Gunshots rang out in Burkina Faso’s capital amid signs of lingering tensions a day after a group of military officers overthrew the man who had seized power in a coup only nine months earlier.
Roads remained blocked off in Ouagadougou, where a helicopter could be heard flying overhead. An internal security analysis for the EU seen by the Associated Press said there was “abnormal military movement” in the city.
As uncertainty prevailed on Saturday, the international community condemned the ousting of Lt Col Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who overthrew the country’s democratically elected president in January.
The African Union and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS sharply criticized the “power grab”.
“ECOWAS finds this new power grab inappropriate at a time when progress has been made,” the bloc said, citing the recent agreement Damiba had made to return to constitutional order by July 2024.
After taking power, Damiba promised to end the Islamist extremist violence that has forced two million people to flee their homes in Burkina Faso. But a group of officers led by Capt Ibrahim Traore said on Friday that Damiba had failed and so he was being removed as interim president.
The new junta leadership said it would commit “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 board can turn around the crisis. Concerns were mounting on Saturday that the latest political volatility would further distract the military and allow the jihadis to strengthen their grip on growing swaths of the eleven peaceful country.
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”.
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 region.
“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 a statement read by junta spokesperson Capt Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho on Friday.
“A meeting will be agreed to adopt a new transitional constitution charter and to select a new Burkina Faso president, be it civilian or military.”
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 experienced 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 Zougmoré, president of the Burkina Faso Movement for Human Rights, called the latest overthrow “very regrettable,” saying the instability would not help in the fight against jihadi 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.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism