BURKINA Faso’s military-dominated government on Thursday pushed back against regional demands to reduce a three-year timetable for restoring civilian rule following a coup in January.
‘Discussions are ongoing, Burkina Faso is very highly disposed to hearing comments from the Economic Community of West African States,’ or ECOWAS, government spokesman Lionel Bilgo told AFP.
‘However, we are not going to sacrifice our efforts to restore peace to Burkina Faso by trying to meet an intangible timetable whose deadline takes no account at all of the realities on the ground.’
The impoverished volatile state underwent a coup on January 24 by colonels angered at government failure to roll back a bloody jihadist insurgency.
It became the third state in the region, after Mali and Guinea, to experience a coup since August 2020.
ECOWAS has suspended all three countries from the bloc’s activities but so far applied tough economic and diplomatic sanctions only against Mali and Guinea.
ECOWAS has slapped sanctions on members of the Mali junta, shut its borders with the country, frozen its assets at the Central Bank of West African States and imposed a trade embargo.
For Guinea, leading junta members have been sanctioned and are subject to a travel ban within the bloc.
ECOWAS refrained from taking immediate sanctions against Burkina after envoys returned from Ouagadougou with a positive report about the junta’s response following the coup.
But in a summit in the Ghanaian capital of Accra on March 26, the bloc called on the junta to draw up an ‘acceptable transition timetable’ by Monday, April 25.
‘After this deadline, economic and financial sanctions will be immediately applied,’ the bloc warned.
In early April, Burkinabe strongman Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba set a 36-month transition.
Spelling out the government argument about the threat from jihadists, Bilgo asked, ‘Given that we can’t travel 150 kilometres (90 miles) in our country, are we able today to organise peaceful and tranquil elections?
‘Why put human lives at risk when our main priority is to secure Burkinabe soil?
‘Burkina Faso has always explained this timetable to ECOWAS,’ he said, describing the timeline as ‘taking into account the major challenge which we have, which is restoring security.’
‘If we are able to do it in under three years, we will organise elections,’ he said.
One of the world’s poorest countries, the landlocked Sahel state has been battered by a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015.
More than 2,000 people have died and 1.8 million been displaced.