Coup In Burkina Faso

Cascade of coups d’etat: Burkina Faso’s turn

The whole world was shocked when gun shots were heard on Sunday 23 January near the home of Burkina Faso’s president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, after soldiers staged mutinies at several barracks to demand the sacking of the country’s military top brass and more resources for the battle against Islamist insurgents. Ultimately, the mutiny turned into a coup d’état. New developments are currently unfolding as international organizations react to the putsch. In less than one year, several military-driven events have visited Africa. 

In April 2021, Idriss Déby of Chad was killed in a combat with Jihadists and his son Mahamat Déby was made president the following day. In August 2020, Colonel Assimi Goita overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Mali. In September 2021, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya and his men put an abrupt end to Alpha Condé term in Guinea. Burkina Faso had a similar experience on 24 January.

One often hears questions like: Why are coups happening in Francophone West Africa? Will other Francophone countries in the subregion be next? Will Anglophone Africa be spared? A student of mine sent me these lines, three hours ago, “Sir, why are the military toppling governments in Francophone countries?” The situation in Burkina deserves exceptional attention.

What triggered the coup?

Explanations abound as to what has shaken this West African state. A general malaise can be traced to the months after Blaise Compaoré was forced out of power in 2014. Rumour has it that before he left Burkina, under the pressure of civil society, Compaoré made the following statement, “I am leaving Burkina Faso, but this country will never know peace”. That point is backed up by the close rapport that the former president had with the Jihadists. He was the “negotiator in chief” of France when people were kidnapped as hostages by Jihadists. Moreover, France had persuaded Compaoré to give a safe haven to some Jihadists and Roch Marc Christian Kaboré who was overthrown on Monday 24 January had not accepted any deal with Jihadists. 

These past few years, the Burkinabè military has been weak, tired, hungry, angry, thirsty, and frustrated, with a very low morale. That discontent started in 1987, when Thomas Sankara was assassinated by Compaoré. The latter created a special unit for his own protection, (RSP) who were extremely well treated, all levels: better training, remuneration and weapons. They were an army within an army and that caused a fissure. After the popular uprising of 2014, the country was hit by uncountable Jihadists attacks that claimed the lives of men, women, children, civilians, military and other law enforcement personnel. 

Every Burkinabè was appalled by President Roch Kaboré’s indifference, incapacity, incompetence and poor leadership skills. The top army officers were preoccupied with securing slots for peacekeeping in war-torn countries since that would fetch them US dollars. They were having a good time in airconditioned offices and luxurious cars, when poor young recruits were sent to war against dangerous Jihadists. Last week’s coup could therefore be foreseen, anticipated. After two days of chaos in Ouagadougou, with soldiers firing shots in the air and demanding support for their fight against insurgents, Kaboré ‘s regime was toppled.

What really happened and who is the new leader?

Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo DAMIBA is a 41-year-old army officer who was a member of the special presidential guard (RSP) of Compaoré. He trained in several countries and his course at the famous École Militaire in Paris Military (Academy of Paris) played a paramount role in the rest of his career. Damiba struck an acquaintance with Mamady Doumbouya in 2017 when both men attended training at the École Militaire in Paris. Doumbouya, 41, is now president in Guinea. Additionally, Damiba is said to have spent time with Goita, the current 39-year-old president of Mali, and Doumbouya in 2019 when both men participated in a U.S.-led military exercise known as Flintlock in Burkina Faso, and he has remained close to them since. Evidence of communications between the three officers is available, and many analysts contend that these  coups in Mali, Guinea and Burkina have certainly been discussed and planned by the three “brothers in arms”. 

They were born around the 1980s and came of age in the year 2000 when the West was teaching Western Democracy to Africa, and attached aid to the implementation of “Western democracy”.

Damiba was appointed as commander of the third military region, a unit responsible for security in the capital and in the east of the country, following an attack by Islamist militants that killed 49 military officers and four civilians. He was to oversee security in the capital city of Ouagadougou.

Russia in the picture

On two occasions after his appointment, Damiba sought to persuade President Roch Kaboré (whom Damiba often had to implore) to engage Russia’s Wagner Group, a notoriously secretive Russian paramilitary company whose services have been hired by several governments to help fight Jihadists. But the president never accepted that suggestion. He brushed it aside and reminded Damiba that European governments had just condemned the deployment of Russian mercenaries in Mali by its military leaders. It was obvious that Kaboré didn’t want to run into any problems with the West by aligning with Russia. It therefore did not come as a surprise when the EU, the UN and ECOWAS which are Western institutions, or their puppets, condemned the coup in Burkina, as they did with the Mali putsch. 

The leaders of the coup in Mali spent most of the year 2021 training in Russia before returning to boot out the then president, IBK. Initially, close friends of Kaboré had expressed concern about Damiba’s appointment as commander of the third military region because they knew that Damiba had close ties with army colonels Assimi Goita and Mamady Doumbouya. Weeks after he vainly tried to persuade Kaboré to accept help from the Russian special forces, Lieutenant Colonel Damiba overthrew Kaboré after the latter was forced to write a resignation letter, addressed to Damiba, the President of the Popular Movement for Safeguard and Restoration (MPSR). 

Damiba seems to be a fine military strategist and academic. He holds several degrees and in 2021 published a book titled, Armées Ouest Africaines et Terrorisme: Reponses Incertaines? (West African Armies and Terrorism: Uncertain Answers?). It is too early to judge. Nothing is known of his leadership skills, vision, sense of sacrifice and determination as a president.


Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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