OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — A U.S. government agency said Monday that it is pausing $450 million in assistance to the West African nation of Burkina Faso, where mutinous soldiers overthrew the democratically elected president last week.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation, an independent U.S. agency that provides grants and assistance to countries that meet standards for good governance, said its decision came because of the uprising against President Roch Marc Christian Kabore.
“Burkina Faso military officers claim to have suspended the constitution and dissolved the government and national assembly,” the agency said in a statement. “These actions contradict MCC’s commitment to democratic governance and upholding the rule of law, principles that underpin the agency’s rigorous criteria for selection.”
The military junta didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the U.S. aid pause.
The Biden administration has not yet made a determination if the events in Burkina Faso amounted to a coup and the agency’s pause in aid was the first action taken by the U.S. in response to what happened. U.S. law requires that all U.S. humanitarian aid be suspended if it is determined by the State Department that a democratically elected government was overthrown through unconstitutional means.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. was still reviewing what happened but in the meantime had decided to put a hold on most assistance.
“It’s too soon for us to get into specifics in great detail, but we’ve called for restraint by all actors as we carefully review the events on the ground for potential impacts on our assistance,” he said.
The U.S ambassador to Burkina Faso, Sandra Clark, told The Associated Press that the U.S. was calling for the release of Kabore and others who were detained and for the return to constitutional order in the country.
The United States is the largest international donor to the war-weakened nation, giving nearly $213 million in 2020, according to its government website. It provides humanitarian and development assistance, as well as military support such air surveillance and intelligence for French forces. This was used to defeat jihadists from the Sahel.
“Next steps for Burkina Faso is that it’s a very unstable situation at the moment, and there is slim likelihood that the coup leadership is going to secure approval or support from the international community,” said Elizabeth Shackelford, senior fellow on U.S. foreign policy with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a former U.S. diplomat.
Saying military support has not helped the situation, she said the U.S. and its partners should put more time and money into strengthening institutions to foster democracy in a region that is being overrun by coups and public support for them.
The pause in aid comes on the heels of Burkina Faso being suspended from the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS and the African Union.
A delegation from ECOWAS visited the country earlier this week and told the military leaders they need to transition quickly back to constitutional rule if they want its support. After a Thursday summit in Ghana, more decisions are likely to be made by the bloc.
Burkina Faso’s new leader, Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba came to power promising to stem jihadist violence that has killed thousands and displaced nearly 1.5 million people. He hasn’t yet made any plans to defeat the jihadists as well as the government before him.