On September 30, 2022, Burkina Faso experienced its second coup within a year, ousting the now former President Lieutenant-Colonel Pual-Henri Damiba in favor of Ibrahim Traore, one of the army captains for the nation, who has utilized military rule to establish a new order for the nation.
One of the reasons for instigating the coup, as mentioned by the spokesman of Captain Kiswendisida Farouk Azaria Sorgho, was the declining security situation of the nation, prompting the armed forces to take action to ensure the nation’s security and integrity are kept intact. Although the intentions of the coup leaders may seem fair on paper, this change of power resembles that of what is described by Nancy Bermeo as a promissory coup: a type of coup that “frame[s] the ouster of an elected government as a defence of democratic legality and make a public promise to hold elections and restore democracy as soon as possible.” Unfortunately, Bermeo also notes that many of these promissory coups do not follow through with their own plans of resuming competitive elections shortly and forming positive changes in the respective democracies, ultimately defeating the purpose of the coup aside from shifting power to a different set of leaders only for the cycle to repeat. To avoid continuing this cycle of coups, it must be asked as to what factors led to the uprising in the first place. In addition, given a system of government as volatile as Burkina Faso’s, is there a way to bring the nation’s democracy back together once and for all?
Breaking Down the Fall of Democracy in Burkina Faso
There are various reasons that separates the democracies that continue to stand tall and those that face a never-ending slope of democratic backsliding. One of the main factors where an outright coup of this nature was successful is the nature of Burkina Faso’s democracy, which operates as a presidential democracy, though technically considered a semi-presidential republic with a President and prime minister elected by the President. The article Perils of Presidentialism by Juan Linz highlights how presidential democracies that withstand the test of time are few and far between, with the United States being the last relatively undisturbed presidential democracy standing as of the 1970s, making the task of upholding a truly resilient presidential democracy in the nation a much more challenging task. With the control of the nation bestowed upon few key figures in this variant of government rather than a larger group of people in a parliament, a coup such as this can pose a significant drawback to the nation’s progress should the new leaders make no lasting, beneficial changes.
In addition to the core structure of the government, the manner in which the government has been overseeing its nation is not satisfactory to keep the democracy the nation has in place. As mentioned in Seymour Martin Lipset’s article Some Social Requisites of Democracy, some of the main factors that allow for democracy include wealth, industrialization, urbanization, and education. However, it is also noted that it is not necessarily the case that these factors drive democracy or democracy drives those factors as it should be noted as a case of correlation and not causation. If such is the case, then the consistent change of power in Burkina Faso’s government is very unlikely to drive any true developments in the nation in any regards. With that being said, finding ways to achieve a lasting government can be crucial to understanding the future of the nation.
Restoring any form of government in the nation after a downfall such as this will prove to be a challenge for those who are interested in bringing democracy back to Burkina Faso, but there are several options that can at the very least be tested to give democracy a chance once more. Given that presidential democracy has failed several times, implementing a different form of government can be beneficial towards making new progress, namely a parliamentary government as Linz suggests. With the power of the nation divided amongst a larger number of individuals, more unique viewpoints can be brought into discussion as to how the government can be governed, which can allow for compromises that should at the very least satisfy the needs of the nation, especially in the matter of security. In addition, having more than one person with near total control of the executive branch of government can significantly increase the difficulty of a coup being able to transfer complete power of the nation to their own representatives.
Although changes certainly need to be made regarding the restructuring of the government as a whole, Dankwart Rustow mentions in the article Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model that one of the key aspects that should be emphasized when transitioning to, or in the case of Burkina Faso, reimplementing democracy is a desire for national unity, or as Rustow describes it, a condition where “the vast majority of citizens in a democracy-to-be must have no doubt or mental reservations as to which political community they belong to.” Although the original definition provided by Rustow is somewhat vague, as theoretically this could be encouraging people to “pick a side” in a party-based democracy, the emphasis should be applied towards the community of the nation rather than the community of a party. With this unity in place, the goals of the nation become crystal clear, allowing a proper body of government to focus on the implementation of new laws rather than always finding alternatives. With such changes in place, it may be possible for the country to have a long-lasting democracy that protects and serves its citizens rather than for those who have existing power in some manner.