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 after only nine months in power.

A statement read by a joint spokesman said Capt. Ibrahim Traore is the new head of Burkina Faso, the volatile West African country that is battling a mounting Islamic insurgency.

Burkina Faso’s new military leaders said the country’s borders had been closed and a curfew would be in effect from 9 pm to 5 am local time. The transitional government and national assembly were ordered dissolved.

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.

“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,” said the statement read by the spokesperson junta, Capt. Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho.

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

A building on a deserted street.
Few people ventured in the normally busy streets of Ouagadougou on Friday. (Sophie Garcia/The Associated Press)

Gunfire had erupted in the capital, Ouagadougou, early Friday and hours passed without any public appearance by Damiba. Late in the afternoon, his spokesman posted a statement on the presidency’s Facebook page saying that “negotiations are underway to bring back calm and serenity.”

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. Mali also saw a second coup nine months after the August 2020 overthrow of its president, when the junta’s leader sidelined his civilian transition counterparts and put himself alone in charge.

On the streets of the capital, Ouagadougou, some were already showing support for what they believed were 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 shown his limits” during his nine months in power. “People were expecting real change,” he said.

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)

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

Last week, Damiba had traveled 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.

A man holds the portait of Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba who led a coup in Burkina Faso in January. A few days before he was ousted in a counter-coup on Friday, Damiba addressed the UN General Assembly in New York, defending his January coup as ‘an issue of survival for our nation,’ even if it was ‘perhaps reprehensible’ to the international community. (Sophie Garcia/The Associated Press)

Yet the violence has failed to wane in the months since Damiba took over. Earlier this month, he also took on the position of defense minister after dismissing a brigadier general from the post.

“It’s hard for the Burkinabe joins to claim that it has delivered on its promise of improving the security situation, which was its pretext for the January coup,” said Eric Humphery-Smith, senior Africa analyst at the risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

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 Humphery-Smith.

‘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 percent 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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