The Coup within a Coup – Burkina Faso’s Eagerness to Combat Chronic Insecurity

Written by: Garrett Halak

Experiencing “deja-vu,” the people of Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou, awoke to gunshots for the second time in 2022. Just nine months after the takeover of democratically elected leader President Roch Kabore’s residence, the rule of newly instated military leader Paul-Henri Damiba was cut short amidst yet another coup d’etat. Across Burkina Faso and the West African region, the overthrowing of regimes aims to eliminate chronic insecurity, plaguing societal progress and government stability. 

COUP 1 – January 2022: 

In January 2022, the military of Burkina Faso deposed the elected president, Roch Kabore. Exacerbated by neighboring countries’ coups – namely, the successful government overthrow in Mali and Guinea – Burkina Faso was inevitably next. The rationale was that despite government control over major cities, there was perennial insecurity outside of urban hubs due to a lack of centralized leadership. According to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), only 60% of Burkina Faso is state-controlled. Acute insecurity was prompted by an influx of Islamic insurgents that torment both the military and civilians in these regions. 

While in rule, Paul-Henri Damiba faced an array of challenges related to his reluctance to restructure the military and failure to regain security within the region. Following his regime, Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) found that civilian deaths from Islamic attacks increased by over 100%. In addition to insurgent-imposed civilian deaths, 10% of the population had been displaced as a direct consequence of insurgent attacks and territorial encroachment.   

COUP 2 – September 2022: 

With just months of rule under his belt, Damiba was deposed just like his elected predecessor. Spearheading the removal of Damiba after a stark disagreement, Army Captain Ibrahim Traore promptly took charge on September 30th of 2022. He imposed a swift end to the short-lived transitional government and suspended the constitution. Traore’s guiding principles moving forward are “driven by a single ideal: the restoration of security and integrity of our territory.

As is characteristic of most traditional modern-day coups, the ruling body announced rigid restrictions such as suspending political and civil society activities and the imposition of a curfew from 9 pm to 5 am. While indications of the success of these measures remain unclear, stopping jihadists linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS is among Traore’s top priorities in an effort to regain territorial control and salvage national security. 

ECOWAS is a political, economic, and regional union auxiliary to 15 countries in West Africa and has continuously condemned “any seizure or maintenance of power by unconstitutional means” but continues to advocate for a reduction in West African jihadist insurgency – a seemingly unsolvable issue. Despite ECOWAS’s established frameworks for conflict resolution and prevention, its influence remains ineffective – especially in the conflict prevention stage. A seemingly young organization, ECOWAS has established relations with major governing bodies like the United Nations in an attempt to reduce persistent conflict. 

Is There an End?

With the recurrence of coups provoked by an appetite to reduce territorial takeover, civilian deaths, and political instability, the international community has begun to question if there is any redeemable solution. 

Abdul Zanya Salifu, a specialist who focuses on the Sahel region (including Burkina Faso) contends that  “it’s a vicious circle: These coups further destabilize the military, which embolden jihadists, and make the humanitarian situation worse.” Salifu has called into question the transgression of violence and regime change as the chain of blame persists. Constantin Gouvy, a Burkinabé researcher based out of Ouagadougou, fears a continued deterioration of security within the region because of the ceaseless cycle of blame. 

Louder than the gunshots that ring through the night in Burkina Faso, the desire for peace echoes across the globe. 

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