Burkina Faso army deposes president in west Africa’s latest coup

Ousted leader Roch Kabore’s whereabouts unknown as government dissolved and borders closed

A man crosses through burning barricades in central  Ouagadougou on Sunday. Photograph: Olympia de Maismont/AFP via Getty Images

A man crosses through burning barricades in central Ouagadougou on Sunday. Photograph: Olympia de Maismont/AFP via Getty Images

 

Burkina Faso’s army said on Monday it had ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, suspended the country’s constitution, dissolved the government and the national assembly and closed the country’s borders.

The announcement cited the deterioration of the security situation and what it described as Mr Kaboré’s inability to unite the West African nation and effectively respond to challenges it faces, which include an Islamist insurgency, as being behind the moves.

Signed by Lieut Col Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba and read by another officer on state television, the announcement said the takeover had been carried out without violence and that those detained during it were at a secure location.

The statement was made in the name of a previously unheard-of entity, the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration, or MPSR, its French-language acronym.

“MPSR, which includes all sections of the army, has decided to end president Kaboré’s post today,” it said.

Army putsches have toppled governments over the past 18 months in Mali and Guinea. The military also took over in Chad last year after president Idriss Déby died fighting rebels on the battlefield in the country’s north.

The MPSR said it would propose a calendar for a return to constitutional order “within a reasonable timeframe, after consultations with various sections of the nation”.

The army broadcast came after two days of confusion and fear in the capital Ouagadougou, where shooting erupted at army camps on Sunday, with soldiers demanding more support for their fight against Islamist militants.

Mr Kaboré’s whereabouts were unknown on Monday after intense gunfire was heard in the area around his residence overnight.

Earlier, Mr Kaboré’s party said he had survived an assassination attempt, but gave no details. It also said his personal residence had been sacked.

Before the army statement, the African Union and the West African bloc Ecowas both condemned what they called an attempted coup in Burkina Faso, saying they held the military responsible for Mr Kaboré’s safety.

Country profile

The landlocked country, one of West Africa’s poorest despite being a gold producer, has experienced numerous coups since independence from France in 1960.

Islamist militants control swathes of Burkina Faso, while the military’s struggle to quell the insurgency has drained scarce national resources.

Mr Kaboré had faced waves of protests in recent months amid frustration over killings of civilians and soldiers by militants, some of whom have links to Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

Several armoured vehicles belonging to the presidential fleet could be seen near Mr Kaboré’s residence on Monday, riddled with bullets. One was spattered with blood.

Security sources gave conflicting accounts of Mr Kaboré’s situation, with some saying he was being detained by the coup organisers and others saying forces loyal to him had taken him to a secure location. Reuters could not independently verify his circumstances.

Checkpoints

The roads of the capital had been empty on Sunday night except for checkpoints heavily guarded by mutinous soldiers.

State news station RTB was also heavily guarded on Monday morning.

Fighting began on Sunday when soldiers took control of the Lamizana Sangoule military barracks in Ouagadougou.

Civilians drove into town in a show of support for the rebellion but were broken up by security forces firing tear gas.

The mutiny came a day after another public demonstration calling for Mr Kaboré’s resignation.

On Sunday, minister for defence Aimé Barthelemy Simporé told RTB that a few barracks had been affected by unrest, not only in Ouagadougou but in other cities, too.

Mr Kaboré had been leading Burkina Faso since being elected in 2015 after a popular uprising ousted long-time strongman president Blaise Compaoré, who was in power for nearly three decades. Mr Kaboré was re-elected in November 2020 for another five-year term.

Frustration has been growing however as the attacks linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State are escalating, killing thousands and displacing more than an estimated 1.5 million people.

The military has suffered losses since the extremist violence began in 2016.

In December more than 50 security force members were killed in the Sahel region and nine security force members were killed in the Centre North region in November.

Soldiers’ demands

Angry mutinous soldiers told the Associated Press that the government was disconnected from its forces in the field and that their colleagues were dying and they wanted military rule.

The soldiers put a man on the phone who said that they were seeking better working conditions for Burkina Faso’s military amid the escalating fight against the Islamist militants.

Among their demands are increased manpower in the battle against extremists and better care for those wounded and the families of the dead.

About 100 military members have planned the takeover since August, according to one of the mutinous soldiers.

The organisers never met in the same location more than twice and always outside the capital, he said.

They used messaging apps such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegraph to plan, he said.

Regional experts say the Kaboré government was overstretched but it is unlikely the mutiny will change anything.

“Burkina Faso’s army is profoundly ill-equipped and unprepared for the war it’s asked to fight. It’s out of its depth. Its frustration with an equally out-of-its-depth government is understandable. Regrettably, this [rebellion] is unlikely to improve anything,” said Michael Shurkin, a a former political analyst at the CIA and director of global programmes at 14 North Strategies. – Reuters/AP