Burkina Faso president calls for calm as coup fears grow

Burkina Faso’s president urged calm on Friday as gunfire rang out in the capital of Ouagadougou, sparking fears of a second coup in eight months in a country wracked by a jihadist insurgency.

President Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who seized power in a coup in January, said in a statement that “talks are under way to restore calm and serenity” while admitting that the soldiers in the capital had caused a “confused situation”.

Earlier on Friday, explosions had been heard close to the Baba Sy military base in the capital. Soldiers blocked access to administrative buildings in the capital and the state broadcaster temporarily went off air. “Let us remain united for the triumph of peace and security,” Damiba said.

Damiba ousted the civilian government of president Roch Kaboré, promising to defeat Islamist jihadis who had taken control of large swaths of the country’s north and east.

Many citizens and military rank and file, frustrated by their government’s impotence in the face of crisis, initially welcomed the change.

But the insurgency has deepened since then. This week, an attack on a military convoy delivering supplies to the northern town of Djibo killed 11 soldiers. At least 35 civilians were killed in the country’s north this month when their convoy of vehicles transporting supplies to the capital hit a roadside bomb.

Analysts from the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, recently said al-Qaeda and Isis-linked actors were active in 10 of the country’s 13 regions. Burkina Faso has one of the world’s fastest-growing displacement crises, according to the UN’s refugee agency, with 1.9mn people, almost 10 per cent of the population, displaced at the end of April.

Over the past two years, coups have become a regular occurrence in west Africa, a region previously associated with peaceful democratic transitions.

Soldiers in Guinea overthrew president Alpha Condé in September 2021 after he pursued a third term in office that elicited nationwide protests. In Mali, military officers took charge from president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in August 2020 and formed an interim government with civilians. But the same soldiers led by Colonel Assimi Goïta overthrew the temporary government nine months later to take complete control of the country.

The coups in Mali have led to a complete breakdown of relations between the west African nation and France, its former colonial power. Relations with its neighbours, particularly Ivory Coast and Niger, have suffered too. Mali’s military junta has now forged close ties with Russia, with the prime minister recently praising the “exemplary and fruitful co-operation between Mali and Russia”. Wagner Group, a Russian private military outfit providing guns for hire, is now active in Mali and France has withdrawn its peacekeeping troops from the country.

Burkina Faso was suspended from the regional bloc Ecowas in the aftermath of January’s putsch. The body accepted the country’s two-year transitional plan to democracy in July but has still not lifted its suspension.

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