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Whereabouts unclear: Burkina Faso’s ousted President Damiba gives up after a military coup

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After another military coup in West Africa’s Burkina Faso, the ousted President Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba officially resigned his office on Sunday. He wanted to avoid clashes in the country, representatives of a mediation mission told journalists on Sunday.

The new ruler, Ibrahima Traoré, has promised him full security and protection from criminal prosecution, explained the representatives of various ethnic groups and religious communities. Neither Traoré nor the fallen Damiba were present at the press conference. Where Damiba was staying remained unclear. Traoré had a message read out on the national television channel RTB on Sunday, according to which the situation in Burkina Faso is now under control and is returning to normal. The captain called on the population to remain peaceful. In particular, he warned against violence and vandalism against French institutions.

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On Sunday, French institutions were the target of sometimes violent protests. Dozens of supporters of the new junta chief threw stones at the French embassy in the capital Ouagadougou on Sunday and set fire to barriers in front of the building, an AFP reporter reported.

Security forces used tear gas to disperse the protesters. French soldiers were stationed on the roof of the embassy. Officers responsible for the coup had accused the previous junta boss Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba of hiding in a military base of the former colonial power France in order to plan a “counteroffensive”.

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Rumors circulated online that France was protecting Damiba. The French foreign ministry condemned the “violence against our embassy in the strongest possible terms” and blamed it on “enemy protesters, manipulated by a disinformation campaign.”

Also on Saturday there was a fire in front of the embassy and an attack on the Institut français in Ouagadougou. The French Foreign Ministry recommended that the approximately 4,000 to 5,000 French in the country not to leave their homes for the time being.

At the top is now a captain

In the West African country, the military staged another coup on Friday, eight months after the last coup. According to local media reports, the previous president, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, had been relieved of his functions in a television speech by the new rulers on state television RTB on Friday evening.

Burkina Faso is now headed by Captain Ibrahima Traoré of the Burkinabe armed forces, it said. The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) condemned the coup, while the EU and the US expressed concern.

The rebellious military read a statement on national television in the capital Ouagadougou on Friday evening, according to which Damiba was relieved of his posts. They imposed a night-time curfew until 5 a.m. and closed the national borders from midnight. The government and the transitional parliament were dissolved.

Actually, the military wanted to provide more security

Earlier in the day, shots were heard at the junta chief’s official residence. The rebels cited “the continuous deterioration of the security situation” in the country as the reason for Damiba’s removal from power.

Damiba only came to power at the end of January in a coup against elected President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré. According to their own statements, the soldiers wanted to ensure more security.

He had announced that he would make security a priority in the country, which had been shaken by jihadist attacks for years. However, the military government led by Damiba was unable to calm the situation. Rather, jihadist attacks have increased in recent months, especially in the north of the country.

Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, President of Burkina Faso, at his inauguration as interim president in Ouagadougou on March 2, 2022.
© Photo: AFP/OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT

The “common ideal” they agreed on was betrayed by “our leader, in whom we have had complete trust,” the statement said. Once peaceful regions of the country are now “under terrorist control”.

Nothing was initially known about the whereabouts of the ousted junta chief. The new ruler, 34-year-old officer Traoré, previously commanded the special unit “Cobra” in the northern region of Kaya, which was deployed there against jihadist militias.

First reactions from Europe and America

Internationally, the renewed coup was sharply condemned. UN Secretary-General António Guterres was “deeply concerned” about developments in the West African country and condemned any attempt to take power by force of arms, his spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in New York.

The EU called for compliance with the plan to return to constitutional order. The African Union and the West African economic community Ecowas also criticized the seizure of power by the military.

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. As in the neighboring countries of Mali and Niger, Islamist groups in Burkina Faso repeatedly carry out attacks on security forces and state institutions.

The United Nations condemned the renewed coup on Friday. The EU, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also regretted the coup and called for a return to the constitutional order by July 2024 at the latest, as planned.

Influence of Russia has increased

Hundreds of protesters could be seen at Nation Square in Ouagadougou on Friday afternoon, some waving the Russian flag and calling for closer cooperation with Russia.

Moscow’s influence has steadily increased in several francophone countries in the region in recent years. The West accuses the military rulers in Mali of working closely with the notorious Russian mercenary group Wagner.

West Africa: Five coups since 2020

There have been five coups in West African countries since 2020: twice in Burkina Faso, twice in Mali and once in Guinea. The Ecowas states condemned the seizure of power by the rebellious military “in the strongest possible terms”.

The coup came at an inopportune time as progress had just been made towards restoring constitutional order. Burkina Faso’s membership of the Ecowas network was suspended with the coup in January.

The political and humanitarian situation in Burkina Faso, with around 21 million inhabitants, has been unstable for years. Armed groups, some affiliated with the Islamic State terrorist group or the al-Qaeda terrorist network, are active there and in neighboring Mali and Niger.

Long-lasting droughts and hunger crises are also causing problems for the country, which is impoverished despite rich gold deposits. (AFP, dpa)

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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