New coup in Burkina Faso raises question: Can the military bring back security?

DAKAR, Senegal — A day after military officers seized power in Burkina Faso, residents faced uncertainty over what would happen next, as the West African nation endures its second coup in eight months.

Calm precariously returned Saturday morning to the capital, Ouagadougou, where gunfire rang out early Friday. Shops reopened and traffic slowly resumed on roads that soldiers had been guarding a day earlier.

After a day filled with uncertainty and rumors about the fate of Burkina Faso’s military government, military officers announced Friday evening that they had removed the country’s leader, Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had taken power in January.

It was a coup within a coup: Capt. Ibrahim Traoré was now in charge, the officers said on national television.

“We have decided to take our responsibilities, driven by a single ideal: the restoration of security and integrity of our territory,” an officer said as a stern Traoré sat next to him, surrounded by a dozen other officers covering their faces with sunglasses and neck guards.

Shortly before midday Saturday, gunfire erupted again in the Ouagadougou city center, a reminder that even as coups have become a regular feature of Burkina Faso’s recent political life, the capital remained on edge. It was not immediately clear what the gunfire was related to.

Leaders from the African Union and the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS condemned the coup. In a statement released Friday, the chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called for constitutional order to be restored in Burkina Faso by July 2024, at the latest.

Much remained unknown Saturday about the whereabouts of Damiba — and about Traoré in general.

But like in January, the officers blamed the leader they had removed for failing to quash a mounting Islamist insurgency that has displaced nearly 10% of the population and compounded economic hardship in the nation of about 21 million.

“We just want security,” Théophile Doussé, a travel agency employee, said Saturday in Ouagadougou. “Without security, business is too complicated.”

In his seizing of power, Damiba had blamed the civilian, democratically elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, for failing to contain a worsening security situation. Hailed as a strong-willed officer with on-the-ground experience, Damiba vowed to bring back security and asked the nation to give until September before making a first assessment of the security situation.

But as he addressed residents last month, Damiba had little progress to offer, said Constantin Gouvy, a Burkina Faso researcher based in Ouagadougou with the Clingendael Institute, a think tank funded by the Dutch government.

For months, insurgents have blockaded towns and villages in the country’s north and east, attacked army-escorted convoys supplying them, and spread the same insecurity that Damiba had vowed to tackle.

“There was this frustration brewing in the military and the population on the basis that he would make things better,” Gouvy said, “but they actually were getting worse on some fronts.”

Last month, 35 people died when a convoy leaving a town under blockade hit a roadside bomb, and this past week 11 soldiers were killed when insurgents attacked another convoy on its way to the same town.

Nearly one-fifth of the country’s population is in need of urgent humanitarian aid, the United Nations said this past week, and more people were displaced from January to June than the whole of last year, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Damiba had just returned from the U.N. General Assembly in New York, where he described his coup in January as “illegal in absolute terms” and “perhaps reprehensible,” but “necessary and indispensable.”

“It was, above all, an issue of survival for our nation,” he said.

On Friday, the officers who removed him invoked the same arguments after they grew disillusioned with some of his actions.

A top concern from other officers, experts say, was that Damiba was perceived as a politician more than as a military leader, regularly wearing civilian clothes and tackling governance issues — which could be expected from a country’s leader, but was not favored by the military.

Another key point of contention was the international allies that Damiba surrounded himself with. Unlike in neighboring Mali, where a military junta recently cut its defense ties with France and aligned itself with Russia and its mercenaries of the Wagner Group, Burkina Faso’s previous military government kept the doors open to France, its former colonizer, as well as to Russia and others — at least on paper.

But in practice, analysts said, Damiba was seen as leaning too heavily on France and Ivory Coast, drawing the ire of a part of the population in which an anti-France, pro-Russia sentiment has been growing. “Damiba wanted to create a balance between Russia and the West, but this isn’t what the masses want at the moment,” said Abdul Zanya Salifu, a scholar at the University of Calgary who focuses on the Sahel region, the vast stretch of land south of the Sahara that includes Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso’s situation echoes Mali’s, which also faced two coups only months apart — in 2020 and last year — and where the military has so far been unable to contain Islamist insurgents gaining ground in the country’s southeast, near the border with Burkina Faso.

“Administration and governance require expertise, which the militaries don’t have,” Salifu added. “The situation in which Mali and Burkina Faso find themselves in is a prime example of that.”

On Saturday in Ouagadougou, many said that Damiba most likely would not have stayed in power much longer.

“He couldn’t accomplish the mission he came to fulfill, so it was time to quit,” said Drissa Samandoulgou, 32, a student. “We’ll judge the new ones on facts, too.”

Whether the new leadership can bring much-needed changes remains another question, said Gouvy, the analyst at the Clingendael Institute.

“Damiba’s justification for the coup became his undoing,” he said. “But what more does Traoré have to offer? What is going to be different, and how is he going to deliver?”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Go to Source
Author: The New York Times News Service Syndicate