The military in Burkina Faso on Monday said it has seized power and overthrown President Roch Kaboré. The announcement came after reports that Kabore has been detained by mutinying soldiers. Soldiers staged mutinies at several army bases across the country on Sunday, demanding the sacking of military chiefs and more resources for the battle against Islamist extremists.
Gunshots were subsequently heard that same day near Kabore’s private residence in the capital Ouagadougou. “President Kabore, the head of parliament and the ministers are effectively in the hands of the soldiers” at the Sangoule Lamizana barracks in the capital Ouagadougou, a security source told AFP. There had earlier been talks between representatives of the soldiers and Defence Minister General Barthelemy Simpore about the demands of the soldiers but those talks yielded no results.
On Monday, an officer announcing Kabore’s overthrow on state television said that all those detained were in a secure location. The army officer read a statement in the name of a group that had not been heard of — the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration (MPSR). Its leader is a lieutenant colonel called Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who is reported to be behind the coup that overthrew the president.
“MPSR, which includes all sections of the army, has decided to end President Kabore’s post today,” the army officer read the statement signed by Damiba. The statement said that the president has not been able to deal with the security crisis in the country. It said that parliament and the government have been dissolved and that the constitution has also been suspended but assured a “return to constitutional order” within a “reasonable time”. The soldiers also said the country’s borders have been closed.
41-year-old Damiba, who was seen dressed in military fatigues and a red beret while the statement was being read, was recently promoted to oversee security in the capital. Kabore promoted him in December to commander of Burkina Faso’s third military region after an attack by fighters on a gendarmerie post in the northern town of Inata that claimed the lives of 49 military officers and four civilians.
Before that, he was involved in several anti-terror operations between 2015 to 2019 in the northern Sahel region. Damiba, who has years of experience fighting the Islamist militants, studied at a military academy in Paris, obtaining a master’s degree in criminal sciences from the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers.
In June 2021, he published a book titled West African Armies and Terrorism: Uncertain Responses? that looks at “the particularities of West African terrorism”.
From 1987 to 2011, the writer-colonel was part of the Regiment of Presidential Security (RPS) of former president Blaise Compaore, who was in power for almost 30 years before an uprising overthrew him in 2014. The controversial RPS was later dissolved by the transitional government. Damiba left the unit in 2011 following a series of protests and a violent army mutiny, according to a report by L’Observateur newspaper cited by Aljazeera.
From the RPS, Damiba was posted to the northeastern town of Dori as Commander of the 11th Infantry Commando Regiment (RIC) and to the northern town of Ouahigouya as Commander of the 12th RIC.
Damiba and some other officers then took part in an attempted coup in 2015 that briefly deposed the transitional government. He later testified in the trial of conspirators behind the coup and left the country for further military studies abroad. When he came back, he was made leader of the 30th RCAS, a regiment formed to support the country’s counterterrorism strategy.
Then on December 3, Kabore asked Damiba to oversee security in the capital, Ouagadougou. Some analysts said Kabore gave him that role just to increase support within the army.
Before the soldiers rebelled on several army bases on Sunday, young demonstrators protested against Kabore on Saturday accusing him of being unable to curtail the spread of violence across the country. Attacks believed to have been orchestrated by al-Qaeda and the armed group ISIL (ISIS) keep getting worse in the country. Thousands have so far been killed while more than 1.5 million people have been displaced. Soldiers have complained that their colleagues were dying and that the government has ignored them.
On Sunday, demonstrators set fire to the headquarters of the ruling party. A night-time curfew was imposed by authorities while mobile internet was cut on Sunday. The education ministry also said schools would be closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Kabore has been president since being elected in 2015 after an uprising overthrew President Compaore. In November 2020, Kabore was re-elected for another five-year term but people have raised issues with his administration in the midst of a struggle to counter the threats to the country’s security.
One of the poorest countries in the world, landlocked Burkina Faso has suffered from periodic coups and droughts. The country with large reserves of gold has, in recent times, also seen an increase in Islamist militant activity.
It is now the third West African country to witness a military takeover in recent years after Guinea and Mali. The African Union and Ecowas have so far condemned the security situation in Burkina Faso. Ecowas said it “holds the military responsible for the physical wellbeing” of the president.