Burkina Faso wakes to find new junta rulers, closed borders

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Hundreds of people marched through the streets of Burkina Faso’s capital Tuesday in a show of support for the new military-led junta that ousted democratically elected President Roch Marc Christian Kabore and seized control of the country.

Days of gunfire and uncertainty in Ouagadougou ended Monday evening when more than a dozen soldiers on state media declared that the country is being run by their new organization, the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration.

“Today’s events mark a new era for Burkina Faso. These events are an opportunity to all Burkina Faso citizens to heal, rebuild cohesion, and celebrate the integrity that has made them who they are,” Capt. Sisdore Kaber Ouedraogo.

On Tuesday, Ouagadougou was packed with people cheering, singing and dancing and there were reports of celebrations in other parts of the country. After several protests against Kabore’s government, which had been criticized for not responding effectively to Islamic extremist violence, the coup was carried out.

“I’m happy to be here this morning to support the junta in power. Salif Kientga, who attended the rally in the capital, said that terrorists should be eliminated in the coming months and years.

Some supporters waved Malian and Burkina Faso flags and held up photos of Mali’s junta ruler, Col. Assimi Goita, beside Burkina Faso’s new leader, Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, saying that military rule was the only way to pull both countries out of crisis. Some protestors chanted, “Down With ECOWAS”, the West African regional bloc which recently sanctioned Mali’s delay of elections. It also condemned the Burkina Faso military coup.

The junta closed the borders, imposed a curfew, suspended the constitution and dissolved the government and parliament and said it would return Burkina Faso to constitutional order, but did not specify when. Although the soldiers claimed that the president was safe, they did not disclose where he was being held. Kabore signed a publicly available resignation letter stating that he would be quitting in the country’s best interests.

The coup comes after months of growing frustration at the Kabore government’s inability to stem a jihadist insurgency that’s wracked the country, killing thousands and displacing 1.5 million people. It’s not clear what will change with the new junta. The ill-equipped military had struggled against the Islamic State group-linked jihadists and al-Qaida.

“A simple change in leadership is unlikely to turn the tide,” said Constantin Gouvy, a Burkina Faso researcher who works for the Netherlands-based Clingendael Institute. Damiba has a lot of military experience as the commander for the 3rd Military Region. However, a leadership change is unlikely to be enough to stop the trend of decline we have been witnessing. Burkinabe forces are generally ill-equipped to fight this war.”

While not much is known about the new leaders, they appear young and are said to be mid-ranked officers. The new apparent leader, Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, is a published author in his early 40s and was recently promoted by Kabore.

One mutinous soldier who insisted on anonymity for his security told The Associated Press that younger officers who had experienced war should run the country, rather than older ones who had never used their guns outside of military training, in a nation that had never previously seen fighting. Although they might not be able to have any governance experience, he said that the younger men could still learn. He said that the junta was meeting religious leaders and other community leaders to find a solution.

To some in Burkina Faso, the soldiers’ youth is one of the reasons they believe they’ll be able to succeed.

“If you look at those who have taken power they seem to be younger and we hope they will bring younger ideas, bring better ideas than we have seen up until now,” said Aliou Ouedraogo, a resident of Ouagadougou.

Meanwhile, the international community has condemned the takeover.

The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, demanded that the soldiers return to their barracks and urged dialogue with the authorities to resolve the issues. Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations called for coup leaders to surrender.

On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron, said he stands by ECOWAS in condemning the coup and that his priority is seeing that Kabore is safe and keeping the situation calm. France will be closely monitoring the situation, he said. Ravina Shamdasan (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) said that she regretted the military’s takeover. She called upon the military to release Kabore, and any other detained high-ranking officials.

The U.S. State Department said it was deeply concerned by events in Burkina Faso, calling for restraint by all actors, adding that it would be carefully reviewing the events on the ground for any potential impact on assistance.

“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,” said a statement from department spokesman Ned Price issued late Monday. “We acknowledge the tremendous stress on Burkinabe society and security forces posed by ISIS and JNIM but urge military officers to step back, return to their barracks, and address their concerns through dialogue.”

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