announcing that he will face military justice. Gilbert Diendere was a general in the national army and the alleged leader of the the group known as the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP). Diendere is associated with another two other coups in the West-African nation, one in 1987 that retains significance for the ideology of the RSP. The 1987 coup marked the start of the 27-year rule of Blaise Compaore. Diendere was Compaore's former chief of staff. The first meeting of the reinstated interim government of Burkina Faso disbanded the RSP and dismissed the ex-minister of security. RSP forces are refusing to disarm. The RSP is incentivized by a recent modification to the electoral code that banned former members of the ruling party from running for political office. The interim government submitted a proposal before the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Nigeria 10 days ago. ECOWAS is working with the UN to stabilize the transition government before elections on October 11.
Burkina Faso's interim President Michel Kafando was formally reinstated Sept. 23, a week after he was ousted in a coup led by the presidential guard. The ceremony took place in the capital, Ouagadougou, in the presence of several West African leaders who helped mediate an end to the crisis. Coup leader Gen Gilbert Diendere admitted to local media that it had been "the biggest mistake... We knew the people were not in favour of it. That is why we have given up." (BBC News, Sept. 23) Among those involved in brokering a return to civilian rule was the Mogho Naba, traditional monarch of the Mossi ethnic group, whose kingdom dates to the 12th century. Baongo II has been king since 1982. The Mossi continue to have limited autonomy, although the authority of the Mogho Naba was significantly curtailed during the presidency of anti-imperialist revolutionary Thomas Sankara prior to his death in October 1987. (BBC News, Sept. 23) The Mogho Naba (also rendered Moro Naaba) is signatory to a manifesto issued by civil groups after last year's popular uprising calling for widespread social reforms with an emphasis on women's rights and reproductive freedom—including access to birth control and an end to child marriage. (Amnesty International, Sept. 24)
Gen. Gilbert Diendere, a longtime right-hand man to ousted president Blaise Compaore and head of his presidential guard, seized power from Burkina Faso's transitional government on Sept. 17—sparking street protests in the capital Ouagadougou in which three were killed. The following day, the new junta—calling itself the National Council for Democracy—released interim president Michel Kafando, in a bid to quell protests. But prime minister Isaac Zida remains in custody. The US and France have condemned the coup, but both have critical security interests in the country, and have worked closely with Gen. Diendere for years. Burkina Faso serves as a rear base for regional counterterrorism operations and contributes troops to both the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali and the US-led Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. (CSM, BBC News, Sept. 18; Afrique Jet, Sept. 17)
Three weeks after an uprising in Burkina Faso sent long-ruling president Blaise Campaore fleeing into exile, hopes for a civilian-led transition to free elections were dimmed this week as the military held on to powerful posts in a new cabinet. Lt. Col. Isaac Zida will be both prime minister and defense minister. Four other ministries, Interior, Sports, Environment, and Mines, will also be headed by military men. Civilian interim President Michel Kafando will also serve as foreign minister. In a bid for popular support, the interim regime has announced new efforts to verify the burial place of slain revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara. Speaking in Burkina Faso's national sports arena during the formal handing over of power to Kafando, the new civilian leader said to loud applause: "I.. decided that investigations to identify the body of Thomas Sankara will no longer be subject to a decision of the courts but will be the responsibility of the government."