Editorial: Burkina Faso rattled by coup

For global gold miners, the emerging gold mining industry in Burkina Faso has been a wonderful success story of discovery and mine development in a land that until recently had little modern industry of any kind, or infrastructure.

Out of nowhere, Burkina Faso has become Africa’s fifth-largest gold producer after South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania and Mali. Thanks to higher head grades at Iamgold’s Essakane mine in the northeast and Semafo’s Mana in the west, Burkina Faso’s gold production rose 10% last year to 1.2 million oz., compared to 93,000 oz. gold as recently as 2007.

Equally as important, most foreign gold mining companies and their personnel on the ground in the former French colony have genuine affection for the welcoming and peaceful local population, and hope modern gold mining carried out to international standards can bring wealth to the 18 million people living in one of the world’s poorest countries.

And so there was concern by miners over the past week, with news of a coup d’état by the presidential guard in the capital Ouagadougou on Sept. 16 — only weeks before a national election that would have tested the country’s transition to democratic rule.

The dispute began with last November’s ouster of president Blaise Compaoré, who fled after three days of street protests across the country by mostly young citizens tired of his 27 years of autocratic rule.

The country transitioned to interim president Michel Kafando, who was supposed to govern until the general election that had been scheduled Oct. 11, 2015.

This arrangement held up for months until last week’s coup, which saw Compaoré loyalists in the presidential guard seize the country’s leadership during a cabinet meeting and install coup leader General Gilbert Diendéré as president. The guard also seized the state broadcasting station and postponed the election indefinitely.

The looming election was indeed a catalyst, with former leading members of Compaoré’s ruling party banned from running under an election code adopted earlier this year. The presidential guard was also set to be disbanded, and had been under investigation by the interim government for the 1987 assassination of junta leader Thomas Sankara, which helped bring Compaoré to power.

The coup was immediately denounced by the interim government’s most powerful allies France and the U.S., as well as the African Union, while regional powers such as Nigeria, Senegal and Benin stepped in as valuable mediators.

The Burkinabe population wasn’t about to see its fledgling democracy slip away either, and again took to the streets in protest, with some 10 people killed and 100 injured in confrontations.

Across the country, the army left their barracks in several towns to march on their own capital on Sept. 21, vowing to remove the coup leaders without bloodshed. French President François Hollande said the coup leaders would “face the consequences” if they did not “immediately lay down arms and hand over power to the legitimate authorities.”

This seems to have done the trick: coup leader Diendéré soon pledged to hand over power to civil authorities based on proposals of the regional mediators, and released captive Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida. At press time, Diendéré had apologized to the nation, the army had headed back to their barracks and Kafondo had been formally reinstated as interim president in a ceremony in the capital.

While the coup was a shock and setback, its quick resolution in a way reaffirms the generally peaceful and pragmatic ways of Burkinabe political life.

Gold miners declared that their operations weren’t affected by the past week’s events, and this is quite believable, as their mines are well away from the centre of the action in Ouagadougou, and under such circumstances staff in corporate offices in the capital can usually hunker down for at least a few weeks and carry out limited activities, without much long-term effect.


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