On Monday, French Special Forces rescued a Dutch civilian who was kidnapped nearly four years ago in Mali by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militants.
France’s defense ministry confirmed Monday that Sjaad Rijke, 54, who was kidnapped in Timbuktu in November 2011, was freed during “military action carried out by the French army’s Special Forces,” adding that “this combat action has also led to the capture of several individuals.” Rijke was freed in a pre-dawn raid. He was temporarily transferred to a base in Tessalit before arriving in the Malian capital Bamako on Tuesday. Sources close to the case have disclosed that the operation occurred near Tessalit, in Mali’s far north region near the border with Algeria. According to Lieutenant Colonel Michel Sabatier, a spokesman for Barkhane, which is France’s counter-insurgency operation in the region, French forces killed two militants and captured two others in the operation.
Gunmen had stormed into Rijke’s hotel in Timbuktu in 2011, capturing him along with a South African and a Swedish national, both of who are still being held. Rijke’s wife managed to escape the attack. In November 2014, AQIM released a video of Rijke, making a statement on the 1000th day of his captivity.
Romanian National Kidnapped in Burkina Faso
On Saturday afternoon, unidentified gunmen kidnapped a Romanian security officer from a manganese mining project in northern Burkina Faso, near the border with Mali’s northern desert region.
According to security officials, the kidnapping took place at the Tambao project. Souleymane Mihin, Burkina Faso managing director for Pan African Minerals, confirmed the incident, stating “there was an attack on one of our patrols. They kidnapped the Romanian leading the patrol. The driver was wounded in the foot. A gendarme was seriously injured.” Late Saturday, the Romanian foreign ministry issued a statement confirming the kidnapping of a Romanian national and disclosing that a crisis cell has been set up in order to handle the case.
A Burkinabe security source has revealed that five gunmen were involved in the attack and that they, along with the hostage, were heading towards the nearby border with northern Mali. This has resulted in Burkinabe authorities indicating that they are planning to cross into Mali and Niger in search of the kidnappers. A Burkinabe minister disclosed Sunday “search operations are continuing. We are talking to our neighbours Mali and Niger to obtain rights to their territory in order to get our hands on the kidnappers. This is an area which borders the two countries, so the sweep will roll out in both directions.” Burkina Faso’s Regiment of Presidential Security, which is an elite secret service that specializes in anti-terrorism, has been deployed to Tambao in a bid to strengthen an army detachment, which arrived in the town on Saturday. Residents in Tambao have disclosed that security forces have begun “intensive searches” of vehicles in towns across the north, adding, “police are systematically searching vehicles.”
Burkina Faso’s new interim government is set to hold its first meeting Monday, just three weeks after the army took over in the wake of a popular revolt that resulted in the resignation of President Blaise Compaore. While the new interim government will be in control of the West African country until presidential elections are held November 2015, it is evident that the country’s army will retain a powerful position – a move that has caused some concern across the country.
Officials confirmed Sunday that Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida will remain prime minister over the next year and will also take the defence minister post. Alain Thierry Ouattara, the new government secretary general announced Sunday that the military will also have control of the interior ministry. In all, four military members are included in the 26-member cabinet. Interim civilian President Michel Kafando will also b the country’s foreign minister. No opposition figures are among the members of the new interim government. This was done by choice as no one within the interim government will be allowed to stand in next year’s elections. This includes the interim president and prime minister.
President Kafando, a former diplomat, took office on Friday and will lead the country during the transitional 12-month period after veteran president Blaise Compaore was forced from power in a wave of popular unrest last month. The military has pledged to help bring the country back to full civilian rule. While the new government was initially expected to be unveiled on Thursday, and then Saturday, it was repeatedly held up by differences between the rival parties. According to sources, the delay was caused by the military’s opposition to several ministerial candidates who had been proposed by civil society groups.
Despite a civilian in power, the military’s control of the security services effectively means that army officers will remain a powerful political force. This has caused some civil society representatives to voice concern, particularly over Lt. Col. Zida’s appointment. Some residents of Ouagadougou have called the move a betrayal of their “revolution.”
The new government is set to hold its first cabinet meeting at 10:00 AM Monday
Meanwhile on Friday, ousted president Blaise Compaore flew to Morocco from the Ivory Coast, where he had fled after his long rule ended on 31 October. It currently remains unclear how long Mr Compaore will remain in Morocco.
On Monday, Burkina Faso announced the West African country’s new interim leader who will lead the nation until the next presidential elections, which are due to occur November 2015. The appointment of an interim leader will end weeks of uncertainty in the West African nation after mass protests brought down the 27-year regime of president Blaise Compaore, which resulted in the military seizing power.
Veteran diplomat Michel Kafando has been chosen as Burkina Faso’s interim president. The decision was made after several hours of negotiation, which had started the previous day. Lieutenant Colonel Issac Zida, the army-installed leader, had given the country’s various parties a noon deadline Sunday in order to submit names to a panel of twenty-three mainly civilian electors. The panel later elected Mr Kafando after preferring him to other candidates, which included journalist Cherif Sy and sociologist and ex-minister Josephine Ouedraogo. While Mr Kafando has described the appointment as “more than an honour,” his selection as interim president will now have to be ratified by the country’s Constitutional Council. The election of a civilian interim president homes ahead of a deadline that was imposed by the African Union (AU) and which instructed Burkina Faso to establish interim institutions and to select an interim president by Monday or face sanctions.
On Saturday, the military reinstated the country’s constitution, which was suspended when the army filled the power vacuum that was created by the departure of Compaore. A “transition charter,” effectively an interim constitution agreed upon between the military and civilian, opposition and religious figures last week, was officially signed on Sunday by the military. The signing of the interim constitution by Lieutenant Col Zida effectively marks his acceptance of Burkina Faso’s return to civilian leadership. Under the agreement, the president will appoint a prime minister, either a civilian or military figure, who will head a 25-member transitional government. A civilian will also head a 90-seat parliament, which is known as the National Transitional Council. According to the document, no members of the interim regime will be allowed to stand in the November 2015 presidential elections.
Mr Kafando previously served as the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, between 1998 and 2011. Between 1981 and 1982, he was Burkina Faso’s Foreign Affairs minister. AU chief Nkosazan Dlamini-Zuma has welcomed Mr Kafando’s appointment and has praised the people of Burkina Faso “for their political maturity and sense of responsibility.” The AU chief also called for “a smooth transition under the direction of civil authorities.”
Presidential elections are set to occur in November next year, and will effectively return the country to civilian rule after long-time president Blaise Compaore was ousted in late October.
Despite agreeing to a one-year political transition, with presidential elections to be held in November 2015, Burkina Faso’s interim leader has dismissed the African Union’s (AU) imposition of a two-week deadline to hand power to civilians.
Following crisis talks on Wednesday, Burkina Faso’s army, politicians and society leaders agreed to a one-year political transition, with presidential elections to be held in November 2015. While the talks, which were mediated by three West African presidents and also attended by religious and tribal chiefs, failed to name a leader that will head the transitional government, a statement released late Wednesday indicated that all parties had agreed that an “eminent civilian personality” should take the job. Burkina Faso’s interim leader however announced late Thursday that he was not concerned by the AU’s two-week deadline, stating, “we are not afraid of sanctions, we care much more about stability.”
The talks on Wednesday had initially started off rocky, with opposition leaders storming out in protest over the possible involvement of loyalists of former president Blaise Compaore in any provisional government. The opposition’s main leader Zephirin Diabre had also objected to a proposal by the three West African leaders that each group submit three candidates for a transitional government. While security guards intervened, in a bid to prevent the talks from ending in violence, both the opposition and civil society representatives were later persuaded to return to negotiations with all sides, including the current interim leader Lt Col Isaac Zida, welcoming the final agreement. Speaking shortly after the meeting, Lt Col Zida disclosed that the talks “…went very well,” adding that he hoped the teams would be able to “find a solution in order to achieve a civilian transition.”
Despite the meeting ending without a decision on who might be the transitional leader, Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama indicated that he expected a transitional government to be installed in Burkina Faso in a matter of days. President Mahama and his Nigerian counterpart Goodluck Jonathan and Senegal’s President Macky Sall, who the West African regional body ECOWAS has appointed to lead mediation efforts, travelled to Ouagadougou early Wednesday to mediate the talks and to press for a swift handover of power back to civilians.
There has been mounting international pressure on Lt Col Zida and the military to return the country to civilian rule, with the AU threatening sanctions and Canada earlier this week withdrawing much-needed aid. Despite announcing Tuesday that he would restore civilian rule with two weeks, late Thursday, Lt Col Zida disclosed that he was not concerned by the AU’s deadline, stating “we have waited on the African Union in moments when it should have shown its fraternity and its friendship but instead was not there.” A failure to meet the AU’s deadline could have significant consequences for the West African country and may result in further protests. The AU’s sanctions could include suspension of Burkina Faso’s AU membership and travel ban on military officials. The AU’s Peace and Security Council is expected to meet later this month in order to discuss the crisis.
On Friday, Burkina Faso’s long-ruling president Blaise Compaore resigned after four days of violent protests. Last week, Burkinabe citizens took to the streets in the capital city Ouagadougou and in Bobo Dioulasso, protesting a bid by lawmakers to amend the constitution that would allow 63-year-old Compaore to stand for re-election next year. Compaore’s resignation opened a power vacuum and resulted in a tussle within the country’s armed forces. Although initially announcing that General Honore Traore, head of the armed forces, would take power and form a transitional government that would prepare for national elections, by Saturday, Lt. Col. Isaac Zida, a deputy in Compaore’s presidential guard, had also claimed to be in charge – move that resulted in massive protests across Ouagadougou.
Over the past few days the international community has placed increasing pressure on Lt Col. Zida to hand power over to a civilian ruler. Sunday’s protests, organized by the Opposition, demonstrated that Burkinabe’s are not willing to settle for an interim military ruler. On Monday, the African Union (AU) announced that Burkina Faso’s army had acted unconstitutionally when it took over. AU officials have also given the interim leader a two-week deadline to hand over power. Lt Col. Zida has promised to comply with this order. A delegation composed of the presidents of Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal is expected to arrive in Ouagadougou Wednesday, with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan disclosing that the visit is aimed at facilitating “…the rapid resolution of the current political crisis in Burkina Faso.”
The events in the West African country over the past week not only demonstrated the frustration felt by Burkinabe citizens, with the majority of the country’s population only knowing one president, they also sent a warning to other African leaders who may have desires to alter their country’s constitution in a bid to hold onto power.
Mr Compaore is not the sole leader who has altered the rules in a bid to prolong his incumbency. Chadian President Idriss Deby and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in office for 24 years and 28 years respectively, have both abolished term limits from their country’s constitution. It is likely that both will seek another term in office. Although the AU sanctions those who make constitutional changes for the purpose of staying in power, such threats have had minimal impact. Last week’s events however were a strong sign from Burkinabe citizens and may serve as a much needed wake-up call for those leaders considering staying in power for longer than what is set out in the constitution.
Presidents Considering Altering Constitution to Remain in Power
Angola – President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has ruled the country since 1979. In a bid to ensure that term limits would never impact him seeking re-election, in 2012, Angola’s legislators approved a new constitution under which the leader of the party that has won the most seats in parliament automatically becomes president.
Cameroon – In power since 1982, President Paul Biya was initially barred from seeking re-election in 2011, due to the country’s two-term limit. However in 2008, despite nationwide protests, legislators removed all term limits from the constitution.
Chad– President Idriss Deby has been in power since 1990. In 2005, a referendum eliminated constitutional term limits.
Democratic Republic of Congo – Although President Joseph Kabila is expected to step down ahead of the 2016 presidential elections, there is currently a campaign aimed at changing the constitution’s presidential limits.
Equatorial Guinea– Also in power since 1979 President Teodoro Obian Nguema pushed through a referendum to change the country’s constitution in 2011. The new changes effectively enable him to stand for re-election past the age of 75 and will allow him to handpick his successor.
Rwanda –A campaign for President Paul Kagame to seek a third term in office is currently under way, with the president’s allies suggesting a constitutional change that would allow him to stand for re-election in 2017. Under the current constitution, President Kagame, who was elected in 2003 and 2010, is ineligible to stand for a third term in office.
Uganda– Despite once declaring that “no African head of state should be in power for more than 10 years, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has governed since 1986. In 2005, he succeeded in having the constitution changed, with lawmakers removing all term limits.
Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe, 90, has been in power since 1980. While in 2013, constitutional changes limited a president to two five-year terms; the changes are not applied retroactively. Consequently President Mugabe will be able to run for another term in office that could keep him in power until he is 97.