Burkina Faso Coup Update (28 Jan 2022)January 28, 2022 in Burkina Faso
ECOWAS met virtually on Friday 28 January to discuss the crisis in Burkina Faso in the wake of the 24 January coup. Meanwhile on Thursday evening, Burkina Faso’s new military leader addressed the country for the first time on since overthrowing democratically elected President Roch Kaboré, stating that the nation will return to constitutional order when conditions are right. Concerning reports have also emerged that a group of Russian military contractors has written to the coup leaders in Burkina Faso, offering their services in the country’s ongoing fight against jihadists.
On Friday morning, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc held an extraordinary meeting to discuss its response to the coup in Burkina Faso. According to two diplomatic sources, West Africa’s main regional bloc on Friday suspended Burkina Faso from its governing bodies in response to this week’s military coup and decided to send a delegation to the Burkinabé capital Ouagadougou. The sources indicate that for the moment, no further sanctions have been imposed, adding that ECOWAS will hold another summit on 3 February in Accra.
ECOWAS had previously suspended and imposed sanctions on Burkina Faso’s neighbours Mali and Guinea following coups in August 2020 and September 2021, respectively, including asset freezes against junta leaders and their families, border closures and suspensions of financial transactions. Following the coup on Monday in Burkina Faso, ECOWAS issued a statement on 25 January to say that the bloc “firmly condemns” the coup, accusing the military of forcing Kaboré to resign “under threat, intimidation and pressure.” Kaboré, 64, remains in detention, with the United Nations leading calls for his release.
ECOWAS could impose similar measures to those implemented in Mali and Guinea on Burkina Faso as it faces growing pressure to adequately deal with the string of coups that have been impacted the region in recent years. The coup makers in Mali and Guinea, as well as in Chad where the military took power in April 2021, have all set up transitional governments composed of a mixture of military officers and civilians. The leaders in Mali and Chad agreed to 18-month transitions to democratic elections, with Guinea having yet to provide a timeline. Authorities in Mali however have gone back on their original commitment, and have since proposed delaying elections, which were originally due to take place next month.
Damiba Addresses Nation
Friday’s extraordinary virtual meeting of ECOWAS members came just hours after Burkina Faso’s new military rule called for international support during his first address to the nation since he led the overthrow of President Roch Kaboré on 24 January. During televised comments late on Thursday, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba disclosed that “Burkina Faso more than ever needs its international partners,” adding, “I call on the international community to support our country so it can exit this crisis as soon as possible.” In his speech from the capital, Ouagadougou, Damiba said that he would convene various sections of Burkina Faso’s society to agree on a roadmap to plan and carry out needed reforms. He added, “when the conditions are right, according to the deadline that our people will define in all sovereignty, I commit to a return to a normal constitutional order.” Damiba further noted that security would be the “main priority” and put the country on war footing, noting, “we must significantly reduce the areas under terrorist influence and the impact of violent extremism by giving security forces the will to fight, and we must go on the offensive.”
Damiba’s address to the nation came after earlier in the day, around twenty trade union leaders met for about half an hour with the junta in power at the presidency in the capital Ouagadougou. According to Marcel Zante, who heads a federation of 130 unions, Burkina Faso’s new military leader Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba “assured us that we will be consulted and included in what will be put in place,” adding, “now we are waiting to see what happens on the ground.”
Meanwhile on Wednesday 26 January, the junta warned ex-ministers not to leave the capital or obstruct its military officers during talks over how to return to democratic elections, according to one of the politicians present. The officers, who call themselves the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration (MPSR), ousted President Kaboré on Monday, blaming him for failing to contain worsening violence by Islamist militants. The MPSR has said that it would propose a calendar for a return to constitutional order “within a reasonable time frame” but has not elaborated on its plans for a transition. The MPSR’s leader, Damiba, met with Kaboré’s government on Wednesday, according to one of the ex-ministers present. The former minister reported that Damiba warned them not to do anything to obstruct the junta or to travel outside the capital, but added that he welcomed any contribution they could offer to the transition.
Russia Looking at Possibly Expanding Influence in Region
A group of Russian military contractors has written to the coup leaders in Burkina Faso, offering to train the country’s army in their fight against jihadists. The group, calling itself “Community of Officers for International Security,” which is based in the Central African republic (CAR), published its offer in a letter that has been seen and verified by the BBC. However it currently remains unclear whether or not the offer will be accepted by the military junta currently in power in Burkina Faso. The offer in the letter is explicit, stating, “if Russian instructors are invited to train the army in Burkina Faso, they can do it effectively.” The letter, which has been verified by a Russian security adviser to the CAR, also critiques the French-led offensive against extremists in the Sahel. The letter says that despite leading the operation for a decade, it alleges they have had “no success,” and adds that the Russian group can help the Burkinabé soldiers to “master the security situation in very little time.”
An increased security presence is likely in the coming hours and days across the country, notably in the capital Ouagadougou. Associated localized transport, commercial and telecommunications disruptions are also likely to persist. Further flight disruptions are likely and officials may suspend international travel and or close borders in response to the latest developments. Checkpoints across Ouagadougou may also be set up. Protests either in support or in opposition to the recent developments could also occur in major cities nationwide. Anyone planning to travel to Burkina Faso is advised to avoid all non-essential travel until the situation stabilizes. In the event that travel is necessary, reconfirm transport services, including flights, before departure. Persons currently in the country are advised to shelter in place and to maintain close contact with their diplomatic representation. Individuals should ensure that they have enough supplies for the next several days and should limit travel both within Ouagadougou and outside of the capital. Avoid government buildings, security installations, large concentrations of police and soldiers, or any protests that may materialize. Heed all instructions by the local authorities – remain courteous and cooperative if approached and questioned by security personnel.
With much of the focus now concentrating on the political situation in Burkina Faso, jihadists groups operating in the country may use this period to launch attacks both in major cities across the country and rural areas as a mechanism to instil further fear amongst the local populations. Attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect Burkinabé security forces, religious sites, restaurants, schools, markets and places frequented by foreigners. Anyone currently in Burkina Faso is advised to maintain heightened vigilance at all times.