Army officers appear on Burkina Faso TV, declare new coup

Source: Associated Press

More than a dozen soldiers seized control of Burkina Faso's state television late Friday (local time), 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 junta spokesman said Capt. Ibrahim Traore is the new military leader of Burkina Faso, a 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 9pm to 5am. The transitional government and national assembly were ordered dissolved.

Damiba and his allies overthrew the democratically elected president, coming to power with promises to make 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 junta spokesman, 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.”

Damiba had just returned from addressing the UN General Assembly in New York as Burkina Faso's head of state. Tensions, though, had been mounting for months. 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.

Constantin Gouvy, Burkina Faso researcher at Clingendael, said Friday night’s events “follow escalating tensions within the ruling MPSR junta and the wider army.”

“Members of the MPSR increasingly felt Damiba was isolating himself and casting aside those who helped him seize power,” said Gouvy.

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 nation's capital Ouagadougou, some people already were showing support Friday for the change in leadership even before the putschists took to the state airwaves.

Many in Burkina Faso initially supported the military takeover last January, frustrated with the previous government’s inability to stem Islamic extremist 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 on the position of defence minister after dismissing a brigadier general from the post.

“It’s hard for the Burkinabe junta to claim that it has delivered on its promise of improving the security situation,” said Africa analyst Eric Humphery-Smith.

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 the Sahel.

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?”