Coup-Après-Coup: Burkina Faso in Crisis
Maeve Hanrahan | Nov 14 2022
For the second time in this calendar year, Burkina Faso has faced a military coup, leading to the deposition of de-facto military leader Paul-Henri Damiba. Only eight months before Damiba’s expulsion, President Roch Kabore was overthrown by Damiba and his supporters in January of 2022. This regime instability is a direct result of growing frustrations surrounding the rise of organized terror and crime in the West African nation, with the government only controlling a meager sixty percent of the country, according to Al Jazeera (2022).
Since 2015, terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and ISIS have made significant territorial gains throughout Burkina Faso. The rebel fighters are responsible for wide-spread violence which has led to the loss of nearly 2,000 lives and the fleeing of 1.9 million people from their homes (Al Jazeera, 2022). While initial targets appeared to be active members of the military and facilities in the Northern region of the country, attacks have shifted towards civilians and volunteer defense forces (State Department, 2020). Incidents have included “the use of IEDs, kidnapping, small-arms attacks, and targeted killings”, most commonly seen in the Northern provinces (State Department, 2020). Burkina Faso’s youth have been pulled into the conflict as well, with marked increases in the recruitment of child soldiers by Islamist forces; currently, 15 children are detained in high security prisons for suspected terrorism, while nearly 2,500 schools have closed due to the conflict (Human Rights Watch, 2022).
President Kabore, who was elected for a second term in 2020, has struggled to address the security crises plaguing the country. The weak capacity of the state to perform counterterrorism missions, to convict and incarcerate terrorists, and to limit abuses of pro-government forces has caused immense frustration among civilian and military populations. Furthermore, the government has failed to provide support and services for the growing number of displaced peoples throughout the country (Human Rights Watch, 2022). International partners such as France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have been reluctant to intervene but have widely denounced the actions of armed Islamist groups. Frustrations with Kabore’s regime performance mounted in January of 2022 when armed military leaders stormed the President’s home and swiftly detained him; in the following days, the army suspended parliament and dissolved the Constitution, simultaneously implementing Damiba as the new leader (CNN, 2022).
Following the coup, Damiba and the military-led state announced that restoring security would be their top priority; however, his regime made no significant gains in quelling Islamist insurgencies or stabilizing the country’s political situation. His time in office saw an attack which claimed the lives of 79 civilians, a bombing which killed another 35, and an attack on a convoy which led to the death of 11 soldiers and over 50 civilians going missing (Washington Post, 2022). This failure to regain control led to the country’s second coup in 2022, which took place on September 30th. Military leaders led by the newly implemented transitional president, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, declared they will seek new methods of “counteroffensive strategies” and will create “new alliances with international partners,” especially Russia (Washington Post, 2022). The new regime aims to make immediate gains at crushing terrorist activities, with long term goals of reinstating democracy and making advancements in public health, food and water security, and education. Following the coup, nearly three hundred delegates met in the capital, Ouagadougou to “outline plans to return the West African country to constitutional rule” (Reuters, 2022).
The promises of Traoré closely mimic those of Damiba and Kabore during their respective ascendancies to power; however, each leader has failed to deliver on these vows. Furthermore, many are concerned that the political instability and frequency of coups is distracting from the greater problem at hand: protecting the people of Burkina Faso and defending against Islamist insurgents. Coups seen in other African nations - Chad, Mali, Guinea, Sudan, and others - have raised concerns over democratic backsliding in the region as well (Reuters, 2022). Burkina Faso desperately needs political stability and heightened state capacities, or they will seemingly never be able to address the terrorist-induced crisis the nation is facing.