Posted: Monday 3rd March 2014 at 21:58 pm

Blaise Compaore: Diplomat And Statesman


President Blaise Compaore when he seized power over two decades ago did not appear as someone cut for peacemaking.

So many years after that bloodless coup which thrust him onto the political terrain of Burkina Faso and eventually the sub-region he is now associated with a number of diplomatic feats achievements which are documented and celebrated by beneficiaries of these.

Canadian hostages who escaped beheading in the roasting temperature of the Sahara Desert where they were held hostages by unrelenting Islamists understand it when Blaise Compaore is presented as an exceptional peacemaker and a skilled negotiator.

The former paratrooper is now an accomplished peacemaker whose feats include restoring normalcy to Mali and playing a critical role in a now stable Cote d’Ivoire.

Think of a former military strongman now turned politician with a passion for democracy and President Blaise Compaore is there for you.

If the Taliban-style political administration which was about to be established in Mali and doubtlessly spread to other parts of the geopolitical region of West Africa has suffered a setback it is the Compaore factor which achieved the feat. Little wonder the gentleman has won the hearts of the UN and even the US in the past few years who appreciate the cost of Compaore’s diplomatic inroads. His visit last year to the US and the UN headquarters testify to his growing stature in the comity of nations.

The Islamists who had destroyed most of the historical sites associated with the history of Islam and civilization in West Africa and usurped a large swathe of northern Mali could have launched a major offensive in other parts of the sub-region and augmented the financial bill of the UN through costly peacekeeping.

The sanguinary actions of the Boko Harams in northern Nigeria present us with sufficient depiction of what could have befallen the sub-region had the Compaore factor been absent.

At the time that he hosted talks with a delegation from the main Malian militant faction, Ansar Dine, which is thought to be linked with the dreadful Al-Qaeeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) doubts were raised about what the gesture could achieve for the people of Northern Mali.

His critics did not spare him their acerbic tongues, disparaging him incessantly as someone on a wild goose chase. A man who has developed a thick skin in the face of such verbal aggressions he maintained his cool and continued with what he had set out to do as a platoon commander marching towards his objective. It is obvious that endurance and perseverance two critical attributes of a soldier have primed him for such roles.

A British newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph in one of their editions referred to him as a man with a track record in the area of reining in the Islamists: ‘he has acted as the key mediator in talks to free Western hostages kidnapped by AQIM, which has held dozens of foreigners for ransom in recent years. One recent negotiation effort is believed to have involved the British hostage Chris McManus, who was kidnapped in northern Nigeria in May last year. It ended in tragedy when Mr. McManus and his Italian co-hostage Franco Lamolinara were killed in March 2012 by their captors during a failed rescue mission undertaken by Nigerian troops and British Special Forces.

Two Canadian envoys, Robert Fowler and Louis Guay captured in Niger and held hostage in the Sahara Desert and their families would ever be grateful to Blaise Compaore for his role is achieving their freedom in April 2009 after their 130-day ordeal.  

One of the beneficiaries of the Compaore factor Mr. Fowler speaking from his home in Ottawa, Canada had this complimentary words for his benefactor: “President Compaore wants to be seen to be playing a larger role than that defined by his small country, and he has admirably succeeded in doing just that.”

Mr Compaore’s mercy dash was all the more surprising because a decade previously, Mr. Fowler had written a scathing UN report that publicly accused him of involvement in the sanctions-busting conflict diamond trade in war-torn Angola. When his al-Qaeda captors told him that Mr. Compaore was the only regional leader willing to work to free him, Mr. Fowler thought things “couldn’t get much worse”

Instead, Mr Compaore was as good as his word, despatching an envoy, Mustapha Chaffi, to drive hundreds of miles across the Sahara’s most remote and lawless stretches to hold talks with the kidnap gang on several occasions. While it has been speculated that either a prisoner release or a ransom ultimately cemented the deal, the envoy could easily have been killed or kidnapped himself had Mr Compaore’s contacts with AQIM been anything less than solid.

Observers have wondered just what makes Compaore wield such reverence among such Islamists. Imagine if there were no such persons as Compaore in a turbulent sub-region in which Islamists hold sway somewhat. Mr. Fowler has written a book about his ordeal.

Courtesy Friends of Compaore

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