The army’s removal and detention of Burkina Faso President Roch Kabore after two days of unrest have sparked some celebration among anti-government protesters, and international concern after what was the fourth military coup in West and Central Africa in the past year.
Late on Monday, a group of soldiers calling themselves the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, led by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba appeared on state television to declare that they were in control of the county. The government and national assembly were dissolved and the constitution suspended, they said, as they also announced an overnight curfew.
The whereabouts of Kabore, who won a second term in 2020 elections, remain unknown. A military spokesman said the army had seized power “without any physical violence against those arrested, who are being held in a safe place, with respect for their dignity”.
The coup comes amid an increasingly bloody armed conflict that has killed thousands and displaced millions across the Sahel region.
More than 1,000 people gathered in Ouagadougou’s national square to celebrate on Tuesday, ahead of a rally aimed at showcasing support for the military group.
A Reuters reporter saw people burning a French flag, a sign of growing frustration about the military role the former colonial power still plays in the region.
Many have lost faith in Kabore’s ability to protect the country from the fighters.
“ECOWAS doesn’t care about us, and the international community only wants to condemn,” said demonstrator Armel Ouedraogo, referring to West Africa’s regional political bloc. “This is what we want.”
International reaction was swift.
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said in a statement he “strongly condemns any attempted takeover of government by the force of arms”, calling the events a coup.
“Coup leaders must lay down their arms & ensure the safety of the President and the protection of the country’s institutions,” he said in a Twitter post.
I am following developments in Burkina Faso with deep concern & strongly condemn any attempt to take over a government by the force of arms.
Coup leaders must lay down their arms & ensure the safety of the President and the protection of the country’s institutions.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) January 24, 2022
Even before the army’s statement, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc and the African Union both condemned what they called an “attempted coup”, saying they held the soldiers responsible for Kabore’s safety.
On Tuesday, ECOWAS said it “firmly condemns” the coup in Burkina Faso and said President Kabore had stepped down under duress.
“The situation in Burkina Faso is characterised as a military coup,” carried out on Monday “following (Kabore’s) resignation, obtained under threat, intimidation and pressure from soldiers after two days of mutiny,” the bloc said in a statement issued after a special summit.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, “firmly condemned the coup d’état attempt against the democratically elected president”.
Mahamat called “on the national army and security forces of the country to strictly adhere to their republican vocation, namely the defence of the internal and external security of the country”, a statement said.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about developments in Burkina Faso and urged a swift return to civilian rule.
“We condemn these acts and call on those responsible to deescalate the situation, prevent harm to President Kabore and any other members of his government in detention, and return to civilian-led government and constitutional order,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“The United States is closely monitoring this fluid situation, and we call for restraint by all actors as we carefully review the events on the ground for any potential impact on our assistance.”
“We urge all sides in this fluid situation to remain calm and to seek dialogue as a means to resolve grievances,” Price continued.
The United States condemns the detention of Burkina Faso’s President Kaboré and calls for de-escalation and a return to constitutional order. https://t.co/CQaOBwWAhF
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) January 25, 2022
Meanwhile, the European Union’s High Representative Josep Borrell said the bloc was “very worried about the evolution of the situation in Burkina Faso”.
“We call for the respect of the constitutional order and the release of President Kabore,” Borrell said.
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the coup and said he planned to hold talks on the matter with regional leaders, Radio France International (RFI) reported. Burkina Faso was under French colonial rule until 1960, when it gained independence.
Macron also told reporters during a trip in central France on Tuesday that he had been informed Kabore was “in good health” and not being threatened.
For its part, Luxembourg’s foreign ministry said it was following developments in Burkina Faso “with great concern” and condemned the removal of the president and the suspension of the constitution.
“The challenges of [Burkina Faso] must be solved through dialogue and not through arms,” it said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde joined ECOWAS in “condemning the attempted coup d’état in Burkina Faso” and urged all parties to find a peaceful resolution through dialogue.
China’s Foreign Ministry also reacted to the coup through state-affiliated media outlet Global Times, saying it was closely following the latest developments in Burkina Faso and “will do its utmost to protect Chinese nationals”.
Beijing also called for “all parties in the country to peacefully resolve differences via dialogue and safeguard national stability”.
Embassies alert their citizens
Embassies in Burkina Faso have issued alerts and urged citizens to be cautious. The US embassy in Ouagadougou announced it would remain closed to the public on Tuesday due to the ongoing security situation.
It added that a mandatory curfew had been instituted from 9pm to 5am as of January 24. “The Embassy has not received any indication that the curfew has been lifted,” it said.
Land and air border travel have also been suspended, the embassy said, starting at 11:59pm on January 24.