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Will Burkina Faso’s Coup Disrupt Its Cotton Supply Chain?

What impact will the coup in Burkina Faso have on its cotton supply chain? The short answer: It’s too early to tell.

The longer one gets into trickier territory. One week after mutinous soldiers seized power from ​​President Roch Kaboré on Jan. 24, the African Union, a bloc of 55 continental states, announced it will suspend the West African nation until the constitutional order is restored.

The Economic Community of West African States, a political and regional confederation of 15 countries better known as Ecowas, too, has suspended the country, though it stopped short of imposing economic sanctions the way it did with Mali and Guinea, which also experienced coups in the past year and a half.

The European Union has also threatened punitive action, with Josep Borrel, the bloc’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, warning last week that “If constitutional order is not restored, there will be immediate consequences for our partnership with the country.”

Francois Conradie, lead political economist at Oxford Economics, said a lot hinges on what Ecowas will do next. An Ecowas delegation has met with Kaboré, finding him in “good spirits.” They’re also speaking with coup leaders about security and a return to constitutional order. On Monday, Burkina Faso’s military government announced it had restored the previously suspended constitution, appointing the coup leader Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba as head of state for an unspecified transitional period.

“The regional body is now dealing with three illegitimate governments, and excessive strictness would be counterproductive,” Conradie told Sourcing Journal. “So there is reason to expect that it will display a degree of pragmatism and leave one of Burkina Faso’s key exports alone.”

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“This is the minimum, almost pro forma sanction they could have imposed, and well short of the harsh trade and banking sanctions imposed on Mali,” he added. “On Thursday, an extraordinary summit in Accra will discuss the question again, and decide whether more onerous sanctions are justified. It looks as though Ecowas is looking for reasons to go easy on Damiba’s government, and if Kaboré is freed—one of the regional body’s key demands—and a commitment expressed to a return to constitutional rule, we think trade sanctions will be avoided.”

Ecowas may be “more lenient,” however, if the transitional government is civilian-led, said Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk-analysis firm. But whether a change of guard will make a difference remains to be seen. “Considering the security situation in neighboring Mali, a new government is unlikely to be more successful in addressing the security threat posed by extremist violent groups,” he told Sourcing Journal.

The U.S. State Department said Monday that it supports the actions of the African Union and Ecowas and has paused most assistance to the government of Burkina Faso as it continues to monitor the situation.

“While sympathetic to the plight of the Burkinabe people and security forces, we share the concerns African leaders articulated regarding the actions of military officials in Burkina Faso, chiefly the suspension of the constitution and the removal of the democratically elected president and national assembly,” a spokesperson said. ”While some elements of the constitution may have been restored, extraconstitutional seizures of power erode the legitimacy of governance and limit the ability of the United States and other international partners to help the country advance peace and security.”

The agency reiterated calls for the release of President Kaboré and for a return to constitutional order. “We look forward to the reports from the missions to Burkina Faso of Ecowas’s committee of chiefs of defense staff and the joint Ecowas Ministerial Mission,” the spokesperson added.

Abrima Erwiah, president of Studio 189, a Ghana and New York-based label that uses organic cotton grown in Burkina Faso, said that the supply chain was already on shaky ground, though farmers and weavers have tried to make the best of the situation.

“When borders closed at the start of the pandemic, with Covid spreading and with rising prices it had become increasingly more challenging to operate,” she told Sourcing Journal. “We have found ways around that by joining together as a community to support one another between various NGOs and brands that have acted in unison to keep the crafts alive and continue to build projects that empower. The borders started opening a bit so we were able to import our fabrics by bus.”

With the coup imposing a new reality, things are up in the air. The military has shut down land and air borders, which will pose shipping problems. “One of our community leaders says we don’t know enough about the plans of the people in place yet to know how this will affect artisans and production,” Erwiah said. “So far everyone is working as usual.”

With various orders in production for retailers across the United States and Europe, Studio 189 is still moving forward. So far, Erwiah is taking the long view. “Weaving cotton is a long process that can take three to five months under normal conditions,” she said. “When we add to that pandemic, a coup, harsh weather conditions due to impacts of climate change, and so on, we can only try to do our best and hope that our retail customers and direct customers will try to understand and not cancel orders and allow us to do the important work of supporting communities to keep people working and to deliver beautiful crafts.”

Erwiah said she hopes that her customers will take the same approach. “I worry that in a world where people expect everything fast, fast, fast, they don’t always realize that there are real people that are at the other side of the manufacturing of their goods who put their lives and trust in the people buying the goods,” she added. “We should have empathy and honor the work and not cancel orders, delay payments, or penalize the work.”

Burkina Faso is the second-largest cotton producer in Africa after Benin and the 24th worldwide. The country exported $265.4 million of cotton in 2020, according to the United Nations Comtrade database on international trade.