The whereabouts of the president of Burkina Faso, Roch Marc Kaboré, remains unclear, following an attempted coup by soldiers, following a night of intense gunfire, heard around his home in the capital, Ouagadougou. .
Kaboré was arrested and detained by the military, according to diplomatic and security sources, in a coup attempt condemned on Monday by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and hailed by groups of protesters in the capital.
On Monday morning, armored vehicles belonging to his presidential guard were seen riddled with bullets and their seats drenched in blood, near the president’s residence.
Kaboré is being held in a military camp, West African diplomats and security sources told the Reuters news agency. However, his exact whereabouts have not been released and the soldiers behind the attempted coup have yet to comment.
Amid confusion over Kaboré’s whereabouts and condition, a statement from his Twitter account on Monday afternoon urged the soldiers behind the attempted coup to lay down their arms. “I invite those who have taken up arms to lay them down for the highest interests of the nation. It is through dialogue and listening that we must resolve our contradictions,” the statement said.
It is unclear whether he personally made the statement and whether he did so from military detention.
Military convoys were seen surrounding the country’s state broadcaster on Monday morning, with anti-government protesters gathering outside the building in anticipation of a statement, however the coup plotters have yet to officially appear before the country, which Confusion over who is in control of the government is increasing.
If a military coup is confirmed, it would be the third in West Africa in the last year.
On Monday, Ecowas issued a statement condemning the “extreme acts” of the soldiers. “Ecowas asks the military to return to the barracks, to maintain a republican position in favor of dialogue with the authorities to solve these problems,” the agency said.
Shots were heard in several military barracks, with initial reports of a mutiny by soldiers, demanding the dismissal of the country’s military leadership and lamenting the lack of resources in the conflict with jihadist groups.
As reports of gunfire spread on Sunday, protesters looted and burned the headquarters of Kaboré’s ruling party, while police dispersed demonstrations in support of a possible coup, which were held in the center of the city.
Overwhelmed by the number of attacks and the resulting humanitarian crisis, many in Burkina Faso have been angry with the Kaboré government, especially after some of the worst mass killings by jihadist groups in the past year.
In recent months, civilian protests and a coalition of anti-government opposition groups have put pressure on the Kaboré regime and forced a series of changes, including a new cabinet and military leadership.
However, it has done little to quell antipathy towards Kaboré, or towards the country’s former colonial ruler, France, which maintains a highly unpopular military presence in the country. This has reflected similar antipathy across the Sahel, where French troops have become involved in fighting jihadist groups.
On Sunday, the government quickly denied rumors of a coup, but internet networks in the country were also cut and a curfew was imposed from 8:00 pm “until further notice.”
A list of demands submitted by the soldiers did not mention trying to oust Kaboré, but rather called for an improved anti-jihadist strategy, more support for the troops, the wounded and their families.
“We want adequate resources for the battle” against Islamist extremists, a soldier at the Sangoulé Lamizana base in Ouagadougou said in a voice recording received by Agence France-Presse.
However, the unrest comes just over a week after 12 people, including a senior army officer, were arrested on suspicion of planning to “destabilize” Burkina Faso’s institutions.
According to an African diplomat in the country, “widely within the armed forces, there is what might be compared to dissent. In November, he fired many top military officials, likely causing some to see an opportunity to seize it.
“Then there is, of course, the fact that they are following the lead of what is happening in the region, in Mali, Guinea,” they added, referring to military coups in former West African colonies in the past year.
Residents of the Gounghin district, where the Sangoulé Lamizana base is located, reported seeing soldiers firing into the air and cordoning off the area around the barracks.
Shots were also heard at the Baby Sy barracks in the south of the capital, as well as at an airbase near the airport, which was also surrounded by soldiers in balaclavas, witnesses said.
However, the government ruled out military unrest, and defense minister General Barthelemy Simporé declared on national television on Sunday that “none of the republic’s institutions has been affected” by the uprising.
He added that there were “localized, limited” incidents “in some barracks” and that he was investigating.
However, no official government statement was released on Monday.
Kaboré himself came to power after former President Blaise Compaoré was ousted in a popular uprising in 2014 and fled to Côte d’Ivoire. Compaoré is being tried in absentia for the murder of former revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara.
Since 2015, a jihadist insurgency, spreading from neighboring Mali, has overwhelmed the large, poor West African country.
Thousands have died, while around 1.5 million people are internally displaced.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism