Soldiers seize power in Burkina Faso, drawing international ire

Army officers appeared on state television saying they decided to act due to the country’s deteriorating security situation. (Image: Screengrab from ABC | YouTube.)

Soldiers in Burkina Faso said they removed President Roch Marc Christian Kabore from power in the gold-producing West African nation, a putsch that drew condemnation from the United Nations and the U.S.

The military takeover was necessary because Kabore was unable to tackle insecurity “that threatens the very foundation of our nation,” according to a statement signed by Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba and read by another officer on Radio Television du Burkina Monday. The country will return to constitutional order within a “reasonable timeframe,” he said.

It’s the third West African nation to face a military coup in the past year. Like neighboring Mali, Burkina Faso has been destabilized by a decade-long Islamist insurgency and Kabore’s government has faced growing opposition to his government’s failure to address the insecurity.

In November, protesters took to the streets calling for Kabore’s resignation after 49 military police were killed in an attack on a base in the north of the country. Demonstrations escalated after an internal army document showed the officers had been left without food.

Shares in Australian miner West African Resources Ltd., which derives all its revenue from Burkina Faso, fell the most in almost seven years after the coup. Other miners including Endeavour Mining Plc have mines in the country, which is Africa’s fourth-biggest producer of the metal. The companies said their operations were unaffected by the events in the capital, Ouagadougou.

Burkina Faso’s constitution has been suspended and parliament dissolved, according to the statement made on behalf of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, which referred to itself by the French acronym MPSR. It also imposed a curfew and announced the closing of all air and land borders from midnight.

It didn’t provide the whereabouts of 64-year-old Kabore, who had been in power since 2015. The former president is being held at a military camp, according to people familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to comment. 

Islamist insurgency

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the U.S. State Department both denounced the coup and called on members of the military to lay down their arms and address their concerns through dialog.

“We acknowledge the tremendous stress on Burkinabe society and security forces” posed by the Islamist groups, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. The U.S. is closely monitoring the situation and reviewing whether it will have any potential impact on its assistance to the African nation.

France, Burkina Faso’s former colonial ruler, also condemned the military takeover.

Related Article: Australia miner plunges most since 2014 after Burkina Faso coup

There was no immediate reaction from the Economic Community of West Africa States, the regional economic bloc known as Ecowas, or the African Union. Last year, Ecowas imposed sanctions on Mali and Guinea following coups in those nations.

Damiba, who signed Monday’s statement on behalf of the newly formed MPSR, is a senior infantry officer in the Burkinabè army. 

A graduate of the Military School in Paris, he holds a master’s degree in criminal sciences from the Conservatoire national des arts et metiers and a defense expert certification in management, command and strategy, according to his biography on Paris-based publishing house Les Trois Colonnes’ website. He is the author of the book “West African Army and Terrorism: Uncertain Response?”

The military takeover shows “how regional militaries are able to capture popular sentiment and turn it against civilian governments, a warning sign to other countries in the region facing similar security situations and civil-military tensions,” said Andrew Lebovich, who researches West and North Africa at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

(By Katarina Hoije and Simon Gongo)

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