Not so long-ago Burkina Faso was considered an ‘island’ of stability in a conflict-prone part of Africa. This is not the case anymore as armed insurgencies have caused widespread insecurity. While spill-over effects from the conflict in Mali clearly play a role, we argue that the sudden demise of the rule and regime of Blaise Compaoré also is an important contributing factor. To decipher to what extent regime transition shaped the current state of affairs, we show that what kept Burkina Faso stable and out of the conflicts in the region was a ‘big man deep state’ of formal and informal networks of security provisions. When this ‘deep state’ vanished with the ousting of Compaoré and his allies, local security providers have sought new solutions, and this strengthened the role of self-defence militias but also led them to compete against each other, at times also violently. This provided fertile terrain for jihadi insurgents. Therefore, this paper is an attempt to provide a conceptual understanding of how weak rulers actually rule, how some succeed in preserving their rule for a lengthy period of time, and what can happen when they eventually fall.