Burkina Faso Military Strongman Gives Conditions For Return To Civilian Rule

By Paul Ejime*

Lt-Col Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba

Lt-Col Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, leader of the January 24 coup that toppled Burkina Faso’s President Christian Kabore says the country will only return to constitutional order “when the conditions are right.”

In his first national broadcast late Thursay ahead of Friday’s virtual emergency summit by ECOWAS leaders, Damiba defended the military takeover and blamed the Kabore government for failing to deal with Islamic insurgents.

Affiming his commitment to fight the insurgents and return Burkina Faso to democracy, Damiba, 41, said the people would determine the length of the transition period.

He promised to begin wide consultations with representatives of  segments of society on the way forward, noting that the country required the support of the international community.

Attacks by the jihadists have killed scores of soldiers and civilians in the past several years in the country.

Burkina Faso is the third ECOWAS country to fall from democracy to military rule in the past 18 months after Mali and Guinea.

Mali and Guinea have been suspended by ECOWAS, which has also imposed financial and border blockade against Mali after the Col Assimi  Goita-led interim government announced a delay to the transition timetable following two coups in August 2020 and May 2021.

Col Mamady Doumbouya heads the junta that seized power in Guinea in September 2021.

He has yet to unveil a transition programme, ignoring ECOWAS’ demand for a six-month timetable.

Damiba was a senior military Commander under the deposed Kabore administration.Diplomatic sources have revealed that before the coup, which followed army mutinies in various military camps, Kabore had rejected Damiba’s demand that the country should approach Russia for military support to defeat the insurgents.

ECOWAS is opposed to the involvement of foreign private military groups in Mali, a veiled reference to the presence of Russia’s Wagner group, which France has also condemned eventhough it has forces in Mali since 2013.

The regional body is expected to suspend Burkina Faso’s membership with possibility of sanctions to press for a speedy return to constitutional order.

It has already condemned the coup and demanded the unconditional release of detained Kabore.

But ECOWAS’ options on the military incursions  in the region appear very limited.

Regional mediation efforts and sanctions against Mali and Guinea have yielded little or no positive results.

Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan is the ECOWAS chief mediator on the Mali crisis.

It is unclear if the regional body would still follow a similar route on Burkina Faso, after the Guinea junta rejected the envoy it had appointed for that country.

The resurgence of military rule in the region poses an existential threat to 46-year-old ECOWAS and challenges the democratic credentials of its leaders.

Analysts blame the growing military incursions partly on bad governance, corruption, flawed elections and illegal tenure elongation by some of the leaders.

The interference by foreign powers, especially the overbearing influence of France on Francophone African countries is also blamed for political and socio-economic frictions and instability with anti-French sentiments growing in these countries.

Another factor is the killing of Libya’s influential leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, which has turned his country into a failed state and created swathes of ungoverned spaces used as safe havens by different armed groups ranging from ISIS to jihadists, Al-Qaida, separatist groups and Boko Haram in the ECOWAS and Sahel region.

Beyond punitive sanctions, a lasting solution could be found through genuine international cooperation based on an integrated approach driven by a strong commitment, honest, strategic, results-oriented and structured inclusive engagements of major stakeholders.

Ejime is a Global Affairs Analyst and an Independent Consultant on Strategic Corporate Communications, Peace & Security and Elections.

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