On Friday night in Burkina Faso, armed soldiers in fatigues and masks came on television to confirm the ousting of President Paul-Henri Damiba, the second coup in the unstable West African nation this year.
The declaration came at the end of a day that had started with shooting close to a military base in the city Ouagadougou, an explosion close to the presidential palace, and state television disruptions.
In the last two years, as Islamist insurgents have wreaked devastation throughout the parched Sahel region, murdering thousands of people and undermining trust in weak governments that have not been able to put up a fight against them, this pattern has grown more and more common in West and Central Africa.
Since 2020, coups have taken place in Guinea, Mali, and Chad, sparking concerns that a region that has advanced toward democracy during the previous ten years may again revert to military dictatorship.
Army Captain Ibrahim Traore is the new leader of Burkina Faso. Traore appeared on television surrounded by soldiers and announced the dissolution of the government, suspension of the constitution, and closing of the borders in a scene that replicated Damiba’s own power grab in a coup on January 24. He imposed a curfew every night.
On Friday night, no one knew where Damiba was.
In response to their leader’s incapacity to cope with the Islamists, Traore said that a number of officers who assisted Damiba in seizing control in January had chosen to have him ousted. 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.
“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.
A new transitional charter and a new civilian or military president will be chosen, it said, and national stakeholders will be requested to accept them soon.
In the hopes that they will be more effective at restraining the insurgents than their democratically elected predecessors, civilian populations have supported military juntas. But optimism has quickly vanished.
The violence committed by groups affiliated with al Qaeda and the Islamic State, which started in the neighboring country of Mali in 2012 and has since extended to other West African nations south of the Sahara Desert, has made Burkina Faso its main focus.
Raids on rural areas have resulted in thousands of deaths and caused the displacement of millions. In an incident this week in northern Burkina Faso, at least 11 soldiers lost their lives. Numerous individuals remain missing.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a political bloc in West Africa, has a conundrum in wake of Friday’s coup. ECOWAS has attempted to urge coup leaders in the country to quickly restore civilian rule.
ECOWAS suspended Burkina Faso following the January coup, although the country has recently consented 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.”