After Mali and Guinea, Burkina Faso is once again in the grip of political unrest in less than a year. Already the subject of a coup d’état in January, the country has seen the ousting of Lieutenant Colonel Damiba, who must, after only a few months, give way to Captain Ibrahim Traoré.
On Sunday, October 2nd, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba resigned after taking refuge in Benin, Burkina Faso’s neighbour in West Africa. The transfer of power was carried out smoothly, although many feared serious unrest and explosive violence would break out between the two competing factions.
Paul-Henri Damiba came to power in January 2022, ousting the previous leader Roch Marc Christian Kaboré. The coup was accompanied by a suspension of the application of the country’s constitution. The country was then plagued by jihadist violence, and Damiba promised to put things right. Today, it is precisely his lack of firmness towards the Islamists for which Damiba is being criticised.
Paul-Henri Damiba has agreed to withdraw from power, but with some conditions. According to France 24, he asked for amnesty for himself, his family, and the soldiers who had joined him, the continuation of national reconciliation, and a respect for deadlines that should allow a return to constitutional order by July 1st, 2024. Captain Traoré, the initiator of the new putsch, says he is only there to expedite current affairs, pending “the swearing in of the President of Faso designated by the living forces of the nation,” in the words of his spokesman. Speaking to Radio France International, Traoré confirmed that he wanted to organise a “meeting” within a month to “designate a transitional president.”
The fight against jihadism is a priority for the new master of Burkina Faso. The country has lost control of 40% of its territory to armed jihadist groups, and Damiba has clearly failed to put this in order—or at least has not shown a strong enough will to do so in the eyes of the population. In the north of the country, villages suffer repeated food shortages caused by the jihadists, who deliberately hinder supply routes from reaching their targets.
In the context of the growing presence of Russian influence in Africa, Russian responsibility, even indirectly, cannot be ruled out in Traoré’s coup. Russian flags were waved in the capital, Ouagadougou, while the French embassy was targeted by protesters. Since the January coup, Russia has fuelled anti-French sentiment in Burkina Faso and has strengthened its position, notably by offering its services for the training of the Burkinabe army.
Wagner group founder Yevgeny Prigojin praised the action of Captain Traoré and his men, saying “they did what was necessary and they did it only for the good of their people.” This explicit stance by a businessman close to the Kremlin triggered a warning from U.S. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel. “The countries where the Wagner group has been deployed find themselves weakened and less secure, and we have seen this in several cases in Africa alone. We condemn any attempt to make the current situation in Burkina Faso worse,” he declared.
The Russian advance is fuelled by the withdrawal of the former French colonial power which, with Emmanuel Macron, is significantly losing its influence in Africa.