New Burkina Faso Coup Raises Question About Security

New Burkina Faso Coup Raises Question About Security

DAKAR, Senegal — A day after military officers seized power in Burkina Faso, residents faced uncertainty over what would happen next, even as the situation has become all too familiar in the troubled West African nation that has endured its second coup in eight months.

Calm precariously returned on Saturday morning to the capital, Ouagadougou, near the presidential palace, where gunfire rang out early Friday. Shops reopened, and traffic slowly resumed on roads that soldiers had been guarding a day earlier.

After a day filled with uncertainty and rumors about the fate of Burkina Faso’s military government, military officers announced on Friday evening that they had removed the country’s leader, Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had taken power in January.

It was a coup within a coup: Capt. Ibrahim Traoré was now in charge, the officers said on national television.

“We have decided to take our responsibilities, driven by a single ideal: the restoration of security and integrity of our territory,” an officer said as a stern Captain Traoré sat next to him, surrounded by a dozen other officers covering their faces with sunglasses and neck guards.

Much remained unknown on Saturday about the whereabouts of Colonel Damiba — and about Captain Traoré in general.

But like in January, the officers blamed the leader they had removed for failing to quash a mounting Islamist insurgency that has displaced nearly 10 percent of the population and compounded economic hardship in the nation of about 21 million.

“We just want security,” Théophile Doussé, a travel agency employee, said on Saturday in Ouagadougou. “Without security, business is too complicated.”

In his seizing of power, Colonel Damiba had blamed the civilian, democratically elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, for failing to contain a worsening security situation. Hailed as a strong-willed officer with on-the-ground experience, Colonel Damiba vowed to bring back security and asked the nation to give until September.

But as he addressed residents last month, Colonel Damiba had little progress to offer, said Constantin Gouvy, a Burkina Faso researcher based in Ouagadougou with the Clingendael Institute, a think tank funded by the Dutch government.

For months, insurgents have blockaded towns and villages in the country’s north and east, attacked army-escorted convoys supplying them, and spread the same insecurity that Colonel Damiba had vowed to tackle.

“There was this frustration brewing in the military and the population on the basis that he would make things better,” Mr. Gouvy said, “but they actually were getting worse on some fronts.”

Burkina Faso’s situation echoes Mali’s, a neighboring country that also faced two coups only months apart — in 2020 and last year — and where the military has so far been unable to contain Islamist insurgents gaining ground in the country’s southeast, near the border with Burkina Faso.

Last month, 35 people died when a convoy leaving a town under blockade hit a roadside bomb, and this week 11 soldiers were killed when insurgents attacked another convoy on its way to the same town.

Nearly one-fifth of the country’s population is in need of urgent humanitarian aid, the United Nations said this week, and more people were displaced from January to June than the whole of last year, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Colonel Damiba had just returned from the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he described his coup in January as “illegal in absolute terms” and “perhaps reprehensible,” but “necessary and indispensable.”

“It was, above all, an issue of survival for our nation,” he said.

On Friday, the officers who removed him invoked the same arguments.

“Damiba’s justification for the coup became his undoing,” Mr. Gouvy said. “But what more does Traoré have to offer? What is going to be different, and how is he going to deliver?”

Oumar Zombre contributed reporting from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

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