Burkina Faso President Kabore ‘detained’ by mutinous soldiers

Reports say Kabore’s detention comes after troops staged mutinies at several army barracks and gunfire was heard near the president’s residence.

Burkina Faso's former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore
Kabore has led Burkina Faso since being elected in 2015 [File: Michel Euler/AP Photo]

Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore has been detained by mutinying soldiers, security officials said, with troops leading the apparent coup saying his government failed to support them during the country’s years-long conflict with armed groups.

The news reports on Monday came a day after soldiers staged mutinies at several army barracks, prompting fears of a coup. Later on Sunday, heavy gunfire was also heard near Kabore’s residence in the capital, Ouagadougou.

On Monday morning, several armoured vehicles from the presidential fleet, riddled with bullets, could be seen near the residence. One was spattered with blood.

A Twitter post from Kabore’s account on Monday called on those who had taken up arms to lay them down. It could not be independently verified if Kabore was the author.

“Our nation is going through difficult moments. We must at this precise moment safeguard our democratic norms,” said the post, which was signed RK. “I invite those who have taken up arms to lay them down in the higher interest of the nation.”

Two security sources and a West African diplomat told Reuters news agency that Kabore was detained at a military camp. The government on Sunday had denied that a coup was under way.

“We just passed the military base where Kabore is alleged to be confined at the moment,” journalist Henry Wilkins reported from Ouagadougou on Monday.

“Traffic is circulating as normal but there is an unusually high number of military personnel out on the streets around the presidential palace.”

Talks between representatives of the soldiers and Defence Minister General Barthelemy Simpore failed to make headway, a government source said.

About a dozen hooded troops stationed themselves in front of the national broadcaster RTB, but it was not immediately clear if they were from the mutineers or had been sent by the government.

The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, which already has suspended Mali and Guinea in the past 18 months over military takeovers, condemned what it called an attempted coup in Burkina Faso and said it held the military responsible for the physical well-being of President Kabore.

“ECOWAS is following with great concern the evolution of the political and security situation in Burkina Faso, characterised since Sunday January 23 by an attempted coup d’etat,” the organisation said in a statement on Monday.

African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat also condemned “the attempted coup d’etat against the democratically elected president” in Burkina Faso in a statement on Monday.

Video shows blood stained, bullet-riddled vehicles of the Burkina Faso presidential fleet
A video grab shows a blood-stained, bullet-riddled vehicle from the Burkina Faso presidential fleet [Reuters]

‘Full-blown coup’

AFP news agency reported the president had been arrested along with other government officials.

“President Kabore, the head of parliament, and the ministers are effectively in the hands of the soldiers” at the Sangoule Lamizana barracks in the capital, two security officials said.

Two of the rebellious soldiers told The Associated Press by phone that Kabore was being held “in a safe place”, but would not specify where.

Kabore has led Burkina Faso since being elected in 2015 after a popular uprising overthrew longtime President Blaise Compaore, who was in power for nearly three decades. Kabore was reelected in November 2020 for another five-year term but frustration has been growing at his inability to stem the spread of violence across the country.

Attacks linked to al-Qaeda and the armed group ISIL (ISIS) are escalating, killing thousands and displacing more than an estimated 1.5 million people. The military has suffered heavy losses.

Mutinous soldiers told the AP the government was disconnected from its forces in the field, that their colleagues were dying, and that they wanted military rule. A man they put on the phone said they were seeking better working conditions for Burkina Faso’s military.

“We want adequate resources for the battle” against armed groups, a soldier from the Sangoule Lamizana base said in a voice recording received by AFP.

‘Out-of-its-depth government’

About 100 military personnel have been planning the takeover since August, according to one of the soldiers. The organisers never met in the same location more than twice and always outside the capital, he said. They used messaging apps such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegraph to plan, he added.

“The situation is very volatile and it’s very unclear what’s going on,” Eloise Bertrand, from the University of Portsmouth, told Al Jazeera.

“The mutiny is not a surprise and the attempted coup that it has become is not a surprise either. There have been a lot of grievances among the army due to the lack of resources, the poor equipment they have been given in fighting the insurgency. Originally the mutiny was about that – about the soldiers being treated better and given better equipment. It seems that negotiations have broken down and that it has become a full-blown coup.”

Another analyst said the Kabore government was overstretched, but it is unlikely the mutiny will change anything.

“Burkina Faso’s army is profoundly ill-equipped and unprepared for the war it’s asked to fight. It’s out of its depth. Its frustration with an equally out-of-its-depth government is understandable. Regrettably, this [rebellion] is unlikely to improve anything,” said Michael Shurkin, a former political analyst at the CIA and director of global programmes at 14 North Strategies.

Burkina Faso’s population is already showing signs of supporting a takeover.

“People are tired with this situation of insecurity. Every day people are killed. In Burkina, there are areas that can’t be accessed. We have lost a big part of our territory,” said Jean-Baptiste Ilboudou, a civilian near the military base where gunshots were heard.

Earlier this month, authorities arrested a group of soldiers accused of participating in a foiled coup plot. It was not immediately known whether there was any connection.

West Africa has seen a spate of military coups over the past 18 months.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies