By DaQuan Lawrence,
Howard University News Service

Burkina Faso recently experienced its second coup d’état this calendar year as Capt. Ibrahim Traore was sworn in as “Head of State, Supreme Head of the Armed Forces,” on Oct. 5. 

The transition comes after a group of officials, some of whom were aligned with the former leader, removed interim president Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba from power, increasing political strife in the west African nation. 

Shortly after Damiba’s removal, Traore and his supporters dissolved the transitional government and suspended the constitution. Damiba, who reportedly fled to Togo, was deposed from office due to his inability to reorganize the military structure and alleviate an ongoing armed conflict with Islamists. Since mid-March, violence has increased, despite the military government’s promise to prioritize national security. 

Groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have caused massive destruction in Burkina Faso, displacing approximately two million people since their 2012 activity in Mali spread to nearby west African nations. In the past two years Islamist insurgents have conducted widespread violence across west and central Africa, killing thousands and weakening support for fragile state governments. Since 2020, coups in Mali, Chad and Guinea are spreading fear of military authoritarianism in the region.

Political observers note that coups in west Africa have been influenced by foreign nations, including France and the U.S., and NATO and other multinational organizations. Since 2008, they note, U.S.-trained African officials have successfully mounted coup d‘etats in five West African countries: Burkina Faso (three times), Guinea, Mali (three times), Mauritania and the Gambia. 

Traore was formerly head of the “Cobra” special forces unit in the northern region of Kaya. Allegations of U.S. military training remain unverified. Damiba, however, participated in at least six U.S. training events, according to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). 

U.S. officials cautioned Burkina Faso military leaders against aligning with Russia, saying the U.S. does not support “any attempt to exacerbate the current situation in Burkina Faso.” During the week after the coup, a Department of State spokesman said, “We strongly encourage the new transitional government to adhere to the agreed-upon timeline for a return to a democratically elected, civilian-led government.” 

Members of the international community speculate that the west African nation will court support from Russia. 

Constantin Gouvy, a Burkina Faso researcher at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations has said: “One point of contention that has divided the MPSR (junta), the army and indeed the population for months is the choice of international partners. Damiba was leaning toward France, but we might see the MPSR more actively exploring alternatives from now on, with Turkey or Russia, for example. ” 

However, citizens of the strife-torn nation and members of the Burkinabe diaspora, believe the political conflict has many dimensions and are skeptical of the notion of changing international partners. 

Burkina Faso’s primary exports are gold and cotton, which comprise 70 percent and 13 percent of the nation’s total exports, respectively. The state’s main trading partners include Singapore, the Ivory Coast, Switzerland, France, China and Turkey. 

While reading a declaration on behalf of the junta’s new leadership, Lt. Jean Baptiste Kabre said, “Damiba has tried to retreat to the Kamboinsin French military base to prepare a counteroffensive in order to sow division amongst our defense and security forces.” 

On Oct. 1, after the coup, Burkinabe activists staged a demonstration at the French embassy in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, as supporters of the nation’s new leader claimed France is protecting the ousted Damiba, which French officials continue to deny. 

In an Oct. 1 statement, the French Foreign Ministry said, “We condemn in the strongest terms the violence against our diplomatic presence in Burkina Faso. Any attack on our diplomatic facilities is unacceptable.” 

Burkina Faso is a former French colony, and France has maintained a military presence in Africa’s Sahel region to support nations struggling against Islamic extremists. The French institute was also the target of protests in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso’s second-largest city.

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