What’s Going On: Bloc suspensions for Burkina Faso, DR Congo sentences 49 to death & AFCON updates

Notable headlines from around the continent

“What’s Going On” Tallies Notable News Headlines From Across The Continent — The Good, The Bad, And The Horrible — As A Way Of Ensuring That We All Become A More Sagacious African Generation. With This Column, We’re Hoping To Disseminate The Latest Happenings In Our Socio-Political Climate From Across The Continent, Whilst Starting A Conversation About What’s Important For Us To All Discuss. From Political Affairs To Socio-Economic Issues, ‘What’s Going On’ Will Discuss Just That. 

AU & ECOWAS suspend Burkina Faso following military coup

Last week, Burkina Faso became the latest African country to come under military rule following a coup d’état. The Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration (MPSR), the junta led by Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, arrested President Roch Marc Christian Kabore and effectively took over the government. The junta’s reason stems from the raging insurgency in the country, being perpetrated by armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS, and the Kabore-led administration’s failure to adequately support Burkina Faso’s military against the consistent spate of violent attacks.

The coup has been roundly condemned by external governmental bodies, and Burkina Faso has now been suspended by the African Union (AU). The AU’s 15-member Peace and Security Council voted to suspend Burkina Faso from participating in all AU activities until the restoration of constitutional order. In the same vein, West African bloc ECOWAS has suspended Burkina Faso during a virtual extraordinary summit of heads of states. ECOWAS has yet to mete out any sanctions—like it did to Mali recently—and will only move forward with any further decisions after a report from fact-finding teams that will be sent to Ouagadougou.

These responses are in contrasts to the reactions of many Burkina Faso citizens, who have deemed the ousting of Kabore by the junta as good news for the country. Many cite the incessant insecurity, as well as the economic situation in the county which the democratic government failed to improve on for years—about 40% of the population live below the poverty line and minimum wage has been stuck below $50 since 2008.

Currently, the MPSR is enjoying the goodwill of its population, and has named Damiba interim president. In its latest statement, the junta has restored the constitution to ensure the autonomy of the judiciary. This is, in part, to effect the resumption of the long-awaited trial over the assassination of revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara, back in 1987. One of the defendants is former long-term president, Blaise Compaore, who was deposed and fled to neighbouring Ivory Coast on asylum.

DR Congo court sentences 49 to death over killing of UN experts

In March 2017, the bodies of two members of the UN Group of experts were found, after weeks of being reported missing, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai Central province. Swedish national Zaida Catalán and US citizen Michael Sharp were on a UN peacekeeping mission, investigating widespread human rights abuses near the remote village of Bunkonde, south of provincial capital, Kananga. Their bodies were found alongside that of their Congolese interpreter, Betu Tshintela, with Catalán’s head decapitated.

Nearly five years later, a military court has sentenced 49 people to death for these deaths, while one officer will receive 10 years in prison. DR Congo has observed a moratorium on the death sentence since 2003, so those convicted will serve life sentences. The judgement has, however, been met with scepticism for not indicting and convicting higher-level officials, with Catalán’s sister, Elisabeth Morseby, stating that the trial had not revealed the truth. “In order for the truth to emerge, all suspects, including those higher up in the hierarchy, need to be questioned which has not yet be done,” she told Reuters.

Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Congo, Thomas Fessy, echoed the same sentiments, stating that the investigation and trial had failed to uncover the full truth, leaving more questions than answers. Several of the defendants were sentenced in absentia, because they were never apprehended or escaped from custody. Sharp’s mother, Michele, appreciated the judgement but is still wondering who gave the orders. “Surely someone in the upper echelons of power,” she said. “We await further developments.”

Burkina Faso, Senegal, Egypt and Cameroon advance to AFCON semi-finals

Last Monday, January 24, at least eight people died and more than 35 were injured after a stampede at the Yaounde Olembe stadium in Cameroon. This happened while crowds tried to enter the 60,000-capacity stadium to watch Cameroon’s round of 16 tie against Comoros. Due to coronavirus restrictions, stadiums attendance are limited to 60% during AFCON, however, the cap is raised to 80% during matches involving the host country’s team. The stampede occurred following free ticket entries into the stadium, after low turnout during the first round of games.

Despite this fatal incident, the competition has continued its course, and it’s set for the semi-finals. Cameroon was the first of four teams to qualify, after winning Gambia 2-0 on Saturday afternoon. They will face Egypt on Thursday night in the semi-final, after the Mo Salah-led team took a slim 2-1 victory over Morocco. After eliminating one of the early favourites, Tunisia exited AFCON following a 1-0 loss to Burkina Faso, who continued their gritty display, having scored just one goal in each of their five games thus far. Burkina Faso will face Senegal in Wednesday’s semi-final, who’ve been in fine form since entering the elimination round of AFCON 2021.

Winners of the semi-final will play in the final match on Sunday night, while losers will play in the third place match on Sunday evening.