Burkina Faso Coup and the Sahel Militant Domino Effect

Thomas Summers
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Hundreds take to the streets of Ouagadougou in celebration, 2022
Source: Beverly Ochieng via BBC

On the 24th of January 2022, in Burkina Faso, the military seized power in the cities of Ouagadougou, Kaya, and Ouahigouya. Armed security forces ousted President Kaboré from power, placing him under house arrest, and released a handwritten letter from him which would ultimately be his formal resignation. Despite the fact that one of President Kaboré’s own party members attested that the letter was authentic, there are some that claim that this letter was falsified. While the phrases “military coup” and “public jubilation” may seem an odd pairing to western ears, in the capital city of Ouagadougou, hundreds took to the streets in celebration.

This coup is the most recent of many coups in the Sahel region, with both Guinea and Mali setting a precedent for Burkina Faso. This region of the world is one that has been decimated by terrorist militants from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and each attack puts further pressure on governments, which ultimately is enough to bring them down. While Burkina Faso has been relatively unstable since its bid for independence from France in 1960, the terrorist attacks which started in 2015 have been responsible for the evacuation of 1.5 million people from the Northern and Eastern regions of the country. At least 2,000 civilians have died from terror-related attacks. Due to the constant threat, schools in much of the country have been shut down. 

The main reason for the success of terrorist groups in these areas is said to be the lack of security forces and state presence. Furthermore, the lack of humanitarian aid also hampers any form of civilian resistance. The fact that these terror attacks tend to be carried out by jihadists has meant that interreligious tensions between Christians and Muslims have been rising, which in turn has made recruitment easier for the terrorist groups.

THE FALL OF PRESIDENT KABORÉ

Coup leader Damiba reinstates the constitution, 2022
Source: Álvaro Escalonilla via Atalayar

This recent coup follows public unrest over the lack of protection offered by President Kaboré’s government to the inhabitants of the Northern village of Solhan, which suffered an attack by militants in June 2021, leaving over a hundred civilians dead. Kaboré instead seemed to be more focused on the political challenge that these attacks presented, and rather than attempting to address the root of the problem to appease angry protesters, he reshuffled his cabinet, sacking the Prime Minister and naming himself the Defence Minister. Political ploys such as these, as well as refugees being unable to vote in the most recent 2020 elections, had enabled Kaboré to remain in power until the coup.

This new government has been led by Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, a lieutenant who has fought on the front lines against the militants. His pedigree is prestigious, having studied at a military academy in France, and earned a Master’s degree in Criminal Sciences there. Damiba installed himself as the President of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration (MPSR) in this interim period that the new government calls a ‘transitory phase’, though the transition back to a democratically elected government has been given no established timeline by the ruling party. In his new role as the President of the MPSR, Damiba has been named the “President of Burkina Faso, head of state (and) supreme leader of the armed forces.”

THE INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE

Opèration Barkhane’s campaign against terrorists in the Sahel comes to a close, 2022
Source: Tangi Salaün, John Irish via REUTERS

The international response to this new regime has been an overwhelmingly negative one. The African Union (AU) suspended Burkina Faso from participation until such a date that civilian rule is returned to the country. Furthermore, various United Nations (UN) diplomats from surrounding countries have been demanding that ex-president Kaboré be reinstated. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has also suspended Burkina Faso’s membership, but it seems far more open to collaboration with the new government in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region. However, in its summit in Accra, the bloc did admit that the ousting of democratically elected governments needed to be stopped, as the President of Guinea-Bissau narrowly avoided death in a coup just days after the one in Burkina Faso.

Since then, the situation in Burkina Faso has hardly changed. The military government has reinstated the constitution with the aim of gaining greater international support and readmission into the AU and ECOWAS. ECOWAS has suspended and sanctioned both Mali and Guinea with the aim of stopping the spread of antigovernmental action. Even the United States has released a statement in support of ECOWAS, demanding the release of Kaboré. France has been blamed for instability, which has maintained a strong influence in West African countries since their independence. Indeed ‘Opèration Barkhane’, which has been supported by 5,100 French troops, has been called inefficient in dealing with the terrorist threat and has even been replaced by Russian mercenaries in Mali. Unfortunately, until the terrorist threat in the Sahel is brought to heel, the wave of coups in Western Africa seems unlikely to abate. 

  1. Can a deviation from a democratically elected government ever be justified by security threats?
  2. How important are blocs like ECOWAS and the AU in ending the terror threat?
  3. Should colonialist countries be made to rectify problems in their ex-colonies?

Suggested Readings

ISS (2022), What caused the coup in Burkina Faso?

The Economist (2022, A coup in Burkina Faso will help the Sahel’s jihadists

BBC, Why France faces so much anger in West Africa

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Burkina Faso Coup and the…

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