OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — As Islamic extremists intensified their attacks in Burkina Faso earlier this year, coup leader Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba urged the West African nation’s people to give him until September to improve things as interim president.
A group of junior officers held him to just that Friday evening: calling his time up in a new coup launched on the last day of the month.
Concerns already were mounting Saturday, though, that the latest political volatility would further distract the military and allow the jihadis to strengthen their grip on growing swaths of the once peaceful country.
Burkina Faso’s new junta leadership announced on state television that it will effectively restart the clock on the road back to democracy, erasing much of the recent diplomacy between Burkina Faso and the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS.
“The Damiba administration had only just reached common ground with ECOWAS, agreeing to a transition timeline in July,” said Eric Humphery-Smith, senior Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.
Burkina Faso’s new leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traore, is vowing to overhaul the military so it is better prepared to fight extremists. He accused Damiba of following the same failed strategies as former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, whom Damiba overthrew in a January coup, .
The junta said in a statement late Friday that the country would be committing “all fighting forces to refocus on the security issue and the restoration of the integrity of our territory.” But it remains to be seen whether the new leadership can turn around a crisis that has forced 2 million residents to flee their homes.
Earlier this month, Damiba addressed the nation and told the Burkinabe people that “our efforts have begun to bear fruit at the military operational level.” Only two days later, a roadside bomb struck a military convoy in the north, killing at least 35 people.
This week, at least 11 soldiers were killed and 50 civilians went missing after gunmen attacked a supply convoy in Gaskinde, a commune in Soum province in the Sahel.
“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 Friday statement read by junta spokesman Capt. Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho.
“A meeting will be convened to adopt a new transitional constitution charter and to select a new Burkina Faso president be it civilian or military,” the statement continued.
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.
Chrysogone Zougmore, president of the Burkina Faso Movement for Human Rights, called the 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.”