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."
Authorities in Mali said July 31 that a once-powerful jihadist leader has been arrested by French military forces in the northern desert town of Gao. Yoro Ould Daha was a commander of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which controlled Gao for nearly a year before the French intervention of 2013. Ould Daha was the MUJAO commander who announced the death of French hostage Gilberto Rodriguez-Leal, who was captured in November 2012 while traveling in Mauritania and Mali. He also took responsibility for the abduction of five humanitarian workers who were later released. (AP, July 31)
UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson on April 12 called on the international community to protect Burkina Faso from terrorism, warning that attacks on the country's infrastructure or security would undermine social cohesion within the country, impair inward investment and further destabilize the region. Burkina Faso is particularly vulnerable due to its geographical proximity to the conflict in Mali, with which it shares a border. Emmerson described the country's role in regional peace negotiations:
The US military is preparing to establish a drone base in "northwest Africa"—likely be located in Niger along the eastern border of Mali, where French forces are currently waging a campaign against jihadist rebels, anonymous officials told the New York Times Jan. 28. The base would supposedly facilitate intelligence gathering by unarmed surveillance drones on al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and related militant networks. If the plan is approved, up to 300 US military personnel and contractors could be sent to staff the base.
French and Malian troops are reported to have entered the key central Malian towns of Diabaly and Doutenza, routing the jihadist forces that had taken power there. "The goal is the total reconquest of Mali," said French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. "We will not leave any pockets" of resistance. US Air Force C-17 transport planes have completed five flights from bases in France into Bamako, delivering 80 troops and more than 120 tons of their equipment, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little. It could take the Pentagon two weeks to transport the entire 600-member French mechanized infantry unit and all of their gear, according to Pentagon officials. Michael Battle, US ambassador to the African Union, emphasized: "Our support of French operations in Mali does not involve what is traditionally referred to as boots on the ground... We don't have any plans to put [boots] on the ground at this time in support of French operations."