The military coup that ousted Burkina Faso’s President Roch Kabore is the fourth in a series of recent military takeovers in West and Central Africa, raising fears of further regional instability.
Rioters calling for more support for their fight against armed groups announced on Monday that they had overthrew the democratically elected president.
While the takeover provoked widespread international condemnation, it was greeted with substantial support in Burkina Faso.
“Kabore has lost the trust of Burkina Faso citizens, there is no doubt about it,” Daniel Eizenga, an analyst at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, told Al Jazeera.
Yet, whether the takeover could meet the popular demand for better security or provide an “opportunity for armed insurgency groups to build on their operations in the area” remains to be seen, Eizenga added.
Attacks ‘spell Kabore’s death’
Since 2015, Burkina Faso has been fighting armed uprisings by groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) that have flooded neighboring Mali.
The number of attacks has risen from nearly 500 in 2020 to more than 1,150 in 2021, placing the country far ahead of Mali’s 684 and Niger’s 149 violent events.
Local security forces and civilians were the primary victims of the violence by armed groups. More than 1.4 million people have been displaced by the conflict, according to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Alex Vines, who heads the Africa program at Chatham House in London, told Al Jazeera that the increase in violence in Burkina Faso was preceded by a failed coup in September 2015 targeted the transitional government following the resignation of longtime leader Blaise Compaoré.
In the wake of that, “the intelligence and security networks have been purified and greatly weakened in response to that coup attempt,” Vines said.
“So you had a very weakened state in terms of its security apparatus, which provided an easier route for some of these groups to move into.”
Kabore’s People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) party inherited this weak security device when it was elected with 53 percent of the vote in Burkina Faso’s first ever election transfer of power in November 2015.
Since then, armed groups – including the Islamic and Muslim Support Group, or JNIM, which is in line with al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), a branch of ISIL – have taken further control in carried out rural areas and attacks on the capital.
Last year, frustration over the rapidly deteriorating security situation reached a boiling point. In June, Burkina Faso witnessed the worst attack by armed groups in the country’s history when more than 130 civilians were killed within three hours. attack on Solhan, a remote village in Yagha province on the eastern border with Niger, which has called for calls to step up counter-terrorism efforts.
No one has claimed responsibility for the killings, but government officials said it was the work of ISIL affiliates.
“I bow to the memory of the hundred civilians killed in this barbaric attack,” Kabore said in a televised speech announcing a three-day national mourning period.
A further blow to Kabore’s leadership came in November, when a attack on a gendarmerie post in the northern town of Inata killed 49 officers and four civilians.
According to Constantin Gouvy, an analyst at Clingendael’s conflict research unit in The Hague, the Inata attack “spelled Kabore’s death”.
Reports that officers went without food supplies and adequate equipment for weeks resulted in protests and widespread popular outrage. In addition, Kabore appointed Lieutenant-Colonel in an effort to thwart the calls for his resignation and promote support within the military. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba as commander of Burkina Faso’s third military region, with the task of protecting the capital Ouagadougou from attacks.
Ironically, Gouvy said the man called by Kabore to save his democratically elected government was the leader of the military coup that ousted him on Monday.
Kabore’s whereabouts remain unknown, despite statements by the military government that detained officials are being held “in a safe place”.
Damiba has been named the leader of the newly formed Patriotic Movement for Protection and Restoration (MPSR).
Unlike the ousted president, Damiba tried to present himself as an expert in the fight against terrorism. He is a graduate of the military academy in Paris and is the author of a book entitled West African Armies and Terrorism: Uncertain Responses? in which he analyzed anti-terrorism strategies in the Sahel region and their borders.
His plan to fight the armed groups, however, remains unclear.
“There is a lot that is still unknown, including how he justifies that he would be better able to handle the situation than Kabore,” Gouvy said.
“He has military experience, but it is unlikely that just a change in leadership will solve the problem,” including the military’s funding problem, he added.
‘No guarantee’ for rights
Kabore’s removal was welcomed by hundreds of Burkinabe on the streets of Ouagadougou on Tuesday. Among the crowd, some also welcomed the coup as a liberation from the country’s former colonial power, France.
Paris has expanded its military cooperation with Burkina Faso at President Kabore’s request, including the country in its Operation Barkhane fighting armed groups in Africa’s Sahel region. His intervention has provoked some criticism among citizens and civil servants in Burkina Faso.
Pro-military protesters also held Russian flags and called for an intervention similar to that which took place in the Central African Republic, where Russian mercenaries fought an armed uprising last year.
Russia also acknowledged that it had provided military aid through state channels in Mali, despite Bamako denying the presence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group after allegations by Western powers.
No indication has yet emerged as to whether Damiba may turn to Russia for security cooperation. However, Vines said Moscow was trying to position itself as an alternative to Western intervention in a context where discontent was simmering.
“Burkina Faso could be a logical place for the Russians to work with the junta as well,” Vines said, adding that Moscow runs the risk of being caught up in the politics of authoritarian regimes and gradually by democratic governments on the continent. to be isolated.
The 15-nation West African bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will hold a special session on Friday to discuss how to respond to the fourth military coup in the past year, to Mali, Chad and Guinea.
“There is concern among ECOWAS members that it [trend] can spread even further, ”Gouvy said, adding that the block is likely to consider its toolbox carefully.
Heavy sanctions imposed on Mali after coup leader Assimi Goita announced a five-year postponement to return to constitutional rule appears to be “a double-edged sword” as they have given the military government more support, Gouvy said said.
Damiba undertook to return to Burkina Faso’s constitutional government “within a reasonable time”.
But according to Eizenga, the coup is a dangerous departure from the democratic path the country has embarked on after 27 years of Compaoré’s rule.
“People [in Burkina Faso] felt that they demanded change and they did not receive it and that this is a policy failure, ”Eizenga said. “But coup d’etat fundamentally disrupts [the democratic process] by forcing non-elected officials to power. ”
“There is then no guarantee for citizens’ rights and their civil liberties.”