Burkina Faso soldiers launch counter-coup 9 months after last political upheaval

More than a dozen members of Burkina Faso’s army seized control of state television late Friday, declaring that the country’s coup leader-turned-president, Lt.-Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, had been overthrown.

A spokesperson introduced Capt. Ibrahim Traore as the new head of the volatile West African country that is battling a mounting Islamic insurgency.

Damiba and his allies overthrew the democratically elected president only nine months ago, coming to power with promises of making the country more secure. However, violence has continued unabated and frustration with his leadership has grown in recent months.

“In the face of the continuing deterioration of the security situation, we have repeatedly tried to refocus the transition on security issues,” said the statement read aloud Friday evening by the soldiers.

The soldiers promised the international community they would respect their commitments and urged Burkinabes “to go about their business in peace.”

Earlier gunfire sparked fears of coup

Demonstrators gather with flags.
Demonstrators gather near Thomas Sankara memorial with Burkina Faso and Russian flags in support of what they believe to be another military coup in Ouagadougou on Friday. (The Associated Press)

Gunfire rang out in Burkina Faso’s capital and the state broadcaster went off the air earlier in the day, sparking fears of another coup attempt nine months after the democratically elected president was ousted from power.

Damiba’s whereabouts were not immediately known but a statement from his government on Facebook urged people to remain calm.

“Negotiations are underway to bring back calm and serenity,” said the statement attributed to the presidency spokesperson. “The enemy attacking our country only wants division between Burkinabes.”

The uncertainty carried on into the late afternoon as the West African nation’s residents awaited word on who was in control of the country, which is destabilized by a growing Islamic insurgency.

The United Nations 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 Stephane Dujarric said.

Friday’s developments felt all too familiar in West Africa, where a coup in Mali in August 2020 set off a series of military power grabs in the region.

On the streets of the capital, Ouagadougou, some already were showing support for what they believed was Damiba’s ouster.

“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 nine months in power. “People were expecting a real change,” he said.

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

Last week, Damiba had travelled to New York and 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.

Burkina Faso’s January coup came in the wake of similar takeovers in Mali and in Guinea, heightening fears of a rollback of democracy in West Africa.

Many in Burkina Faso initially supported the military takeover, frustrated with the previous government’s inability to stem Islamic extremist violence that has killed thousands and displaced at least two million. Yet the violence has failed to wane in the months since Damiba took over.

‘Very regrettable’

The UN’s Dujarric said that on the humanitarian front Burkina Faso “continues to confront multi-dimensional crises as insecurity is growing.”

“Nearly one-fifth of the national population urgently needs humanitarian aid,” he said. “The number of security incidents increased by 220 per cent in 2022, compared to last year.”

Dujarric said the country faces “the fastest growing displacement crisis in the world in 2022,” along with Mozambique and Ukraine.

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 Islamic extremist violence.

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

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