Mutinous soldiers deposed Burkina Faso president Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba in a coup, according to a statement read on national television on Friday evening, capping a day that began with gunfire in the capital of Ouagadougou and ended with the second coup in eight months in the west African nation wracked by a jihadist insurgency.
Army captain Ibrahim Traore, flanked by more than a dozen officers, was introduced as the country’s new leader. “In the face of the continuing deterioration of the security situation, we have repeatedly tried to refocus the transition on security issues.
Damiba’s actions gradually convinced us that his ambitions were diverting away from what we set out to do. We decided this day to remove Damiba,” the soldiers said. The government was dissolved immediately and the constitution and transitional charter were suspended. All borders will be closed indefinitely and political and civil society activities will be suspended. Earlier on Friday, explosions had been heard close to the Baba Sy military base in the capital. Soldiers blocked access to administrative buildings in the capital and the state broadcaster temporarily went off air. Damiba’s whereabouts on Friday were unknown as chaos spread.
He was last seen publicly in the northern town of Djibo on Thursday, where he addressed soldiers in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a convoy carrying supplies to the town. Eleven soldiers were killed in that attack. Damiba was also at the UN General Assembly last week, defending the coup that brought him to office, describing it as “necessary and indispensable”. A statement attributed to Damiba on Friday afternoon by his office had tried to ease tensions, saying that “talks are under way to restore calm and serenity” while admitting that the soldiers in the capital had caused a “confused situation”.
“Let us remain united for the triumph of peace and security,” the statement had said. Damiba overthrew the civilian government of president Roch Kaboré, promising to defeat Islamist jihadis who had taken control of large swaths of the country’s north and east. Many citizens and military rank and file, frustrated by their government’s impotence in the face of crisis, initially welcomed the change. But the insurgency has deepened since then. At least 35 civilians were killed in the north this month when their convoy of vehicles transporting supplies to the capital hit a roadside bomb.
Analysts from the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, recently said that al-Qaeda and Isis-linked actors were active in 10 of the country’s 13 regions. “Tensions within the army have exacerbated over the past months because President Damiba has not been able to restore security in the country,” said Mathieu Pellerin, a senior Sahel analyst at Crisis Group.
Burkina Faso is one of the world’s fastest-growing displacement crises, according to the UN’s refugee agency, with 1.9mn people, almost 10 per cent of the population, displaced at the end of April. Over the past two years, coups have become a regular occurrence in west Africa, a region previously associated with peaceful democratic transitions.
Soldiers in Guinea overthrew President Alpha Condé in September 2021 after he pursued a third term in office that elicited nationwide protests. In Mali, military officers took charge from President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in August 2020 and formed an interim government with civilians. But the same soldiers led by Colonel Assimi Goïta overthrew the temporary government nine months later to take complete control of the country.
The coups in Mali have led to a complete breakdown of relations between the west African nation and France, its former colonial power. Relations with its neighbours, particularly Ivory Coast and Niger, have suffered too. Mali’s military junta has now forged close ties with Russia, with the prime minister recently praising the “exemplary and fruitful co-operation between Mali and Russia”. Wagner Group, a Russian private military outfit providing guns for hire, is now active in Mali and France has withdrawn its peacekeeping troops from the country.
Burkina Faso was suspended from the regional bloc Ecowas in the aftermath of January’s putsch. The body accepted the country’s two-year transitional plan to democracy in July but has still not lifted its suspension.