A man standing on his motorcycle gestures as people gather at Nation square to support military in Ouagadougou CREDIT: OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT / AFP
Mutinous soldiers say they have arrested Burkina Faso’s president after a blood-spattered coup that will upend the West’s fight against jihadism across the fractured Sahel region. The landlocked nation of Burkina Faso was once the most peaceful country in West Africa – a place where many French students would take their gap years and sip iced on beers at roadside bars. But since 2016, the country has been locked in a grim fight against armed groups and jihadists allied to Al Qaeda and Islamic State. Slowly and surely the state has retreated in on itself towards the capital of Ouagadougou. Now soldiers angered at the near-continuous defeats at the hands of the Islamists have seized control of the government and state television. The status of President Roch Kaboré is unknown, but a message appeared on his official Twitter on Monday calling on the army to lay down arms and to safeguard the country’s democracy. It is unclear whether the message was sent by the president himself. The mutineers claim he is being held safely at an undisclosed location, but photos from the capital show presidential cars riddled with bullets and stained by pools of blood. There was gunfire and a reported mutiny on Sunday night at the main military base in the capital. Then a battle reportedly took place early on Monday morning at the presidential palace while a helicopter flew overhead.
Roch Marc Christian Kabore, President of Burkina Faso, in Ghana earlier this month CREDIT: REUTERS
Mr Kaboré had led Burkina Faso since being elected in 2015 after a popular uprising ousted longtime strongman President Blaise Compaore, who was in power for nearly three decades. Mr Kaboré was reelected in November 2020 for another five-year term but anger has been boiling over his government’s inability to stem the spread of jihadist violence across the nation of 20 million. Mr Compaore has been in exile in neighbouring Ivory Coast since he was ousted seven years ago. Eyes in the region will be focused on any news from his residence in the Ivorian commercial capital of Abidjan to see if he had any involvement in the coup. There are unconfirmed reports that General Diendéré, who lead Mr Compaore’s fearsome presidential guard and helped the former president cut deals with Al Qaeda before he was ousted, has been released from prison by the mutineers. Attacks are escalating in the country, killing thousands and displacing more than an estimated 1.5 million people. The insurgency has drained national resources of the country which, despite being a major gold producer, is one of West Africa’s poorest countries and has seen rising numbers of people going hungry because of conflict and drought. Burkina Faso is the linchpin of the Sahel, a vast region south of the Sahara, which is widely seen as “ground zero” for climate change. Thousands of troops from France, the US, the United Nations and several EU countries are stationed across the Sahel trying to contain the spread of jihadism. Some 300 British soldiers are stationed in neighbouring Mali.