Explained | The ouster of Burkina Faso’s leader in second military coup in a year

What is behind the second military coup in Burkina Faso? Who is the new ruler of the West African nation battling Islamist insurgency?

October 07, 2022 03:29 pm | Updated October 08, 2022 05:50 pm IST

Members of Burkina Faso’s army seized control of state television and declared that the country’s coup leader-turned-president had been overthrown. (RTB via AP)

Members of Burkina Faso’s army seized control of state television and declared that the country’s coup leader-turned-president had been overthrown. (RTB via AP)

The story so far: Earlier this week, the President of Burkina Faso announced his resignation following violence in the volatile West African nation after the military government was overthrown by a group of soldiers in the second coup in around eight months. After he was named as the new head of the State, Captain Ibrahim Traore assured that the country will hold an election by 2024 or earlier. 

Burkina Faso has witnessed political instability since it gained independence from France in 1960. The latest political developments came against the backdrop of the country’s battle with Islamist insurgency that swept in from Mali in 2015. Thousands have been killed and at least two million displaced so far.

The coup

Days after 11 soldiers were found dead following an attack by militants on a convoy, heavy gunfire was heard near the presidential palace on September 30, raising fears of a new military coup. Clearing the air, the President’s spokesperson stated on the official Facebook page that negotiations were underway to bring back “calm and serenity”.

Later in the night, a group of armed soldiers seized control of state television and announced that President Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba had been overthrown, the government dissolved, and the constitution suspended. The military leaders announced a curfew and said all borders were closed as they promised people to make the country more secure. “Faced by the continually worsening security situation, we the officers and junior officers of the national armed forces were motivated to take action with the desire to protect the security and integrity of our country,” declared a spokesperson as the group named 34-year-old Captain Ibrahim Traore the new military head of the country.

Speaking to the media, Capt. Traore said a group of officers who helpedPresident Damiba seize power in January nowdecided to remove him due to his inability to deal with the extremists.

“In some villages, trees don’t have leaves because people eat them. They eat weeds. We’d proposed solutions that will enable us to protect these people, but were not heard.”Capt. Ibrahim TraoreNew ruler of Burkina Faso

He told journalists that Damiba had not done enough to improve the situation and that conditions remained poor for soldiers in the field.

“I go on patrol with my men, and we don’t have the basic logistics,” he said in an interview. “In some villages, the trees don’t have leaves because people eat the leaves. They eat weeds. We’ve proposed solutions that will enable us to protect these people, but we are not listened to,” the Captain added.

In January, President Damiba overthrew the elected government of Roch Kabore for the same reason and in a similar way. Though his government was initially welcomed by those frustrated with the mounting extremist violence in the country, the support faded in months as violence continued. Blockades were imposed in towns and attacks intensified. The growing anger laid the foundation for the second military takeover in less than nine months.

The President resigns, leaves the country

On October 2, Burkina Faso’s ousted President Damiba left the country after he offered to resign on the condition that the new leader guarantees his safety and does not prosecute him. He also asked the new leadership to respect the agreement made to the West African political bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to hold a new election by 2024. In its statement, the ECOWAS said that Damiba resigned “to avoid a violent confrontation and possible bloodshed.” 

The bloc has been struggling to facilitate democracy and stability in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea and Mali after a series of coups in the last two years.

File photo of ousted leader Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba during a televised address.

File photo of ousted leader Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba during a televised address. | Photo Credit: AFP

Some in Burkina Faso’s military have been critical of Damiba’s “close ties” with the country’s former coloniser France, which continues to station its forces in Africa’s Sahel region to help nations battle extremists. While reports emerged that Damiba left for neighbouring Togo after his resignation, a junta representative’s claim that he had taken shelter at a French military base in Burkina Faso led to violence in the region.  

Violence breaks out

The dramatic takeover on Friday night was followed by violence over the weekend. Accusing France of harbouring Damiba, angry protesters attacked the French embassy and other French institutes in the capital Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, the country’s second-largest city. There were reports of some protesters waving Russian flags as demonstrators chanted support for Russia and warned ECOWAS against “meddling”.

A group of protesters wave a Russian flag as they demonstrate against France and the Economic Community of West African States.

A group of protesters wave a Russian flag as they demonstrate against France and the Economic Community of West African States. | Photo Credit: AFP

France, however, denied any involvement and asked its citizens to be cautious. In a statement, France’s ambassador to Burkina Faso, Luc Hallade asked the 4,000 registered French citizens in the country to continue sheltering at home. “I would like to salute the composure you have shown throughout these days of crisis… Of course, we all hope that the return to normalcy that seems to be taking shape in the last few hours will be confirmed. But until the situation becomes stable again, I invite you, once again, to stay at home unless there is a compelling reason or an urgent need for supplies,” the statement said.

The new junta leadership, meanwhile, appealed to people to return to their businesses and end the unrest that engulfed the capital. Speaking on TV, one of the representatives asked people to desist from any act of violence and vandalism, especially those against the French Embassy or the French military base. Capt. Traore also asked his followers to exit occupied public spaces.

What lies ahead?

Though the second coup raised fears of a delay in democratic elections and a return to constitutional order in Burkina Faso, the new junta leader said it was possible to achieve the goal of holding an election in the West African nation by 2024 or earlier. “We hope that the return to normal constitutional order will take place even before that date, if the situation allows it,” Capt. Traore assured.

Meanwhile, demonstrations were held in Ouagadougou as a delegation of West African envoys, led by Guinea-Bissau Foreign Minister Suzi Carla Barbosa and mediator Mahamadou Issoufou, arrived on a fact-finding mission in the capital on Tuesday. The delegation met with traditional and religious leaders as well as Capt. Ibrahim Traore, and urged the new leadership to return to civilian rule.

In a statement, Capt. Traore said the ECOWAS visit was to “make contact with the new transition authorities”. He said that he was astonished to see calls for hampering of the mission on social media and urged calm and restraint. “Any person who commits acts aimed at disturbing the smooth course of the ECOWAS mission will face the force of the law,” Capt. Traore was quoted as saying by news agency AFP.

(With inputs from agencies)

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