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Two coups in a year in Burkina Faso: what you need to know

  • 7 Oct 2022

The coup is the latest in a string of military takeovers in the Sahel region in the last two years, often accompanied by large protests in support of the putschists.

( AFP )

Burkinabes woke up to yet another coup on Friday, the second coup the country witnesses this year amid widespread insecurity and an insurgency that began in Mali in 2012.

Gunfire rang through the streets of the capital Ouagadougou as soldiers lined the road leading to the presidential palace. The state television channel stopped its news broadcast.

Military leader Ibrahim Traore, 34, was officially appointed president on Wednesday, after heading the putsch that overthrew interim President Paul-Henri Damiba. Damiba himself had seized power in a coup that deposed President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré last January. 

On Sunday morning, Traore paraded through the streets of Ouagadougou in a red beret and military uniform, saluting onlookers from an armoured vehicle. Many were waving Russian flags.

Traore has reassured the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) the new junta would abide by democratic transition timeline set out by his predecessor, which aims at restoring civilian rule by July 2024. Traore said he would "respect the dynamic compromise" agreed with ECOWAS last July, and vowed to collaborate with ECOWAS on Burkina Faso’s international and human rights commitments.

Last Friday merely marked the latest in a string of military coups that have marred not only Burkina Faso, a former French colony, but the wider region.

Earlier this year, a coup attempt took place in neighbouring Guinea Bissau, while elected President Alpha Conde was deposed in Guinea on September 5 last year. Mali was the theatre of a coup and a “coup within a coup” in September 2020 and May 2021.

Foreign powers vying for influence

Ahead of the coup in Burkina Faso last January, thousands of protesters took to the streets to voice their anger at the government’s inability to stop armed attacks across the country. 

Just like in neighbouring countries, military coups in Burkina Faso appear to find a popular support base as government after government is seen as failing to restore security and fix a broken economy that has left the region’s large youth population struggling with unemployment.

At least 5,000 people have died in Burkina Faso in the last two years in a wave of escalating violence attributed to armed groups linked to Al Qaeda and Daesh. Raids conducted mostly in rural communities have also forced millions to flee.

“There is a growing perception that democracy is associated with failed leadership promises, colonial power influence, inherent corruption and governance incompetence,” David Otto, director of counterterrorism at the Geneva Centre for Africa Security and Strategic Studies tells TRT World.

“Without security, trusted leadership and good governance, nothing else matters to the vulnerable population and coup plotters are using these loopholes of insecurity and bad leadership to justify coups,” he added.

According to UN estimates, 1.5 million Burkinabes have been displaced by violence between 2013 and 2021. Six in ten of the Sahel’s internally displaced (IDPs) are from Burkina Faso.

Just days before the coup, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group claimed responsibility for an attack that killed at least 27 soldiers in the north of the country.

Earlier this year, ECOWAS said the state only controls 60 percent of Burkina Faso. 

Earlier this year, neighbouring Mali expelled French troops from the country, after Macron had announced in June 2021 it would begin a military pullout amid rising tensions with the country’s leadership. A similar sentiment of growing discontent with the region’s former colonial power can be found elsewhere in the region including in Burkina Faso. This has left a vacuum that Russia has moved to fill.

“We are seeing a serious battle for geopolitical positioning in the Sahel and central African states between Russia and her private affiliated networks on the one hand, and France and the West on the other,” Otto says.

“These foreign powers are either supporting regimes that arbitrarily change the constitution to remain in power, juntas that seize power by force, or a population that stands up against a leader who is out of favour,” he adds.

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