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Burkina Faso's President Sacks Defense Minister


FILE - Burkina Faso President Roch Kaboré addresses supporters at his party’s headquarters in Ouagadougou, Nov. 26, 2020.

Burkina Faso's President Roch Kabore has dismissed the country's defense minister in the wake of widespread protests Saturday against insecurity.

Cherif Sy had been defense minister since the country's conflict with domestic terror groups started in 2015. His replacement is the president himself, along with a minister delegate, Colonel Major Aimé Simpore, who has been appointed to assist.

At the beginning of June, Burkina Faso saw its worst terrorist attack on civilians since the conflict with armed groups linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State started. At least 138 people were killed in the village of Solhan.

The attack triggered a wave of protests against insecurity that swept the country last weekend. Sy's departure was one of the protesters' major demands.

Sy was sacked Wednesday, as was Security Minister Ousséni Compaoré, who was replaced with Maxim Kone, a foreign affairs deputy.

Will changes bring calm?

So what does this reshuffle in leadership mean for the country?Burkinabe analyst and activist Siaka Coulibally said public opinion was mixed, and even if some accepted the ministers’ departures as a concession, it’s dubious as to whether it’s enough to reverse the negative effect of terrorism across the country. Whether the reshuffle will be enough to calm the anger depends on whether there are new attacks, he said.

The fighting in Burkina Faso is at its most intense in the east of the country and in the northern province of Sahel. Izidag Tazoudine, a local official from the tri-border region of Sahel province, where Burkina Faso’s border meets with Mali and Niger, said he was hopeful that things would change after the reshuffle.

Since Sy has been in office, Tazoudine said, there have been attacks and discontent, such as that in the northern communities of Solhan, Markoye and Barsalogho, where insurgents ambushed and killed 11 police officers in late June. That's why people wanted the president to change the ministers of defense and security. Tazoudine said that because those moves have been made, it's believed that things will change now.

Smockey, a local hip hop artist and co-founder of Citizen’s Broom, a civil society group that played a central role in ousting the country’s former dictator in 2014 as well as in organizing last weekend’s protests, said the recent actions weren't enough for virtuous governance. It is necessary, he said, to tackle problems at all levels of the state and not only these two key ministerial posts.

No risk of coup seen

Philippe M. Frowd, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa and an expert on security in the Sahel, was asked whether he thought the protests could escalate into a coup, as happened in neighboring Mali recently.

"I don’t sense a strong similarity with Mali in the sense of fragmentation within the armed forces or very strong inter-elite tensions that would typically be what goes into the recipe for a coup," he said. "So I don’t think Burkina Faso is immediately in that risk zone.”

Meanwhile, opposition leader Eddie Kombiego said the reshuffle would not be enough to return security to the country. The opposition is determined to push ahead with further protests this weekend.

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