OUAGADOUGOU (AFP) – The African Union on Saturday condemned the “unconstitutional change of government” in Burkina Faso, following the second coup this year in the deeply poor and troubled West African country.
Non-commissioned officers ousted a junta leader on Friday, saying he had failed to fight off jihadist attacks in the country.
“The President calls on the military to immediately and completely cease acts of violence or threats against civilians, civil liberties and human rights,” the AU said in a statement, calling for the restoration of order by July 2024.
AU chief Moussa Faki Mahamat said he was deeply concerned about the resurgence of unconstitutional dismissals in the West African country and elsewhere on the continent.
An uneasy calm reigned in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, as soldiers in armored vehicles and pickup trucks guarded the national television center, but traffic on the thoroughfares slowly resumed.
Business was slowly reopening in the dusty, sprawling city, where gunfire around the presidential palace before dawn on Friday culminated in the latest widely condemned coup.
The regional bloc of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ‘strongly condemned’ the recent power grab, calling it ‘inappropriate’ at a time when progress was being made towards a return to order constitutional by July 1, 2024.
Burkina Faso’s former colonial ruler France urged its Ouagadougou citizens, believed to number 4,000-5,000, to stay at home, while the European Union said it was “concerned” about the course of events.
The United States called for “a return to calm and restraint by all actors”.
Just before 8:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Friday, more than a dozen uniformed soldiers appeared on state television and radio to announce the dismissal of Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba.
They appointed captain Ibrahim Traore, 34, in charge.
“We have decided to take our responsibilities, guided by a single ideal: to restore the security and integrity of our territory,” they said.
“Damiba failed. Since he came to power, the peace zones have been attacked. He took power, but then he betrayed us,” said Habibata Rouamba, a trader and activist, on Saturday.
As much of the Sahel struggles with a growing Islamist insurgency, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.
In January, Damiba took over as head of the country of 16 million after accusing President-elect Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of failing to repel jihadists.
DAMIBA ACCUSED OF FAILURE
But with more than 40% of the country out of government control, recent coup plotters say Damiba has also failed.
“Far from liberating occupied territories, once peaceful areas have come under terrorist control,” the new military leaders said.
Then they suspended the constitution, sealed the borders, dissolved the caretaker government and the legislature, and imposed a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The new strongman Traoré was previously the head of the special anti-jihadist unit “Cobra” in the northern region of Kaya.
JUNTA LEADER’S FATE UNCLEAR
Damiba’s fate remains unknown.
In the morning, shots rang out in the Ouaga 2000 district, which houses both the headquarters of the presidency and the junta.
State television was shut down for several hours before the military announcement, showing only a blank screen that read “no video signal”.
Although Damiba promised to make security his priority when he took office on January 24, violent attacks have increased since March.
In the north and east, insurgents blockaded towns, blew up bridges and attacked supply convoys.
As in neighboring countries, insurgents linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have fomented unrest.
Since 2015, when the insurgency spread to Burkina Faso, which has become the epicenter of violence across the Sahel, fighting has left thousands dead and some two million displaced.
In September, a particularly bloody month, Damiba fired his defense minister and took over the role himself.
Earlier this week, suspected jihadists attacked a convoy carrying supplies to the northern town of Djibo. The government said 11 soldiers were dead and around 50 civilians were missing.