On 7 July 2022, former Burkinabè president, Blaise Compaoré, who was previously sentenced to life in prison with two of his subordinates last April, returned to Ouagadougou. That sent shock waves throughout the country, since it was perceived as a blatant violation of the laws and justice in a country of the upright people.
Compaoré came aboard an Ivorian aircraft assigned to him by Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara who owes Compaoré for the support he gave during the conflicts and violence that marred presidential election(s) in Côte d’Ivoire. This included men who were sent to Ouattara by Compaoré who was then president of Burkina. After a 27-year rule, Compaoré was ousted by a popular insurrection in December 2014 and France helped him escape to Côte d’Ivoire where Ouattara welcomed him. There, he lives in the most luxurious comfort one can imagine and was also granted Ivorian citizenship since his spouse is Ivorian. But, the main reason is that Ouattara wanted to make sure the ousted Burkinabè president was protected against all forms of legal attack, since Compaoré was to be arrested once he set foot on Burkinabè soil and sent to the International Court in the Hague. Many have demanded that Compaoré be extradited to Burkina and then to the Hague to stand trial but that was never done. When, early this month, the former Burkinabè president came to Ouagadougou and returned to Côte d’Ivoire the following day, a huge distrust was voiced against the current Burkinabè president and leader of the junta, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, the victims of the atrocities of the Compaoré regime and the families of those victims saw the denial of justice, while the partisans of the former president manifested their joy on the streets of Ouagadougou and praised this first visit as a great gesture that the former president, Compaoré, deserves because during his 27-year reign, Burkina Faso was peaceful, there was no Jihadist attack; his supporters referred to him as a real “strong man” in the country, and went to the extent of calling him the “pan-Africanist”; they could not get close to their hero, however, because of the tight security that prevailed during that visit and the measures put in place to prevent Compaoré from being arrested. The official Ivorian aircraft landed on the military air force base and then an army helicopter flew him to the meeting spot at the presidential palace in Ouagadougou. This shows that no arrest warrant was taken into consideration; the verdict of the military court that sentenced him to life in prison was not respected.
The lack of trust in President Damiba stems from the fact that after the January coup, he was sworn in as head of state in a ceremony where he pledged to respect the constitution and laws of Burkina, among other sacred vows. How can someone who has pledged to respect the judiciary and its decisions pose such a breach of the laws of the land by allowing a “wanted” criminal to show up, meet with the first gentleman of the country and then leave as if nothing had happened? For Guy Herve KAM, the lawyer of the victims (of the Compaoré rule), this is nothing by a “political machination aimed at helping Compaoré escape justice”. No reasonable explanation justifies the visit.
General opinion in Burkina, and outside has it that Compaoré’s brief visit was the result of President Damiba’s decision to make peace with all former presidents. Those who were alive were therefore expected, from the most remote to the most recent one: Jean Baptiste Ouedraogo, Blaise Compaoré, Yacouba Isaac Zida, Michel Kafando, and Roch Marc Kaboré. Strangely, a first meeting was called and only Jean Baptiste Ouedraogo (who was president from 1982 to 1983 and Thomas Sankara his prime minister) and Roch Kaboré were in attendance. Compaoré showed up, when and how he wanted, on 7 July. Let us remain mindful of the Jihadist attacks that keep gaining ground in Burkina; more and more civilians, military and law enforcement officers are violently killed almost every week, the number of the internally displaced people keeps increasing, and farmers are not allowed to carry out their activity. Damiba came to power, claiming that Roch Kaboré was incompetent in front of that flail but since he took over, no significant improvement has been noticed in the area of security. These days, we hear of more vigorous military operations that bring together the air force and infantry and also joint military operations with neighbouring countries and that, apparently, is defeating the Jihadists to some extent. But, the general picture is that, so far, Damiba has not kept his word when it comes to neutralizing insecurity. That persistence of insecurity generated a suggestion made essentially by Damiba and his followers, which is that the people of Burkina must make peace with one another, starting from the political leaders, the president and his predecessors. Damiba stated that the Burkinabè have only one enemy, the Jihadists and in order to defeat that enemy, they must first unite as one peace loving nation. That accounts for the “big peace and reconciliation meeting”. Three former presidents did not attend, and sources say that they simply did not want to attend. What cannot be denied is that Compaoré seems to appear as the “winner” in all this if one can see his gesture as a victory. He defied justice and appeared as untouchable. Before he accepted President Damiba’s invitation to Burkina, after eight years of exile in Côte d’Ivoire, very stringent conditions had been laid down by his host Ouattara and the main point among those conditions was that Compaore’s time in Burkina would be safe, smooth, uneventful and that his security would not be threatened at any moment until his return to Côte d’Ivoire. The Ouagadougou Government accepted that and saw to it that it was fully respected. Compaoré returned to Côte d’Ivoire and one of the mysteries remains is the fact that nothing transpired from the meeting between him and Damiba.
Pierre-Olivier SUR, Compaoré’s lawyer defended the former head of state in these words: “First of all we do not consider the condemnation of Compaoré to be a real judiciary decision, considering all the circumstances in which the trial took place. The basic requirements of a real trial were not met. So my client was not present during the trial but he is now present in Burkina, at a crucial moment, where the focus is not only on the past but also, and above all, on the future which is being discussed and worked out. Compaoré returned to the country at a moment when a foreign enemy, Jihadist terrorists, rose up against the nation. The lawyer compared his client to Nelson Mandela. That statement was refuted by the other party who quickly reiterated that Mandela worked for a real peace and reconciliation where truth, justice, and of course reconciliation were central, unlike Compaoré and Damiba’s maneuver that simply, according to them, gives Compaoré the opportunity to make peace with his friends and allies, the current Damiba regime. They were ousted, came back to power and are now reasserting their alliance and return to the political scene. Compaoré’s visit is rather re-igniting anger and divisions in Burkina. The semblance of peace that was returning was suddenly wiped away and the rule of injustice has resurfaced. This is not what Burkina Faso needs at this time.
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.