The coup in Burkina Faso is bad news for democracy in Africa and also for African perceptions of the United States. The coup puts off the likelihood of an elected civilian government and has been roundly condemned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, French President Francois Hollande, and the U.S. State Department.
The new head of state and primary beneficiary of the coup is General Gilbert Diendéré. He was closely associated with Blaise Compaoré who came to power through a 1987 coup and ruled the country until he was in turn overthrown twenty-seven years later in 2014. Though it was in reality a dictatorship, under Compaoré the government maintained democratic window-dressing in the form of elections. Diendéré was, among other things, an enforcer for Compaoré, and is linked to criminal behavior ranging from arms trafficking to Sierra Leonean rebels to the murder of opponents of the regime – none of which has ever been proven in court but is widely believed on the Burkinabe “street.”
From the perspective of U.S. interests, Diendéré was also Compaoré’s point person on the U.S. Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership. In 2010, for example, he presided over a U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)-sponsored training exercise in Mali; he and a contingent of Burkinabe troops were flown to the training site in U.S. aircraft. He also facilitated the U.S. training of Compaoré’s elite guard several years ago, the same unit that carried out this latest coup that has brought him to power.
In sub-Saharan Africa, just below the surface, there is abiding suspicion that the U.S. bolsters abusive and anti-democratic regimes’ security organs in the name of counterterrorism without much thought to the long term consequences. Yesterday’s coup in Burkina Faso will feed those suspicions.