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Burkina Faso’s Military Leader Ousted In Second Coup This Year

Armed soldiers in fatigues and masks appeared on television in Burkina Faso on Friday night to confirm the ouster of President Paul-Henri Damiba, the second coup in the troubled West African country this year.

The announcement capped a day that began with gunfire near a military camp in the capital Ouagadougou, an explosion near the presidential palace, and interruptions to state television programming.

It is a pattern that has become increasingly familiar in West and Central Africa in the past two years as Islamist insurgents wreak havoc across the arid expanses of the Sahel region, killing thousands and eroding faith in weak governments that have not found a way to beat them back.

Mali, Chad, and Guinea have all seen coups since 2020, raising fears of a backslide towards military rule in a region that had made democratic progress over the past decade.

Burkina Faso’s new leader is army Captain Ibrahim Traore. In a scene that replicated Damiba’s own power grab in a Jan. 24 coup, Traore appeared on television surrounded by soldiers and announced the government was dissolved, the constitution suspended and the borders closed. He declared a nightly curfew.

Damiba’s whereabouts were unknown on Friday evening.

Traore said a group of officers who helped Damiba seize power in January had decided to remove their leader due to his inability to deal with the Islamists. Damiba ousted former President Roch Kabore for the same reason.

“Faced with the deteriorating situation, we tried several times to get Damiba to refocus the transition on the security question,” said the statement signed by Traore and read out by another officer on television.

The statement said Damiba had rejected proposals by the officers to reorganise the army and instead continued with the military structure that had led to the fall of the previous regime.

Of heavy gunfire heard in Burkina Faso Capital

“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,” it said.

National stakeholders will be invited soon to adopt a new transitional charter and designate a new civilian or military president, it said.

Amid growing uncertainties, the UN voiced concern and appealed for calm.

“Burkina Faso needs peace, it needs stability, and it needs unity in order to fight terrorist groups and criminal networks operating in parts of the country,” UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said.

Empty Burkina Faso seat at summit

On the streets of Ouagadougou, some were showing support for the country’s new leaders.

“We are demonstrating to support this coup, confirmed or not,” said Francois Beogo, a political activist from the Movement for the Refounding of Burkina Faso. “For us, it is already a coup.”

Beogo said Damiba “has showed his limits” during his short time in power. “People were expecting a real change,” he added.

Some demonstrators voiced support for Russian involvement in order to stem the violence, and shouted slogans critical of France, Burkina Faso’s former coloniser. In neighbouring Mali, the junta invited Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to help secure the country, though their deployment has drawn international criticism.

Last week, Damiba had travelled to New York where he addressed the UN general assembly. In his speech, Damiba defended his January coup as “an issue of survival for our nation”, even if it was “perhaps reprehensible” to the international community. On Thursday, he had given a speech in Djibo, in Burkina Faso’s volatile north.

Burkina Faso’s January coup followed similar takeovers in Mali and in Guinea, heightening fears of a rollback of democracy in west Africa. None of the juntas have committed to a date for new elections, though Damiba said last week that the transition in Burkina Faso would last for almost two more years.

Many in Burkina Faso initially supported the military takeover, frustrated with the previous government’s inability to stem Islamist violence that has killed thousands and displaced at least 2 million. Yet the violence has failed to wane in the months since Damiba took over. Earlier this month, he also took over the position of defence minister after dismissing a brigadier general from the post.

Earlier this week at least 11 soldiers were killed and 50 civilians went missing after a supply convoy was attacked by gunmen in Gaskinde commune in Soum province in the Sahel. That attack was “a low point” for Damiba’s government and “likely played a role in inspiring what we’ve seen so far today”, said Eric Humphery-Smith, senior Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

Chrysogone Zougmore, president of the Burkina Faso Movement for Human Rights, called Friday’s developments “very regrettable”, saying the instability would not help in the fight against the extremist violence.

“How can we hope to unite people and the army if the latter is characterised by such serious divisions?” Zougmore said. “It is time for these reactionary and political military factions to stop leading Burkina Faso adrift.”

Burkina Faso has become the epicentre of violence carried out by groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State that began in neighbouring Mali in 2012 and has spread to other West African countries south of the Sahara Desert.

Friday’s coup creates a conundrum for West Africa’s political bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has tried to persuade coup leaders in the region to return to civilian rule as soon as possible.

ECOWAS suspended Burkina Faso after the January coup but had since agreed to a two-year transition back to democratic elections.

“ECOWAS reaffirms its unreserved opposition to any taking or maintaining of the power by unconstitutional means,” it said in a statement.

It demanded “scrupulous respect for the timeline already agreed with the Transitional Authorities for a return to constitutional order no later than July 1, 2024.”


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