Compaore's Prophesy

By Tom Kamara

The Perspective
Jan 20, 2001

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore's "prophesy", that the foiled coup in the Ivory Coast signals West Africa's ongoing and chronic instability, are symptoms of tears and fears from a repenting man labouring with the burdens of blames linking him to West Africa's decay. However Burkinabes may see their President, his place in West African history is reserved for a man who held and lit the destructive flames that have sent tens of thousands of people to their death and others in difficult to escape misery. Villages, towns, schools, clinics, agricultural communities are all withering, replaced by sprawling refugees and displaced camps, because of Compaore's brand of politics, which promotes anarchy, theft and entrenches poverty for others.

"We still think that the lack of dialogue and national unity could lead to a very dangerous derailment in the sub-region and all the countries, in particular Ivory Coast," Compaore prophesized on Burkina Faso state television after the failed coup, according to AFP. Furthermore, Compaore, whom came to power in a ruthless coup, cried that he now finds himself in an untenable position regarding Ivory Coast "in that authorities in that country have decided to attribute Burkina Faso nationality to a politician in Ivory Coast, Alassane Dramane Ouattara".

This is indeed a case of chickens coming to roost. The heat of the inferno spreading in Sierra Leone and Guinea will surely be felt in Ouagadougou, one of its origin. Perhaps when Compaore was plotting the death of other countries along with Houphouet Boigny, it never occurred to him that the latter was mortal, and that his absence from the political stage would fundamentally alter the political chemistry at his disadvantage. Houphouet's death has changed the political-economic landscape from which Compaore benefited. In the new Cote d'Ivoire, African foreigners are the implacable enemies getting Ivorian mob justice anytime there is trouble. There are millions of Burkinabes, among Malians, Senegalese, Guineans, etc., working and remitting money back home. So the intensity of the Ivorian anti-foreigner campaign is bound to affect Burkina Faso both in economic and therefore political-security terms. Even before the political chaos, Abidjan was notorious for its bandits who hijacked cars and raided banks in daylight. Now that such hoodlums have been given a political agenda (perhaps "youth wing-wing leaders of Gbagbo's party) that empowers to loot foreigners' businesses, they have a carte blanche for the commission of crime, just as their comrades in Liberia placed in uniforms as policemen and soldiers. It is only a matter of time when the day of retribution arrives and Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world, will come to grip with its policies of violently meddling in other nations' affairs. Notes Stephen Ellis, in The Mask of Anarchy, on how Compaore pushed Liberia towards continued disaster:

"With the income from these business deals (logging, rubber, sale of looted industrial equipment, etc.,) Taylor was able to procure weapons from the former Warsaw Pact countries, where arms were of all sorts could be got for bargain prices, which he imported through Cote d'Ivoire and via Burkina Faso Many of Taylor's bodyguards were Burkinabe." The recent UN Panel of Experts report again indicted Burkina Faso as country through which arms and ammunition are funneled for use in Liberia, under a UN arms embargo, and its ally the RUF.

Compaore saw logic, and experienced pleasure, in digging the gallows for other nations. His troops fought along side NPFL rebels to reduce Liberia to rubbles, uprooting and shipping industrial equipment and other goods to Burkina Faso at Taylor's command. During the 1999 RUF offensive which left over 6000 people killed in Freetown, ECOMOG officers accused Burkina Faso of backing the rebels. Guinea has consistently pointed fingers at Burkina Faso in its current incursions. At the close of the Liberian killingfields, Compaore admitted sending 700 Burkinabe soldiers to Liberia "to help my friend" Taylor. But denying recent claims that his mercenaries were again active in Guinea, he said there has been no Burkinabe captured or killed soldier. Without the bodies, he implied, there is no evidence. Compaore's fingerprints are multiplying in West Africa. Villages, towns, farms, schools, clinics are disappearing.

Whatever the merits of Compaore's denials, the fact is that when Burkinabe regular soldiers and mercenaries landed in Liberia, they became "Liberians" and later "Sierra Leoneans", and now "Guineans." They were given local names and identity papers, some of Taylor's "ingenuities" at destabilization with deniability as a tool. Thus except among Taylor or Sankoh insiders, it was difficult knowing who these mercenaries were. Furthermore, identifying a dead soldier, in war that had no frontlines, was a waste of time. However, what Compaore has not denied and may find difficult in denying, is that following his failed coup in Guinea, Gbagbo Zoumanique, a Guinean dissident soldier who served as Youth and Sports Minister fled to Burkina Faso. President Lansana Conte has named Burkina Faso, along with Liberia, as two of the "syndicate of states" determined to destabilize his country.

Although Compaore, like his "friend" Taylor, has denied the recent UN report (quoted below extensively for its clarity and importance in understanding the disease of poverty spread by men like Compaore) linking him to the Sierra Leone war, it is difficult for him to give a convincing motive as to why the UN committee, composed of persons with diverse backgrounds and nationalities, would report that:

"The personal connections between President Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh go back ten years to their training in Libya, to their combined efforts on behalf of Blaise Campaore in his seizure of power in Burkina Faso, and to Sankoh's involvement in Charles Taylor's struggle as head of the NPFL to take power in Liberia in the early 1990s. These events are well documented, and President Taylor told the Panel that he was a close friend of Foday Sankoh. President Taylor denies unequivocally, however, that he or his government have provided any training to the RUF, any weapons or related matériel, any Liberian facilities or territory for staging attacks, or a safe haven.

"He told the Panel that RUF leader Sam Bockarie's presence in Liberia was a gesture of goodwill on Taylor's part, in order to allow the RUF to work together for a peaceful settlement in Sierra Leone after Foday Sankoh and Bockarie had found themselves unable to work together

"The President of Burkina Faso is a close ally of President Charles Taylor and Burkina Faso has acknowledged the presence of over 400 Burkinabe soldiers in Liberia during the time Taylor was leading his rebellion in 1994 and 1995. Provision was made in the government budget to cover salaries for the services rendered during this period. Burkina Faso has repeatedly denied the involvement of its nationals in supporting the RUF. Eyewitnesses and former RUF combatants, however, confirm the active involvement of Burkinabes with the RUF. A Burkinabe, 'General' Ibrahim Bah (a.k.a. Baldé) - referred to in paragraphs 73-4 - handles much of the financial, diamond and weapons transactions between the RUF, Liberia and Burkina Faso. He shuttles regularly between Monrovia and Ouagadougou. Burkina Faso's involvement in weapons transfers is detailed below.

"A shipment of 68 tons of weapons arrived at Ouagadougou on 13 March 1999. It included 715 boxes of weapons and cartridges, and 408 boxes of cartridge powder. The inventory also included anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, and rocket propelled grenades and their launchers.

"This shipment has now been well documented. Documentation provided in April and June 1999 by the Ukraine government to UN Sanctions Committees shows that the weapons were part of a contract between a Gibraltar-based company representing the Ministry of Defence of Burkina Faso, and the Ukrainian state-owned company Ukrspetsexport. An aircraft of the British company Air Foyle, acting as an agent for the Ukrainian air carrier Antonov Design Bureau, shipped the cargo, under a contract with the Gibraltar-based company, Chartered Engineering and Technical Services. A Ukrainian licence for sale of the weaponry was granted after Ukrspetsexport had received an end-user certificate from the Ministry of Defence of Burkina Faso.

"The end-user certificate was dated 10 February 1999. The document authorized the Gibraltar-based company to purchase the weapons for sole use of the Ministry of Defence of Burkina Faso. The document also certified that Burkina Faso would be the final destination of the cargo and the end-user of the weaponry. The document is signed by Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert Diendéré, head of the Presidential Guard of Burkina Faso. During a visit by a Panel Member to Ukraine, this sequence of events was reconfirmed.

"The authorities of Burkina Faso, in correspondence with the United Nations Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone, denied allegations that the weapons had been re-exported to a third country, Liberia, and during a visit to Burkina Faso the Panel was shown weapons that were purportedly in that shipment.

"The weapons in question, however, were not retained in Burkina Faso. They were temporarily off-loaded in Ouagadougou and some were trucked to Bobo Dioulasso. The bulk of them were then trans-shipped within a matter of days to Liberia.

"Most were flown aboard a BAC-111 owned by an Israeli businessman of Ukrainian origin, Leonid Minin. The aircraft bore the Cayman registration VP-CLM and was operated by a company named LIMAD, registered in Monaco. Minin was, and may remain, a business partner and confidant of Liberian President Charles Taylor. He is identified in the police records of several countries and has a history of involvement in criminal activities ranging from east European organised crime, trafficking in stolen works of art, illegal possession of fire arms, arms trafficking and money laundering. Minin uses several aliases. He has been refused entry into many countries, including Ukraine, and travels with many different passports. Minin offered the aircraft mentioned above for sale to Charles Taylor as a Presidential jet, and for a period between 1998 and 1999, it was used for this purpose. It was also used to transport arms.

"Regarding the shipment in question, the aircraft flew from Ibiza in Spain to Robertsfield in Liberia on 8 March 1999. On March 15, two days after the arrival of the Ukrainian weapons in Ouagadougou, the plane flew from Monrovia to Ouagadougou. On March 16 the plane was loaded with weapons and flew back to Liberia. On the 17th, it returned to Ouagadougou. After a flight to Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, the plane flew again from Ouagadougou to Liberia with weapons on the 19th. On the 25th the plane flew again from Liberia to Ouagadougou and returned on the same day with weapons. On the 27th the plane flew again to Ouagadougou and from there to Bobo Dioulasso for the weapons that had been trucked there. The aircraft made three flights over the next three days between Bobo Dioulasso and Liberia. On 31 March the plane flew back to Spain. Because the plane had a VIP configuration, it had only limited cargo capacity, which is why so many flights were necessary.

"A second plane, an Antonov operated by a Liberian company named Weasua, is reported by eye-witnesses to have flown part of the cargo to Liberia from Bobo Dioulasso.

"Minin's BAC-111 was used for an earlier shipment of weapons and related equipment from Niamey Airport in Niger to Monrovia. This occurred in December 1998, shortly after Minin purchased the plane and started to operate it in the region. On 22 December 1998, the BAC-111 made two trips from Niamey to Monrovia. On the second trip, it took a consignment of weapons, probably from existing stocks of the armed forces of Niger. The weapons were off-loaded into vehicles of the Liberian military. A few days after these events, the RUF-rebels started a major offensive that eventually resulted in the destructive January 1999 raid on Freetown".

Genius is indeed knowing when to stop. Compaore has defied that wisdom. When his prophesy is fulfilled, Burkina Faso will know when to stop destabilizing other nations. But by then it will be too late.