Calm returned to Burkina Faso’s capital on Monday after the country’s military leader fled to neighbouring Togo following the second coup in less than nine months. His replacement, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, has promised that a new civilian or military transitional president will be appointed “before the end of the year”.
The streets of Ouagadougou were quiet after a two-day standoff between junta chief Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba and a newly-emerged rival for power, 34-year-old Captain Ibrahim Traoré.
After a jittery weekend that also saw violent protests at the French embassy and culture centre, Damiba agreed on Sunday to step down.
Diplomats said Damiba had gone to the Togolese capital Lomé. This was confirmed on Monday by the Togolese government, which said it had accepted him in order to support “peace in the sub-region.”
In a video released on Monday, Damiba wished “every success” to those who overthrew him, calling on them “to unite rather than divide”.
West Africa’s regional bloc ECOWAS issued a statement late Sunday welcoming “a peaceful settlement of… differences” and announced it would dispatch a delegation to Ouagadougou this week.
Seven conditions for stepping down
Burkina is struggling with a seven-year jihadist campaign that has claimed thousands of lives, forced nearly two million people to flee their homes and left more than a third of the country outside government control.
Anger within the beleaguered armed forces prompted Damiba‘s coup against the elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, on 24 January.
Appointing himself transitional president, Damiba vowed to make security the country’s top priority but after a brief lull the attacks revived, claiming hundreds of lives.
Traoré dramatically emerged on Friday at the head of a faction of disgruntled junior officers, which proclaimed that Damiba had been deposed — also for failing to roll back the insurgency.
Damiba set “seven conditions” for stepping down, according to religious and community leaders who mediated in his standoff with Traore.
These included safety guarantees for himself and his allies in the military, and that a pledge he had given to ECOWAS for a return to civilian rule within two years be respected.
Speaking on RFI on Monday, Traoré vowed to uphold the July 2024 timeline for restoring civilian rule.
This could even happen “before that date” if conditions were right, Traoré said.
He said that he would simply carry out “day-to-day business” until a new civilian or military transitional president was appointed.
The appointment would be made by a national forum gathering political and social representatives, the pro-Traoré faction in the military said on Sunday.
Traoré told RFI that this meeting would take place “well before the end of the year.”
Analysts said that his position, if carried out, would be acceptable to ECOWAS.
The bloc was created to shore up democracy in one of the world’s most volatile regions. There have been five coups in three of its 15 members since August 2020.
Surge of anti-French protests
Burkina Faso‘s latest bout of turmoil coincided with a surge of violent protests against France, the former colonial power and ally in the struggle against the jihadists.
Pro-Traoré officers accused Damiba of having taken refuge at a French military base near Ouagadougou in order to plot a “counter-offensive” — charges he and France denied.
On Sunday, security forces fired tear gas from inside the French embassy to disperse angry protesters, and the French Institute, which promotes French culture, was also attacked.
The foreign ministry in Paris blamed the violence on “hostile demonstrators manipulated by a disinformation campaign against us.”
Traoré on Monday condemned what he called “acts of violence and vandalism” against those buildings and urged “calm and restraint.”
Damiba’s ouster was proclaimed on Friday just hours after a protest rally that also demanded the end of France’s military presence in the Sahel and closer military cooperation with Russia. Some of the demonstrators waved Russian flags.
Russian paramilitaries are supporting fragile regimes in Mali and Central African Republic, sidelining France, those countries’ traditional backer. The Russians have also been accused of massacres and other abuses.
On Monday, the Kremlin said Russia wanted the situation in Burkina “to normalise as soon as possible, for complete order to be ensured in the country and for a return to the framework of legitimacy as soon as possible.”