It came as a surprise to the public when Foreign Minister Olivia Rouamba, on Burkinabè National Television on Friday 23 December, declared Barbara Manzi, the United Nations’ resident and humanitarian coordinator, “persona non grata”, ordering her to leave the country immediately. A coup was being orchestrated in Burkina to be carried out between 23 December and 31 December 2022. Barbara Manzi was said to be aware of this and knew that it was going to be a bloody coup. The main goal of the leaders of the plot, Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Zoungrana and the civilian Dr Aristide Zoungrana, who are currently under arrest, was to overthrow the current regime in power in Ouagadougou, which is waging a ferocious war against the Jihadists. It was therefore going to be a pro-Jihadist coup. Diplomat Manzi was a faithful ally of the Jihadists.
The Italian-born diplomat is known to be a seasoned international official who has served in several countries: Djibouti, Ukraine, Iraq, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Angola, among others. She was appointed as the United Nations Resident Coordinator and also humanitarian coordinator in Burkina Faso in August 2021 by the UN Secretary General.
Burkina Faso has been wracked by violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group that has killed thousands and displaced nearly two million people since 2015 — creating a growing humanitarian crisis. Lack of faith in the government’s ability to stem the violence has led to two military coups this year. The exact causes of this crisis are not known, there has been much speculation, and the scope of the tragedy is simply widening. In January, this year, army officer Paul Henry Damiba seized power through a coup and promised to eradicate the Jihadist attacks within few months. Something he failed to do.
Eight months later, Captain Ibrahim Traoré toppled him and started an aggressive fight against the terrorists. He went further to seek the support of the Russian Wagner Group and weapons from that country with the aim of quelling the violence. By the way, that collaboration with the Wagner Group led the Ghanaian president, nana Akufo Addo to state, at the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit, that Ghana was living with the threat of a neighbour that sided with the Russian mercenaries. This statement unleashed profound disappointment among the Burkinabè who simply saw the Ghanaian president’s gesture as a manoeuvre aimed at spreading false and unfounded information and also an attempt to secure compassion and assistance, especially from the US. In Ghana, some critics have equally voiced their disapproval of Akufo Addo’s move.
What cannot be denied is the fact the current Burkinabè regime is making a headway in the anti-jihadist war. Networks of support to the terrorists are being uncovered and dismantled, and the trust of the population was being built. That is, supposedly, the major factor that led to the Manzi scandal. She fell out with the Burkinabè diplomacy when, to the amazement of the public, she started a campaign aimed at creating a feud between Burkina and the UN and the international community. First, Ms. Manzi assiduously worked on a “unilateral” withdrawal of non-essential UN staff from the capital Ouagadougou and “predicted chaos in Burkina Faso in the coming months”, adding that the United Nations should act as a “support structure” as the West African state battles a bloody Jihadist insurgency. One wonders what threat the diplomat saw, as a menace lurking behind her colleagues and their families. Burkinabè authorities found that she was discrediting and tarnishing the image of the country two things that put off potential investors. Secondly, she overstepped boundaries by interfering in the political affairs of the country. She was given several warnings, but she ignored them.
Her attitude towards the Jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group who conquered the northern part of the country and made it their territory was her biggest “crime”. Intelligence divulged to the regime in power that Ms Manzi would regularly travel, alone, to the Jihadists strongholds, without any security escort or any aide. She was welcomed as a strong and faithful ally by the Jihadists. According to some sources, she was diverting the food supply and other types of assistance that was meant for the refugees on Burkinabè territory to the Jihadists. That certainly explains why those armed groups have been so tenacious in the country for so many years. Her assistance to the terrorists could in one way or another enable them purchase the weapons they needed to destabilize the country.
Many were aware of her malfeasance, as a diplomat but lack of trust in the political and security authorities prevented such informed citizens from denouncing her. She was known to have stated at some point that she is in contact with the terrorist leaders in the country, and as stated earlier the evidence is overwhelming because she would go to [the North] and come back at will while even the national defence and security forces cannot move freely, as Foreign Minister Olivia Rouamba said. Her cover was blown because this ally of the terrorists ultimately became over confident and also because the military transition regime has the trust and support of almost all the Burkinabè.
Barbara Manzi was, therefore, declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country on 23 December. Additionally, several foreign nationals who were perceived as threats to the stability of the country were also expelled. The week before Manzi was booted out, two French citizens were expelled from the country because of accusations of espionage; earlier this month, the government suspended French broadcaster Radio France Internationale for having relayed an “intimidation message” attributed to a “terrorist”. The Ouagadougou regime does not seem to give any chance to the allies of the perpetrators who created havoc and real misery for years. Some parties, however, condemn the decision to expel her.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated that Burkina does not have the authority to “remove” the senior UN official from the country, and within the Burkinabè population itself, some people sympathize with Ms. Manzi, believing that she was not treated fairly. One of the strange facts in this diplomatic broil is that Barbara Manzi is known by some sources to have supported the rebellion or anti-government faction in Angola while she was posted there and that caused her transfer. She probably will be posted to another country where she might continue her these practices. The question is “what does she gain by acting as a dangerous spy who supports instability in those countries? how many diplomats are secretly involved in such destabilizing tasks and should such persons be maintained in the diplomatic corps, especially the international and global one?”
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.