Towards reforming the Burkinabé security system?


“ If it were necessary to find parallels between events so varying in nature as those which recently shook Burkina Faso, the issue of security no doubt come to the fore, appearing as a cornerstone”Alan Bryden and Boubacar N’Diaye (dir.), Gouvernance du secteur de la sécurité en Afrique de l’Ouest francophone: bilan et perspectives, Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces – Geneva (DCAF),
. Two eventful years after the popular insurrection of October 30th and 31st 2014 and the consecutive political transition, the construction of the new Burkinabé democracy was confronted with a huge security problem, which manifested itself at multiple levels: internal public security, defense policy, fighting terrorism, and sub-regional security.

Thanks to the mediating role that he played in many sub-regional crises, President Blaise Compaoré kept the country safe from attacks originating from outside the country. Ever since he was ousted, the country began experiencing terrorist attacks, starting first on the western border, then on the northern border. Since then, attacks have become increasingly violent. On a domestic level, even before the fall of Compaoré’s regime, insecurity was becoming more prevalent, notably due to the rise of organized crime and rebellious militias. The weakening of the state, due to the political transition, encouraged the proliferation of self-defense groups, which found favor amongst a majority of the population but were rejected by those more concerned with the rule of law. The attempted coup d’état of the transitional government, which failed thanks to popular resistance, was another sign of the exacerbation of tensions within the army. Despite “the return to a normal constitutional life”, members of the former Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) attempted to foment tensions in the country in December of 2015, January and October 2016In January of 2016, just after President-Elect Marc Roch Christian Kaboré was installed, some soldiers from the former security regiment, who had deserted after the failure of the attempted coup under the transition policy (September 2015), were apprehended as they tried to seize a powder keg in the western periphery of Ouagadougou (Yimdi). In October of 2016, former members of the same RSP were arrested on the road to Po, 125 kilometers south of Ouagadougou. Coming from the Ivory Coast, they entered Burkina Faso through neighboring Ghana for the purpose of destabilizing the Ouagadougou regime.. Certainly, Ivory Coast, where former president Compaoré has since been residing, showed its willingness to cooperate by releasing Burkinabé military deserters back to Burkina Faso, the presumed mastermind of the effort to inspire instability, but the threat of further violence still looms.

In is in this context that the following considerations are made, which aim to take stock of the security situation in Burkina Faso, pinpoint exterior threats and factors of internal insecurity, as well as the capacity of security and defense forces, in order to consider what is needed to effectively carry out security sector reform (SSR).

1 – Strategic Environment: Internal and External Threats

In Burkina Faso, the army has historically played a major role in managing state affairs. Between its independence and the fall of Blaise Compaoré’s regime, Burkina Faso had eleven different regimes; four of them were constitutional, and seven were not. The military regime installed on April 4th 1983 shocked the army and security forces due to its revolutionary policies, notably through the introduction of Revolutionary Defense Committees (CDR) within civil society and Revolutionary Service Committees (CR) in every state institutionThe famous slogan of the CDR, “a soldier without political and ideological orientation is a potential criminal”, has long remained present throughout the military. Some elements of armed forces have frequently held activist roles within political parties or have been elected as officials to the National Assembly.. This new political-military order dictated the defense of the revolution and left its mark, such as the guidelines of October 1987 as well as the changes undertaken by the aforementioned security forces since 1991, with the return of constitutional rule. In addition to the politicisation of the Army and other security forces, the creation of Popular Rapid Intervention Batallions (BAPIR), which emerged from the concept of “generalised popular war”, encouraged the anarchic distribution of weaponry to the population.

1.1 – Upheaval of the security apparatus under Blaise Compaoré’s regime

A landlocked Sahel country with porous borders, Burkina Faso is at the center of a fragile region, rattled by a succession of political crises. Under Blaise Compaoré, those opposing the regimes of neighboring countries found refuge in Burkina Faso. During the Liberian conflict, Burkina Faso was accused sending weapons and men into Charles Taylor’s Liberia. It is no longer a secret that the Ivorian rebellion was inspired in Burkina Faso. In Ouagadougou, it was also possible to find famous rebels of neighboring and non-neighboring countries alike, including from such countries as Angola (Jonas Savimbi), Chad, the Central African Republic, and Burundi. Recently, Malian rebel leaders of the Azawad National Liberation Movement openly maintained a base in Ouagadougou.

Blaise Compaoré used security as an instrument for political stability. Under his regime, a handful of men took charge of intelligence and security within the country, such as Djibril BassoléJoint mediator for the UN-African Union for Darfur on August 1st, 2008, until April 30th, 2011, Djibril Bassolé, who had been the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Burkina Faso from 2007-2008, retook his position after his term in Darfur. From 2000 until 2007, he was Security Minister and played key role in facilitating the Ouagadougou Accords, which were signed in 2007 by President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast, and the head of the New Forces, Guillaume Soro. Djibril Bassolé worked as a member of the Mediation Commission for the Tuareg conflict in Niger during 1994 and 1995. He was also a member of the International Committee for Election Supervision in Togo from 1993-1994. To know more, visit Blaise Compaoré additionally founded an elite security force, the famous Presidential Security Regiment (RSP, see below), lead by the Joint Chief of Staff General Gilbert DiendéréFormer Joint Chief of Staff for Blaise Compaoré, Gilbert Diendéré, 55 years old, was always in the shadow of his leader, whom he servied faithfully since the latter took power in 1987. Suspected of having been at the head of a commando that killed Thomas Sankara, “the father of the Burkinabé revolution” during a coup d’état in October 1987, he accompanied Blaise Compaoré until his exfiltration to Yamoussoukro in Ivory Coast in 2014. Considered as the “most knowledgeable person in the country”, thoroughly acting in powerful networks, Gilbert Diendéré was for a long time he the one who fanned the true or false coups d’état including when the Compaoré regime claimed to be the victim. “He served as a mediator during the Malian crisis and the conflicts in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. He was also a preferred contact of Gaddafi”, a specialist on the region stated. See Raoul Mbog et Pierre Lepidi, Qui est Gilbert Diendéré, nouvel homme fort du Burkina Faso ? To learn more, visit, who was involved in the assassination of the charismatic president Thomas SankaraGeneral Diendéré came to be investigated for this affair while he was in prison for having led the attempted September 2015 coup.. The president’s men are currently imprisoned, and their arrest left a security void.

Starting in 2011, the country has experienced a profound military-socio-political crisis. After the death of a student by the hands of the Koudougou police, in the center-west of the country, youth movements began setting police stations on fire across the country. Ransacking police stations, which were already struggling to maintain security across the country, encouraged an escalation of crime nationwide. Military units began to mutiny, and soldiers and other subordinate officers engaged in acts of vandalism, robbery, and rape. The last elements involved in this mutiny were quashed ion Bobo Dioulasso, the country’s second city, by the RSP.Because of this uprising, all heavy and sophisticated arms were sent to Camp Naaba Koom, the RSP’s headquarters, which is but a stone’s throw from President Compaoré’s palace.

Many plots were thwarted, following waves of arrests, negatively affecting the cohesion of the security and defense forcesRaphaël Ouattara, La Côte d’Ivoire.. Some crimes remained unpunished to avoid undermining the regime’s legitimacy.

1.2 – The increasing terrorist threat

For a long time, Burkinabé authorities considered the terrorist problem an issue which concerned neighboring states, such as Mali and Niger. Therefore, they tended to minimise the risk of potential attacks on their territory while granting refuge to a number of rebel leaders from Azawad and northern MaliDifferent leaders of the MNLA stayed in Burkina Faso until Blaise Compaoré was ousted. Others stayed there after his fall and can still be found there. Yad Ag Ghali, leader of the jihadist movement Ansar Dine, also frequently went to Burkina Faso, especially before his radicalisation.. Another key person for Compaoré’s regime was Moustapha Limam Chafi, from Mauritania. As the special counsel to Blaise Compaoré, he maintained close ties to leaders of Sahel jihadist groupsMoustapha Chafi, of Mauritania, served President Blaise Compaoré for around 20 years. He was one of the most influential of his advisors, becoming indispensible to other heads of state such as: Muammar Gaddafi, Mano Dayak or Lauren-Désiré Kabila, Alassane Outtara, Macky Sall, Mahamadou Issoufou, whom he advised as well. After Blaise Compaoré’s departure, he left Ouagadougou for the Ivory Coast on November 1st 2015 under the protection of General Diendéré’s men. Chafi was at the center of operations led against Tuareg rebels in Niger and Mali which whom he maintained relations, notably with the leaders Moktar Belmokhtar and Abu Zeid who permitted the liberation of Swiss, Spanish, and French hostages.. These ties allowed the former President to play a mediating role in releasing Western hostages abducted in the Sahel-Sahara region. This deal with the devil, founded through a tacit non-aggression pact, have long contributed to keeping Burkina Faso safe from terrorist threats: in exchange for not being targeted, the Compaoré regime turned a blind eye towards trafficking these groups would do on Burkinabé territory which certain members of the former president’s close circle were suspected of having participated in. These opaque arrangementsBenjamin Roger, « Attentat de Ouagadougou: pourquoi le Burkina a été frappé ? », Jeune Afrique, January 29th, 2016, ended after the October 2014 popular rebellion.

Burkina Faso had a terrorist attack for the first time on April 4th 2015, with the kidnappingIbid. of a Westerner on Burkinabé territory: a Romanian security officer was abducted in Tambov, in the north, near the border with Mali and Niger. On August 23rd 2015, in Oursi, the same region, a gendarmerie brigade was attacked, losing one of its men. On October 9th, in Samorogouan, in the west of Burkina Faso close to the Malian border, three other gendarmes were killed when their barracks were stormed by heavily armed terroristsStarting in May, the Malian authorities had proceeded with arresting Yacouba Traoré, a Malian in his forties and leader of South Ansar Dine, who had been in contact with Boubacar Sawadogo, the man who inspired the October 9th 2015, attack against the Samorogouan gendarmerie station., in revenge for one of their men being arrested. In January of 2016, Ouagadougou was hit in its center by terrorists for the first time everMorgane Le Cam, Burkina Faso: six individus liés à l’attentat de Ouagadougou ont été interpellés, Le Monde, June 1st, 2016, : the restaurant “Cappuccino” and Hotel “Splendid” were both attacked, resulting in the death of 30 individuals of 14 different nationalities. These attacks were claimed by AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). Still today, the thorough planning of these actsIt is thus that a presumed terrorist (who was denounced by the residents in the neighborhood) was killed in a suburban neighborhood in Ouagadougou, where he had been renting a house for several months. raises many questions. Convinced that the “hard-liners” from the Compaoré clan were responsible, certain individuals close to President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré did not hesitate to accuse them of using their old networks to remotely operating the Ouagadougou attack. “We knew that they wouldn’t leave us alone and that they plot against us constantly. These people are capable of anything” said one of themBenjamin Roger, Attentat de Ouagadougou: pourquoi le Burkina a été frappé?, op.cit..

This attack exposed the inability of the state to respond to crisesDuring the first gunshots, the security forces, called by their family members, themselves spoke of firecracker explosions and/or traditional rifles, since the facts that were made during the weekend of “Christian Funerals”, organised in a routine way in the entire town of Ouagadougou.. French and American special forces were really the ones who got rid of the terrorists. During this time, Burkina Faso showed its limits in fighting against terrorism – resulting from the security apparatus’s weak cooperative capabilities, which hindered its ability to react efficiently and promptly. This tragic event changed the situation from a security perspective, revealing that the security and defense forces were now confronted with terrorist threats from both within and outside the country. Another attack occurred in Nassoumbou on December 16th 2016, on the Malian border, resulting in the death of 12 Burkinabé troops;

In north Burkina Faso, terrorist networks were installed with the help of some local religious leaders. The groups that are currently in Burkina FasoAl-Mourabitoun, affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed the Splendid Hotel and Cappuccino restaurant attack. However, one year after this attack, a Burkinabé and two Malians were accused of “criminality, assassination, attempted assassination, property damage related to a terrorist organisation, complicity of assassination and attempted assassination in relation to terrorist activity”. At the time, besides the so-called Iman “Malam” Dicko (see below), it is difficult to establish the connection of involved individuals in this attack with known terrorist groups. took advantage of the weakness of this new state, which was preoccupied with constructing its democracy, in order to develop and assert themselves. However, it is difficult to estimate the number of recruits enrolled by terrorist groups. In the case of the attacks in Burkina Faso, the assailants were very young Fulani, Touaregs, or Arabs coming from the north of the country. Imam Dicko’s men, who had carried out the most deadly attack in the north of Burkina Faso, were partially Burkinabé, even though they regularly retreated to neighboring Mali. Ibrahim Malam Dicko, commonly known as “Malam”, is from Djibo, and had been, like other radical preachers, under surveillance by the authorities for many years. Malam used to be the leader of al-Irchad, a religious organisation based in the Soum province. Ever since he returned from Mali in 2015, Malam became increasingly isolated within al-Irchad. His speeches were seen as too violent by several of the organization’s members. According to many Burkinabé security sources, Malam’s divergences and increasing isolation pushed him to create his own group, Ansarul Islam. This group claimed responsibility for the Nassoumbou attack which killed twelve soldiers mid-December 2016. In Mali and Burkina Faso, ties seem to exist between Malam and the radical preacher Amadou Koufa. The latter is known to be the the presumed founder of the mysterious Massina Liberation Front (FLM), which is now embedded into Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (Group to Support Islam and Muslims)Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin publicly annouced its formation through a video sent to the Mauritanian Press Agency (Agence Nouakchott Information) on 1 March 2017. Several jihadist leaders appeared on the video, including Iyad Ag Ghaly, leader of Ansar Dine ; Amadou Koufa, leader of Katibat Macina ; Abou Hassan al-Ansari, right-hand man of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, leader of Al-Mourabitoun ; and Abou Abderrahman El Senhadji, judge of AQIM..

A second large scale attack occurred in Ouagadougou on 13 and 14 August 2017. Responsibility has not been claimedthe important amount of muslim victims, among which two Sheikhs from Kuwait and three students affilitaed with the Sunni Movement of Burkina Faso might have caused harm to the Jihadists. See Morgane Le Cam : . Unlike the January assault, carried out jointly with the French Special forces, the government’s spokesperson declared that the operation in the night of 13 to 14 had been “entirely” executed by the forces of Burkina Faso, whose coordination improved.

Furthermore, the activity of the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) is increasing in the border region between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. The ISGS was created by one of the two secessionist branches of Al-Mourabitoune – the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa branch, directed by Adnane Abou Walid al-Sahraoui and made up mostly of Malians from the Gao region (in the Menaka zone).

1.3 – Internal instability

Inside the country, areas of tension, which arise where the civilian population is threatened, are legion. While the protection of goods and people is theoretically the main purpose of security forces, they do not have the capacity, the training, nor the means in order to counter these aggressionsCenter for Democratic Governance: CDG, Study on citizen trust vis-à-vis security and defense forces, Ouagadougou, September 2016..

Burkina Faso is also forced to respond to threats of an international nature. As a landlocked country, Burkina Faso is a trafficking hub for neighboring states (for such goods as light arms, drugs, gems, livestock, wood, coffee, and chocolate).

2 – Security and Defense Forces: Organisations and Deficiencies

The terms used below are “defense forces” (including the army and air force), referring to the military, and “security forces”, which refers to forces charged with public security (gendarmerie and police forces).

2.1 – Constitutional provisions and the actual apparatus

Defense and security forces in Burkina Faso changed in the judicial environment which defined clearly their respective tasks and responsibilities. According to article 36 of the June 2nd 1991 constitution, “The President of Faso is the guardian of national independence, territorial integrity, and the permanence and continuity of the state, in regards to its accords and treaties”. According to Article 52, he is the supreme leader of the military, and therefore presides over the Supreme Defense Council. He also has the power to nominate the military’s Joint Chief of Staff. The prime minister, who is the head of the government, is defined in article 63 of the Constitution as “responsible for the execution of the national defense policy defined by the Faso President”. He also has the prerogative to assign “military jobs other than those relating to the jurisdiction of the Faso President”. Under article 24 of decree 2005-05/PRES/PM/SECU/ MATD/DEF/MJ issued on January 31st 2005 which aims to maintainning public order in Burkina Faso, the prime minister was one of the authorized authorities to demand, through a request addressed to the Joint Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, the intervention of 3rd category forces to maintain public order.

2.2 – The national army

2.2.1 – Missions and organisations

Created following the country’s independence and under the authority of of the National Defense Minister, on November 1st 1961, the army is charged with national territorial defense. However, the army may intervene if need be to maintain order as well; in this case, the army acts as a complementary force when the police request for assistancePierre Pascalon, Protection of national territory against international terrorism, Paris, l’Harmattan, 2003, p.263. in efficiently fighting against organized and border crimes. Furthermore, present security challenges causes the army to invest in internal security in order to fight terrorism. Finally, it is notable that in Burkina Faso, like in the majority of francophone countries, the gendarmerie is a military force charged with police missions, but who in the case of a siege or war participates in defending the territory under the authority of the Chief of Defense Staff.

Due to tribulations in Burkina Faso’s political history, the army became politicized, meaning that it considered its participation in the political sphere as legitimate. The return of the 1991 Constitution did not put an end to this practice. Former president Compaoré notably instrumentalized the army through the arbitrary promotion of certain officers to the rank of generalM. Fall, Three army corps, two divisions, ten brigadier generals: star inflation within the national army, Sud Quotidien, 2007.. Furthermore, after the 2011 insurrection, which pushed him to leave the presidential palace and find refuge in Ziniaré, northeast of Ouagadougou, former President Blaise Compaoré extended his power by becoming the National Defense Minister as well, previously occupied by Minister Yéro Boly. Today, the division between partisans and opponents of the regime within the security and defense forces seems to persist.

The Administrative Council for the Governmental Sector (CASEM) of national defense focused, during its first annual session (16th-17th of February 2017), on the strategic plan of 2017-2021 for reforming the National Armed Forces. It refers to all actors needed for this plan to be accomplished. The Head of State, the outgoing Defense Minister, declared in his opening address that “the reform of the National Armed Forces aims to build a professional, operational, and republican army, in line with Burkina Faso’s ambitions and democratic demands … it is undeniable that we must continually adapt our defensive abilities in order to face the numerous, highly worrying challenges”

2.2.2 – The dissolution of the RSP: a symptom of the Army’s deconstruction or strengthening?

Presented as a true “army within the army”, the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) was at the heart of powerful conspiracies for twenty years. The successor of the first battalion of the National Center for Commando Training (Cnec) of PôGeorges-Namoano Academy in Pô serves as a recruiting pool for the Burkinabé army’s elite forces. and officially charged with assuring the Head of State’s security, the RSP was created in 1995 by presidential decree: it included, at the time of its dissolution, 1,300 soldiers, or close to 10% of the Burkinabé army’s troops. The primary instigator of the attempted coup d’état of September 2015, General Gilbert DiendéréGilbert Diendéré had replaced Blaise Compaoré at the head of the CNEC (National Commando Training Center), while Compaoré became the head of state. The RSP came from the CNEC and Gilbert Diendéré was its commander until his nomination as Blaise Compaoré’s Joint Chief of Staff. General Diendéré was dismissed of his position as Joint Chief of Staff for the President at the end of November 2014, before being removed from the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP)., was its founder. The resources used to equip this regiment led to frustrations emerging throughout the armed forces. They controlled the intelligence sector and were entrusted with delicate missions. The RSP was suspected of intervening in conflicts throughout the region -- in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast. More recently, during the Serval operation in Mali in January 2013, the RSP was the first group mobilised to support French troops fighting jihadist groups. Some of them were even sent to secure the crash zone of an Air Algeria flight in July 2014, in the Malian desert. Finally, the RSP was used to contain demonstrations calling for Blaise Compaoré’s downfall outside of the Palace.

It was the RSP’s men, under General Diendéré’s leadership, who led the failed coup of September 17th 2015 against the transitional regime. The rift thqt has always existed between the RSP and the rest of the army, due to the favorable treatment awarded to the RSP, only deepened following clashes opposing the RSP to the loyalist forces The President of the Transitional National Council, Cheriff Sy (son of General Baba Sy, very respected by the army throughout his life), in a communiqué had invited “the Joint Chief of Staff of the Army and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for different military regions to immediately take all measures so that this treason is stopped since there is an armed group that goes against the will of the people”. Bruno Jaffré, Burkina Faso: the Presidential Security Regiment reminds the world of its putschist nature, Mediapart, September 18, 2015. after this thwarted coup d’étatThe professional loyalist forces that launched the offensive against the camp of the former RSP was, at the time, commended by the head of government Isaac Zida. “I commend the patriotic spirit and bravado of our soldiers as well as the tactic adopted by the military hierarchy that permitted the loyalist soldiers to triumph without a massive killing”..

On September 25th 2015, the Ministers’ Council of the transitional government led by Prime Minister Isaac Zida dissolved the RSPThis Ministerial Cabinet was also dismissed of their functions the Joint Chief of Staff of the Faso Presidency, the Colonel Major Boureima Kéré, the minister delegated close to the Faso Presidency and Sidi Paré, who was in charge of maintaining security., popularly known as the “Council’s Army”. Alongside a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a symbolic disarmament ceremony of the RSP occurred on October 7th 2015. This event finalized the demise of ex-president Compaoré’s elite praetorian guard unitTo learn more: The same day, the head of the mutinous soldiers, General Diendéré, and the former Foreign Affairs Minister General Djibril Bassolé, were accused of “breaching state security”. See: Seized arms were distributed amongst different army units; priority was given to forces stationed in the northSimultaneously with this disarmament ceremony, judicial authorities – stemming from both the military justice system and an investigatory commission alike – carried out multiple arrests.. The dissolution of the RSP was one of the long-established demands held by the population and civil society, which had been called for in a more determined manner since the start of the transitionFeedback from the news site the day after the dissolution well expressed the population’s expectations. The citizen’s movement created a petition calling for the RSP’s dissolution addressed to the United Nations Secretary General. See also: It was also one of Isaac Zida’sRegardless of the isaac Zida’s indicated volition, according to some, the “RSP had survived the popular insurrection. Better, it infiltrated transitional institutions in placing lieutenant-colonel Zida as the interim President before adopting the transitional charter, then as Prime Minister”, Abdoul Karim Saidou, Burkina Faso: where is the army’s reform two years after the popular rebellion?, Note d’Analyse du GRIP, January 12, 2017, Brussels. (the interim prime minister) main objectives, himself the former number the RSP’s former number 2Benjamin Roger, Burkina: RSP, watch out!, Jeune Afrique, June 18th, 2015..

The majority of RSP members were assigned to different Burkinabé regiments. For example, among the twelve Burkinabé soldiers slaughtered by terrorists in the Djibo region were some former RSP.Certain former RSP members were assigned to missions within Burkinabé units fighting in foreign missions. Since the end of the transition, former Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, who was promoted from colonel to general, has lived in exile in Canada. He was removed from the army. While he managed to oppose his former brothers in arms within the ex-RSP during the transition year, this is only due to the support he received from within the security and defense forces. This is something to take into consideration when analysing the Burkinabé security context.

The RSP’s dissolution, which used to be the backbone of Blaise Compaoré’s regime for years, seems today for some to only hasten the army’s collapse. Certain observers regret dissolving the RSP and the void it left in the security system, while still recognising that it was simply a praetorian guard maintaining one man in powerSee Nevertheless, it is worth noting that it was a well-trained elite unit and much better equipped than the rest of the army. Such frustrations related to the RSP’s dissolution as the desertion of numerous soldiers only further fomented unrest. The fundamental question today is figuring out how to effectively replace the RSP .

2.3 – Public security: issues and allocation of skill between the different branches (national police, gendarmerie, municipal police)

Law number 032-2003/AN, implemented on May 14th 2003, defines the general principles of Burkinabé internal security and the forces that ensure it. These principles concern:

  • Maintaining order;
  • Territorial jurisdiction and assignment of police and gendarmes as well as the jurisdiction of private security actors;
  • Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of internal security forces;
  • Promoting international cooperation in combatting crime and terrorism;
  • Civil protection and preventing insecurity.

According to article 2 of the aforementioned law, internal security, which falls under civil defense, seeks to: ensure permanent protection of people and goods on national territory; ensure that state institutions are secure; ensure the respect of the law; and maintain peace and civil order. The law also defines territorial jurisdiction and the assignment of police and gendarmes. In addition, Burkina Faso also has a municipal police force (see below).

2.3.1 – The gendarmerie

Decree number 396/PRES/INT oversees the organisation of maintaining order in Haute- Volta and the decree of April 6th 1967, which created the rules and employment methods for the national gendarmerieJuriscope, the management of the judicial police and its control by the Burkinabé judicial authorities, 1999.. The gendarmerie is under the defense minister’s jurisdiction. As mentioned above, the gendarmerie is a specialised army which depends on Burkinabé armed forces, placed under the authority of the Joint Chief of Staff. However, it is also deploys diverse administrative and judicial authorities in order to ensure that laws and regulations are executed. Consequently, the Burkinabé national gendarmerie adapted itself to Burkina Faso’s administrative and judicial organisation. Therefore, it created legions, groupings, companies, squadrons, platoons, brigades, and stations. The gendarmerie is mostly active in the countryside and along lines of communication. As of late, it has also established a presence in cities within city brigades. It is possible that the gendarmerie is, given the resources it enjoys, unable respond to all demand issued by diverse authorities. In such cases, it is up to the unit commanders to determine, after having taken stock of the issues at hand, the order in which priorities must be dealt with, the requirements necessary for maintaining order having always been an absolute priorityAction by the administrative and judicial authorities can only control the gendarmerie at its request in the event that it is executing a service not falling under its remit, to ensure the maintenance of order on points where it is threatened, to shift gendarmes outside their normal constituency; to use arms when required and in the presence of a qualified civil magistrate as dictated by the law, or to support the authorities..

The penal and disciplinary responsibility of gendarmes is decided according to legal and prescribed provisions when they refuse to execute a legal demand or when they act outside the law. The gendarmerie does not address reports nor communicate as a general rule with those outside of the relevant authorities: it refers to the administrative authority for facts, events, or intelligence that could interest public order or general security; to the judicial authority for facts which could involve a prosecution and for very important events; to the military authority for facts or intelligence concerning soldiers or indirectly the army.

2.3.2 – The national police

The national police is one of the oldest security institutions in Burkina Faso. It was created during the colonisation of September 28th 1949. On August 1st 1958 decree 403 of the territorial police leadership was issued. Originally placed under the authority of the Minister of Territorial Administration, Decentralisation, and Internal Security (MATDSI), today the national police is supervised by a General Direction created in 1980. It is charged with:

  • Ensuring that regulatory measures relating to security, hygiene, and safety are observed.
  • Assuring the maintenance and establishment of public order.
  • Delivering administrative documents defined by laws and regulations.
  • Assisting public administrations.
  • Territorial surveillance and the protection of institutions, people, and goods;
  • Executing judicial police activities conforming to the provisions from the criminal procedure code.

The police and gendarmerie can execute their policing activities over the entire national territory. One administrative regulation clarifies each security force’s territorial jurisdiction.

2.3.3 – The municipal police

Decree number 95-291/PRES/MAT/MEFP/MJ, announced on July 20th 1995, created and defined the municipal police’s taskThe municipal police had not escaped revolutionary measures that had led to its dissolution. Essentially, created in 1977, it was disbanded on January 1st, 1984, within the first few hours of the revolution (Decree number 77/001 of January 11th, 1977, supporting the dissolution of the municipal police. “Kiti” means decree in the national language). See Jean-Pierre Bayala, “The role of the municipal police in internal security: the case of Burkina Faso” , in Niagalé Bagayoko, Kossi Agokla and Boubacar N’Diaye, The reformation of security and justice systems in Francophone Africa, OIF, Paris, 2010.. The municipal police watch the execution of measures relating to mayoral police power relating to safety, hygiene, and keeping the peace. The mayoral judicial police’s jurisdiction cannot however be delegated to the municipal police. In the case of a crime or flagrant offense, municipal police personnel are obliged to apprehend the suspect and take them to the closest judicial police officer. As a transitional measure and at the mayor’s demand, civil servants in the national police corps ensure the management of municipal police unitsSee also Bayala Jean-Pierre .

2.4 – Deficiencies and failures with security and defense forces

The void of material resources and people seems to be prevalent throughout the security and defense forces. The security forces’ territorial network is a serious problem. In rural environments for sometimes more than 50 km, police stations are nowhere to be found. When there is one, it is limited to two or three officers with worn out equipment. It is the same for gendarmerie stations. Military regiments are typically concentrated in large cities.

Furthermore, one can see that instead of security and defense forces acting in a complementary manner, they are sometimes portrayed as the enemy, even fighting among themsevlesIn 2006 for example, for an average soldier arrested by a police officer for not have respected the traffic signal, soldiers reached for heavy artillery against the Ouagadougou police officers.. Recently, the fact that a new Republican Security Company (CRS) was under the same basic training as young soldiers, had the effect of swelling the egos of those in the first group, rendering those in the second jealous.

Some of the Burkinabé with the lowest level of studies are often, interestingly enough, found in the security and defense forces. Numerous students looking for jobs join the army and security forces without true vocations nor purpose.

Additionally, the defense and security forces’ credibility was profoundly tarnished by the fact that none of them respected the law like everyone else. This runs alongside the endemic corruption observed at various levels.

A certain number of practices fuelled popular mistrust of these organisations. For example, the searches imposed on public transport recently led to (February 7-8 2017) a strike led by those who thought there were excessive inspections, the search time being too long, and denounced shakedowns carried out by the security forces.

2.5 – Intelligence sector

The first Ouagadougou attack shone light on the structural weaknesses of intelligence services, controlled by General Gilbert Diendéré until his attempted coup failed, of course. For close to thirty years, Blaise Compaoré’s former Joint Chief of Staff centralised different intelligence services like the police, gendarmerie, and the army, in order to facilitate the state’s surveillance capability. His arrest, in early October 2015, exposed a system whose fragile nature was compensated by a vast network of this soldier reputed as being one of the best informed in the region.

However, he did create in 2015, under the transitional government, a National Intelligence Agency (ANR). “Created on October 17th 2015, in a security context following the armed attacks in the north and a failed coup by the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), the implementation of a National Intelligence Agency (ANR) was one of the recommendations of the Commission on National Reconciliation and Reform, installed during the transition” Colonel François Ouédraogo, a gendarmerie officer, is the head of this agency since March 2016..

2.6 – Non-state security actors

Faced with a rampant increase in insecurity and organized crime, Burkina Faso created new local forces that defined a new security management model at a local level, as well as that responding to the increase in private sector security actors.

2.6.1 – The Kogl-Wéogo or self-defense groups

Due to the disfunction of the security apparatus, Burkinabé citizens have become targets of almost endemic criminality. Mistrust exists between the population and the security forces. Weary from attacks and daily robberies, and thanks to complacency from public institutions, citizens started creating self-defense groups called Kogl-wéogoSee Koglweogo self-defense groups in Burkina Faso. in order to take care of security themselves. After the popular rebellion, numerous self-defense Kogl-wéogo groups were created in certain regions in Burkina Faso to assure the security of goods and people. Often composed of former criminalsBurkina Faso clamped down on “Kogl-weogo”, self-defense groups, RFI, June 3rd, 2016 ; Burkina Faso: how self-defense groups will cooperate with the police, RFI, July 12th, 2016. , highway robbers, and farmers, these self-defense groups are often found in regions without police stations. They give suspected criminals arbitrary fines and detain them in makeshift jail cells. However, judicially, only security forces have the right to question and imprison suspected criminals. Their methods, which occasionally involve torture, humiliating and degrading treatment, and confinement that sometimes leads to death, are denounced by human rights defenders like the Burkinabé human rights movement (MBDHP); these human rights groups often call upon the authorities to react. “We are in a democratic state that cherishes a certain number of values, amongst them dignity, the person, and life. This should be respected”To know more: declared Simon Compaoré, the minister of interior, during a press conference on March 7th 2016. The minister did not condemn the Keogl-Weogo, instead he did the opposite: “These self-defense groups should legally exist and start to be recognized as such (…) it is impossible to think for a second that it is possible for the central state to install gendarmerie brigades in each town. Our human and material means are quite limited”Ibid. . This is why the government is indifferent towards these self-defense groups. They defy the Republic’s institutions, yet are popular among many rural inhabitants. These self-defense groups are useful for those living in places where security forces are either absent or not proactive. These groups are watched by public security forces and called upon to conform to detention and weaponry regulations. Throughout this procedure, the Burkinabé government looked to tightly control these self-defense groups while work is underway to create neighborhood police group that could oversee all local security initiatives.

2.6.2 – Private security companies

With the massive arrival of mining societies in Burkina Faso, and the appearance of new criminal forms (such as armed robbery and hostage taking), private organisations specialised in security have continue to spread in Burkina Faso. These private firms are usually solicited by companies, banks, institutions, or private individuals to ensure their security, as well as that of their employees and families.

3 – Committed reforms

Today, along with Saidou Abdoul Karim, who evaluates the work that has begunAbdoul Karim Saidou, « Burkina Faso: où en est la réforme de l’armée, deux ans après l’insurrection populaire? », op.cit. to actualise the insurgent slogan, “nothing will be as before”, one of the major remaining questions involves the army, an institution that has been politicised for a long time, from now on called to reform itself in a context of new political and security requirements. Many steps have been taken since Blaise Compaoré left, the intention being to entirely reform the army.

The transitional president, Michel Kafando, created the Army Reform Commission on November 30th 2015; essentially, the report created by this commission analysed and redefined the RSP’s mission.

Civil actors pushed to reform the security sector after the October 30th and 31st (2014) political crisis that led to the ousting of President Blaise Compaoré. In the eyes of the people, the restructuration of the army should have notably been carried out by reassigning the workforce of the RSP within the national army. This idea should aim to constitute a separation between a military career and the political sphere.

According to President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, “The national army should revisit its history and rethink its republican anchoring in a context of pluralist democracy”« Conseil d’administration de la Défense: La réforme de l’armée dans le viseur », July 21st, 2016.. The current political situation allowed President Kaboré to confirm that the army cannot be a political actor, so that its de-politicisation would be a priority. He continued by saying: “in modern democracies, the army is subject to civil power and should assume functions that the Constitution assigns it”. Advances should however be, in his own words, freed from former promotion practices. “We should make sure that sanctions, advancements in the army are founded upon norms of quality and value and not on political corruption”Ibid.. Furthermore, according to the head of state, the defense forces should participate in the country’s economic development.

Finally, in breaking with his predecessor, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré stepped down from his position as minister of national defense and veterans, making way for a civilian after a cabinet shuffle that happened on February 20th 2017.

4 – Involving the Parliament

According to the Constitution, the management of security forces is overseen by the National Assembly. The Parliamentary Commission on Defense and Security (CODES) under the National Assembly can launch investigations, address written questions or interrogate governmental members, including the prime minister and/or the defense minister, on general policy questions or on particular defense or security problems. According to article 84 of the constitution, the National Assembly enacts laws that relate to defense and security. Due to article 101 of the constitution, the National Assembly determines the fundamental principles of national defense and creates relevant regulations regarding the states of emergency and of siege. It also controls governmental action in times of crisis. It is necessary to underline that the loss of technical knowledge of security themes holds back the engagement of MPsHowever, regardless of these recognised constitutional powers, the National Assembly’s intervention in security and defense questions is sometimes seen with distrust, perhaps implicitly denounced as intrusion..

The Burkinabé parliament has benefited for the past few years, even before the regime change, from an increase in their responsibilities. A regional conference on “parliamentary control of security” was held in June 2010 at the Burkinabé National Assembly, thanks to funding provided by the OIF. This conference addressed the Commission on Defense and Security and also included a training session for parliamentary civil servants. Furthermore, on a National Democratic Institute (NDI) initiative, within the program financed by the Danish Cooperation and called “reinforce the democratic control and surveillance of the security sector”Security in Burkina Faso: no secret defense for deputies”, June 16th, 2016 , the deputies had a meeting from June 15th – 17th 2016 in OuagadougouIt was precisely to increase parliamentary influence in the security sector of deputy members of the Defense and Security Commission..

5 – Involving civil society

The Balai Citoyen is particularly engaged, especially after 2014 events, in demanding for the Presidential Security Regiment’s (RSP) to be dissolved. It should be noted that Balai Citoyen has Thomas Sankara as a reference. In this way, the movement tries to copy the actions for which be became known. Since its advent, the movement organised fraternity events between police, gendarmes, soldiers, and civilians, to encourage them to work together in constructing the country. He chose the local military and paramilitary services as the place for reforestation operations that the movement started simultaneously with “mana mana” operations that attempt to give sanitary life to people and above all patients in health centers. At the end of every year, events are organised that encourage and support the forces charged with controlling traffic.

6 – Cooperation with foreign forces

Since its independence, Burkina Faso has hosted French troops that support the Burkinabé army. In 2010, in order to fight against terrorism in the Sahel-Sahara region, French and American forces increased their military presence in West Africa. France, after launching Operation Barkhane on August 1st 2014, established an intelligence base in Niamey (Niger), a desert tactical group in Gao (Mali), an air force in N’Djamena (Chad), and special forces in Ouagadougou . Burkina Faso is an important player in the Barkhane strategy for fighting terror in the Sahel. France has around one hundred Special Forces troops, equipped with helicopters, on Burkinabé territory. The United States considers Burkina Faso as a strategic military ally in combating terrorism in the Sahel through their programme in the Sahel, which was launched in 2005 (Trans-sahel Initiative).

Some contest the foreign military presences in Burkina Faso (notably when French Special Forces based in Ouagadougou exfiltrated former president Blaise Compaoré by referring to article 59 of the Constitution that stipulates that “in no case may foreign armed forces be called upon to intervene in internal conflicts”.

Finally, the contribution of Burkina Faso to the force set up within the institutional framework of G5 Sahel and to the sending of officers to the in-theatre headquarters located in Sévaré (Mali) will certainly bear an important impact on the configuration and the missions of the country’s armed forces. The G5 Sahel Force will consist in a batallion of 650 soldiers.

Conclusion: The path to reform

Several measures were recently adopted by the authorities of Burkina Faso, among which the creation of a Ministry of Domestic Security, the appointment of a Minister of Defense, new apppointments at the head of the headquarters, the redeployment of security and defense forces in the North, the equipment supply of these forces, the enhancement of international cooperation and the joint operations with Mali (namely with the French force Barkhane)Learn more on

Beyond these measures and faced with socio-political transformations and terrorist threats, the Burkinabé security sector should be professionalised and begin contributing towards consolidating the Burkinabé democracy that is under construction. From reforms aimed at ensuring the army’s subordination to civil authority to modernising the security sector, along with considering the population’s expectations in the absence of which the management of the security sector and the monopoly of legitimate constraints could have partially eluded the state (along with the suggestion of developing Kogl-wéogo self-defense groups).

The political volition to profoundly reform the security sector is present in the highest ranks of the state, which constitutes a fundamental element and of course indispensable for the success of a project that is as necessary as it is ambitious. Seen from this perspective, Burkina Faso could become, in the coming years, one of the primary examples for security reforms that are done in a truly inclusive manner, where reforms emanate from:

  • National authorities: the transitional authorities implemented the day after Blaise Compaoré’s fall all like those legitimately designated coming from presidential and legislative ballots of November 2015 showed their willingness to pursue the matter.
  • The population itself: one of the main demands that emerged through the popular and formalised protests by civil society organisations was the reform of armed forces as well as the end of immunity for those amongst their rankssuspected of being involved in bloodshed and abusive crime.
  • An important part of the security and defense forces themselves: the loyalist attitude of the majority of soldiers in the army of the transition government recalled, as had been shown the case of Senegal and Ghana, that certain fringes of the defense and security apparatus could start to professionalise and adhere to a republican ideal, even in the absence of a democratic regime.
  • A consensus seems to exist amongst the political class that reforming the security system is a priority: even opposition parties demand that the state should give the security and defense forces all means necessary to assure the security of goods and people.

In this context, the most important reforms are the following:

  1. Defense forces:
    1. Reforming the army should go beyond the prohibition of its involvement in politics. The fundamental challenge is the creation of a republican and operational army, where men are not mobilised behind a leader yet rather behind for state and the nation.
    2. The re-establishment of trust between former RSP members and other soldiers is necessary to properly reform the Burkinabé defense and security apparatus. From the outset, they were dispersed among different units. However, in order to avoid that often very experienced RSP members become sources of destabilization, it is necessary to reflect on their long-term repurposing and the best way to encourage their integration within newly deployed units. Since the regiment’s dissolution, some have evoked the possibility to redeploy those RSP soldiers not compromised by political abuse or abuse directed towards civilians in a new anti-terrorist unit; others seem to prefer the option of sending a large number of them to Burkinabé contingencies deployed in peacekeeping operationsIn August of 2016, Burkina Faso was the 8th highest contributor of troops for United Nations peacekeeping operations, with 2,523 deployed soldiers. . Assigning them to protect important persons, notably while they travel, could be another option.
    3. The lasting and transparent reform of the recruitment process alongside promotion procedures and criteria constitutes is crucial.
  2. The fight against terrorism:
    1. An anti-terrorist unit already exists, composed of police, soldiers, and gendarmes: in order to improve security inside the country and of its borders, yet its means must be reinforced, and coordination between forces is paramount.
    2. Coordination between Burkinabé forces and neighboring armies in the subregion is absolutely imperative, particularly within the institutional framework of the G5 Sahel Force.
  3. Security forces: police, gendarmes, and municipal police:
    1. Reinforcing internal security forces is a central challenge.
    2. The need to clarify the jurisdiction between these forces and self-defense units is becoming increasingly urgent.
  4. Reconstruction of the intelligence services:
    1. The professionalization of intelligence agents within the new ANR is integral.
  5. Reinforcing the security and defense forces’ capacity:
    1. It is necessary to fill the deficit in material allotted to the security and defense forces, yet by ensuring to avoid the hurdles that, in this type of situation, have been experienced by the majority of African states which were overly reliant on outside aid. Sovereignty in regards to security should start from a national investment effort in rebuilding the security and defense forcesPresident Marc Christian Kaboré, during a radio televised interview on the one year anniversary of his ascension to power declared to want to provide the means needed to equip the national army and ensure security..
  6. Pursuit of Parliamentary engagement in its mission of supervising and controlling the security sector:
    1. Well before the regime change and the transition period, the Burkinabé Parliament engaged for the purpose of better filling the supervision and control missions that are institutionally given to them. It is necessary to pursue these efforts.
  7. Civil society association
    1. More than before, the role played by the civil society in the democratic transition as well as the initiatives, those led by the Balai Citoyen directly to support the security and defense forces, mean that it is indispensable that these actors work together to better coordinate on reflections pertaining to the orientations of the reform of the Burkinabé security system.

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