Burkina Faso president, apparently detained, calls for unity

Associated Press
Mutinous soldiers guard the entrance of the national television station in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

A statement from the Twitter account of Burkina Faso’s president urged dialogue and invited the military to lay down arms Monday after soldiers told The Associated Press they had detained the leader in a mutiny.

“Our nation is going through difficult times,” read the statement from President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré's account. “We must, in this precise moment, preserve our democratic advances. I invite those who took arms to lower them in the interest of the nation. It is with dialogue and listening that we must resolve our contradictions.”

It could not be confirmed if Kaboré composed the message himself. It was not clear who was in control of the country, which was once a bastion of stability in West African, but has been beset by an insurgency and internal political turmoil in recent years.

Groups of people celebrated in the streets of the capital on Monday morning after reports of Kaboré's capture. Mutinous soldiers surrounded state news station RTB, a day after troops took over a military barracks and gunbattles were heard near the president’s residence.

After soldiers took control of the Lamizana Sangoule military barracks in the capital, Ouagadougou, civilians rallied in a show of support for the rebellion but were dispersed by security forces firing tear gas. The mutiny came a day after a public demonstration calling for Kaboré’s resignation, the latest in a series of anti-government protests as anger has mounted over its handling of the insurgency.

The tweet Monday was the first statement by the government since Defense Minister Aime Barthelemy Simpore tried to downplay the mutiny, telling state broadcaster RTB that a few barracks had been affected by unrest in Ouagadougou and some other cities. At the time, he denied that the president had been detained by the mutineers.

Kaboré was elected in 2015 after a popular uprising ousted longtime strongman President Blaise Compaore, who was in power for nearly three decades. Kaboré was reelected in November 2020, but frustration has been growing at his inability to stem the spread of jihadist violence across the country. Attacks linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are escalating, killing thousands and displacing more than an estimated 1.5 million people.

The military has suffered losses since the extremist violence began in 2016. In December, more than 50 security forces were killed in the Sahel region and nine security forces were killed in the Center North region in November.

Angry mutinous soldiers told the AP that the government was disconnected from its forces in the field and that their colleagues were dying and they wanted military rule. The soldiers put a man on the phone who said that they were seeking better working conditions for Burkina Faso’s military amid the escalating fight against Islamic militants. Among their demands are increased manpower in the battle against extremists and better care for those wounded and the families of the dead.

The soldiers spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

About 100 military members have planned the takeover since August, according to one of the mutinous soldiers.

Sahel experts say the government was overstretched but it’s unlikely the takeover 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 is unlikely to improve anything,” said Michael Shurkin, a former political analyst at the CIA and director of global programs at 14 North Strategies, a business intelligence consultancy based in Dakar, Senegal, who has worked on the Sahel for 15 years.

With the weekend protests, the 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 when gunshots were heard.

The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, which already has suspended Mali and Guinea in the past 18 months over military coups, issued a statement of support for Burkina Faso’s embattled president and urged dialogue with the mutineers.

Earlier this month, authorities had arrested a group of soldiers accused of participating in a foiled coup plot. It was not immediately known whether there was any connection between those soldiers and the ones who led this coup. Military prosecutors said nine soldiers and two civilians were being held in connection with the plot.

West Africa has seen a spate of military coups in West Africa over the past 18 months, causing the regional bloc known as ECOWAS to suspend two member states simultaneously for the first time since 2012.

In August 2020, a mutiny at a Malian military barracks led to the democratically elected president being detained. He later announced his resignation on national television, and the junta leader there doesn’t want new elections for four more years.

In September 2021, Guinea’s president also was overthrown by a military junta that remains in power to this day.

Burkina Faso, too has seen its share of coup attempts and military takeovers. In 1987, Compaore came to power by force. And in 2015, soldiers loyal to him attempted to overthrow the transitional government put into place after his ouster. The army was ultimately able to put the transitional authorities back in power, who led again until Kaboré won an election and took office.

By Associated Press writer Sam Mednick. AP writer Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal, also contributed.

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