By Lisa Vives
In his first speech to the nation since the overthrow of President Roch Kabore, the new military leader of Burkina Faso promised a return to the normal constitutional order “when the conditions are right”.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, who led the ouster of President Kaboré, blamed the president for failing to contain violent extremists. An attack last November that left almost 50 military police officers dead is considered a key event that led to the coup.
Lt-Col Damiba, 41, was trained by the U.S. military according to the U.S. Africa Command or AFRICOM.
“The main priority remains security,” he said in his televised speech. “We must significantly reduce the areas under the terrorist influence and the impact of violent extremism by giving the security forces and the Volunteers for Homeland Defence the will to fight and to go on the offensive.”
Burkina is the fifth nation on the continent to remove its elected government. In August 2020, soldiers removed the president of Mali during a period of unrest over a stolen parliamentary election and the government’s failure to stem violent activity by militant Islamist groups which has doubled every year in the region since 2015.
In April 2021, the president of Chad, a military officer who had ruled for three decades, was killed while visiting his troops as they battled rebels from Libya. The military-installed his son, Mahamat, in his place, and appointed a civilian prime minister—the runner-up in a previous election.
In March 2021, there was a failed coup attempt in Niger—the fifth since independence from France. The country had been under military rule for a combined 23 years before returning to democracy in 2011.
In September 2021, a high-ranking officer trained by the United States overthrew the president of Guinea who had tried to cling to power.
In October, Sudanese generals seized power, tearing up a power-sharing deal that was supposed to lead to the country’s first free election in decades.
All three Sahelian countries with recent coups—Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad—are grappling with Islamist insurgencies that keep spreading, capitalizing on local tensions and grievances against political elites. People are fed up with their governments for many reasons—major security threats, relentless humanitarian disasters and millions of young people having no prospects.
Millions of people across the Sahel region have been displaced, and thousands are dead—and often, people say that politicians seem not to notice or care, driving fancy cars and sending their children to expensive foreign schools. It’s an explosive cocktail, observed Ruth Maclean in a recent piece in the New York Times.