Lessons Learned from the Burkina Faso Coup

Updated: Sep 6, 2021


In the fall of 2015, members of the Regiment of Presidential Security (RPS)– an autonomous military unit formed under the previous president of Burkina Faso-- launched a Coup d’état and apprehended members of the Burkinabe government. This included the transitional President Michel Kafando. I was present in country during the ensuing civil and governmental chaos. While working in the capital city of Ouagadougou during the week long attempted coup, these are the lessons I learned:


1. Shelter in place:

Since my place of work and living arrangements were in separate locations, I had to make the decision on whether to attempt the brief drive from workplace to lodging. Going against human nature for the need to be comfortable, I decided to stay at my location until I could better assess the situation. This decision turned out to be a smart move, as multiple checkpoints were installed along the route to my billet. Each disaster presents its own set of calculated risks.


2. Establish a plan before arriving to any location:

One should always have a plan on how to react when catastrophe strikes. This is true for natural disasters and violent military upheavals alike. Not only should one have a plan in place, but that plan should be reviewed constantly and practiced until it is committed to memory.


3. Be prepared to lose communication:

The moment the RPS took control of the government, all forms of communication and media inside the country were halted. Not having the ability to use phones and internet can cause frustration and chaos. As stated in the previous lesson learned, having a plan in place will help when it comes to contacting associates inside the country. Inexpensive alternatives like hand radios can make for an easy communication substitute. Satellite internet and phones, though expensive, can save lives if the upheaval lasts for an extended period of time.


4. Alternate exit strategy:

Without warning, my upcoming Air France flight back to the United States was cancelled and the borders of Burkina Faso were indefinitely closed as neighboring countries’ officials arrived to restore order. The first call should always be to the embassy for updates on government sponsored travel back to safety. When all government sponsored travel strategies are exhausted, the best things are to remain in place until the border has opened, continue speaking with your commercial airline representative, and make your way to the airport as soon as safely possible. While I was able to board a flight relatively quickly once the border was opened, a counterpart of mine was erroneously told all flights were booked and they would have to remain in country at least another week. My flight was at 25% capacity. With better representation in country, my counterpart could have been assigned a place on my sparsely seated flight.


As I said, I made it home safely a week after my intended return date, but the time of uncertainty and upheaval during the coup affected the way I approach international travel. I look at situations from all angles and entertain different possible scenarios that could affect my trips and plan accordingly.


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