Burkina Faso President overthrown in military coup

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso – The military took power in Burkina Faso on Monday, ousting the country’s democratically elected president after frenzied soldiers stormed his home, in a series of coups militaries in African countries are struggling to combat a growing wave of Muslim violence.

President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, 64, has led Burkina Faso, a poor and landlocked country of 21 million people in West Africa, since 2015. But he has faced growing criticism public opinion about his government’s failure to prevent widespread militia attacks that have destabilized Burkina Faso, displaced 1.4 million people, and killed 2,000 in the last year alone.

Although the militants’ violence is part of a broader campaign in the Sahel, a vast enclave just south of the Sahara, many soldiers and civilians in Burkina Faso have blamed their president for him. could not be prevented.

A wave of public protests in recent months has been accompanied by growing discontent among the military, which turned against him on Sunday, seizing several military bases and then ousting him on Monday.

Adjara Dera, a woman carrying a basket of bananas joined the jubilant crowd celebrating the coup in the main square in the capital Ouagadougou, said on Monday night. “Our friends are dead, our policemen are dead. It just doesn’t work. We are fed up with it. “

It is the latest in a series of coups in sub-Saharan Africa, the most concentrated in years, with takeovers in Mali, Burkina Faso’s neighbor to the north, as well as Guinea, Sudan, and Chad. But whether the latest subversion of democracy will prove to be salvation for so much militant-driven misery that many in Burkina Faso are desperately seeking remains to be seen.

The coup was announced on state television on Monday afternoon by a fresh-faced officer who interrupted a program on the fish trade to announce that the military had suspended the Constitution and disbanded. government, and close the land and air borders of Burkina Faso until further notice.

In the language familiar of military coups, the spokesman said the armed forces acted without a sense of duty, reacting to “the anger of the people”. Beside him was a weary man whom he introduced as Burkina Faso’s new leader: Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, commander of one of the country’s three military regions.

The spokesman gave no indication of President Kaboré’s whereabouts, or whether he would agree to step down, saying only that he had been arrested “without bloodshed” along with other civilian leaders and is being kept “in a safe place.”

In fact, there are many signs that the ousted president, who took power in 2015 and re-elected in 2020, is not going to be easy.

Mr. Kaboré’s troubles start on sunday when soldiers occupied several military bases in the capital and at least two towns in the provinces. Riot police officers clashed with pro-military civilian protesters in Ouagadougou, firing tear gas to prevent them from reaching the central square.

But the soldiers retained control of the bases and, after demanding sweeping reforms of the campaign against the Islamists – including the removal of Burkina Faso’s military commander – they resisted. the president himself.

The sporadic gunfire near Mr Kaboré’s home in the capital’s most posh neighborhood that began late on Sunday continued for hours, suggesting the army is split between rival factions in favor of the president. rule or seek to overthrow him.

After dawn, several armored vehicles of the presidential convoy were found abandoned near the house, some of which were covered with bullet holes. Later, it was reported that some soldiers had arrested the president, pressuring him to resign.

There were indications that Mr. Kaboré was defying military orders, and at one point guarded by a paramilitary gendarmerie unit who were negotiating on his behalf with rebel soldiers, an official Senior Western officials spoke on condition of anonymity for discussion. sensitive events. In the afternoon, Mr. Kaboré’s Twitter account posted a message in which he urged people to quickly get behind their shaky democracy.

“Our country is going through a difficult time,” the tweet read, calling on the rebel soldiers to “lay down their arms.”

But a few hours later, the tired men appeared on television and announced that they had taken power.

Rinaldo Depagne, Burkina Faso expert at the International Crisis Group, said Mr Kaboré had never paid much attention to military affairs and his fate had been sealed off by growing public awareness. that he was incapable of defeating the threat posed by the Muslim rebels.

“He’s not completely terrible and spoiled,” he said. “But it’s clear that people think, rightly or wrongly, that a man in uniform with a big gun is better able to protect them than a democratically elected president.”

The United States poured millions of dollars into training and equipping the army in Burkina Faso to fight insurgents – 2016 provided the amount of approx two-third on Burkina Faso’s defense budget – with little to show for it.

The new leader, Colonel Damiba, was not well known in Burkina Faso.

Trained at the Paris Military School, he was previously a member of the elite force protecting President Blaise Compaoré, who reigned for 27 until his resignation in 2014. After that unit was destroyed disbanded, he was integrated into the regular army, where he began to rise through the ranks. Last year, he published a book titled “West African Army and Terrorism: Uncertain Responses?”

Two months ago, Colonel Damiba was appointed to command one of Burkina Faso’s three military districts – a promotion that coincided with growing discontent within the ranks. In November, a United Nations regional envoy warned of a possible coup in Burkina Faso, and last week authorities arrested another officer accused of planning a takeover. .

On Monday, even before the coup was officially announced, some residents of the capital welcomed it as a foregone conclusion.

A group of young people on motorbikes whizzed past the headquarters of the state broadcasting agency, where mutineers stood guard at the gates, honking horns and cheering. At a nearby mobile phone market, Kudougou Damiba got on his knees to show his support for the impending coup.

“We are saved!” he declared. “Finally, Roch is gone.”

Mr. Damiba, who has no ties to the coup leader, has described the president as the author of his own misfortune. “Instead of uniting people, Roch divided them,” he said. “And that allowed the jihadists to attack us. It was his mistake.”

Others at the open-air market shared that view, vividly expressing their frustration at the Muslim violence that has divided a country once known for coexistence between followers. Christianity and Muslims.

“For a large part of the population, life becomes impossible,” said Mr. Depagne, an analyst. “They want someone to blame.”

Part of that is left to France, the former colonial power, which has deployed thousands of troops to the Sahel region in an effort to combat the rise of Islamism, including in Burkina Faso.

On Monday, many protesters expressed anger at France, some even accusing it of secretly supporting Islamist militants in an effort to expand its influence. “We say no to imperialism,” said Mohammed Niampa, one of the coup’s supporters. “This is the beginning of our complete independence.”

But others take a more skeptical view of Burkina Faso’s move away from democracy.

Anatole Compaoré, an unemployed 31-year-old, has joined a recent wave of street protests calling for Mr. Kaboré’s resignation. Even so, he doesn’t think a new military rule is the solution to the problem.

After Blaise Compaore, Burkina Faso’s 27-year leader, was ousted in 2014, the military “said things would change,” he noted. “But nothing has changed. And I’m not sure it’ll be any different this time.”

Ruth Maclean contributed reporting from Dakar, Senegal

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/world/africa/burkina-faso-military-coup.html Burkina Faso President overthrown in military coup

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