Damiba’s Hot Rise to Power in Burkina Faso

  • Lieutenant Colonel Damiba turned interim President is hot after leading a military coup to power. 
  • The coup was driven by discontent for the former government’s inability to control the Islamic State crisis.
  • The takeover spells further instability and demonstrates international organisations’ loosening grip in the region. 
Damiba
 Source: Aljazeera 

Why is Damiba’s temperature Hot? 

Answer: Damiba has ousted the former government and has been named interim President of Burkina Faso.

On the 23rd of January 2022, gunfire erupted in the burkinabé capital of Ouagadougou. The next day, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba appeared with other officers to announce that they had taken control of the military base inside the city, deposing President Roch Kaboré and dissolving the Constitution. 

The 41-year old military commander of Burkina Faso’s ‘third region’, was promoted last month by Kaboré to ensure the security of the capital as well as bolster presidential support amongst troops. The Lieutenant Colonel has a long history of serving Burkina Faso in various military capacities and his promotion was largely to do with his reputation as an expert in counter-terrorism. As the President of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, the new military junta, Damiba, and his government join Guinea and Mali as the third in a trio of Sahel countries to succumb to coups in the last year.

Damiba is no stranger to political takeover. He is a former member of the RSP, the personal guard to former President Blaise Compaoré. Compaoré himself came to power in the same way: a military coup in 1987. While not as violent as Compaoré’s takeover, Damiba has been equally as effective in seizing control of the country. International organisations have been quick to condemn the burkinabécoup, with the African Union and ECOWAS both suspending the country until the Constitution was restored. 

Suspension from these blocs is damning for any leader; to be excluded from organisations that promote intergovernmental cooperation and infrastructure would be a cold step back for Damiba. This explains the swift restoration of constitutional order.
With military and public support for his new role as interim President, Damiba’s next steps will be to maintain the temperature of this hot rise to power, while deciding carefully how to navigate relations with ECOWAS, the African Union, and his management of the security crisis that catalysed his rise to power.

Who is changing Damiba’s temperature? 

Answer: Kaboré’s  inability to manage the security  crisis has given Damiba the platform to take over, but international bodies will challenge his government. 

In order to understand Damiba’s rise to power, it’s relevant to consider the background of this coup. As is the case with the aforementioned Sahel countries, the takeover in Burkina Faso has everything to do with the ongoing crisis with Islamic State. 

With increasing violence in the region, and over 1.5 million Burkinabés displaced, confidence in President Kaboré was rapidly deteriorating. As much was evident in the November protests, where hundreds of protesters demanded that the government admit to its incompetence in handling the situation, in response to a previous al-Qaeda attack that killed dozens of military police and four civilians.

Parallel to the public anger towards the government runs the anger of the military itself. Dissatisfaction was made clear when it was reported that the officers killed in the attack were ill-equipped, lacking ammunition and weeks behind on food supplies. Discontent amongst the military class for the inefficient government is another driving factor for this coup. 

The decaying security situation in the region, along with ongoing clashes between the public and police and the instability of a constantly reshuffling burkinabé government, created a platform for Damiba’s rise to power. The military leader for the most part has the support from a disillusioned population, who welcome the coup as a sign of stability in the worsening security crisis. 

Lt.Colonel Damiba, with the support of the military and population, will have to focus on navigating the ongoing situation with international bodies such as the African Union and ECOWAS, as well as developing effective counter-terrorist strategies to maintain this temperature. For now, the new government is showing a willingness to cooperate with these international organisations. An ECOWAS mission sent following the coup reported that discussions with Damiba had been productive and that the leader had been open to many of the proposals mentioned.

Unlike in neighbouring Mali, the bloc has decided against further sanctions and have expressed their commitment to the burkinabé security crisis. However, pressure is now on Damiba to produce a concrete timeline for elections or else his government will likely face further sanctions. Should Damiba refuse to cooperate, economic consequences could be severe. The Malian government has defaulted on a $31million dollar bond payment and have warned further sanctions could trigger an economic crisis in the wider region. Damiba must act quickly to ensure the approval of these international organisations so as to maintain his position. 

What is driving Damiba? 

Answer: A restoration of security  and the handling of the Islamic State Crisis in order to garner support and legitimise his government. 

In his first speech following the dissolution of the government, Damiba made clear his intentions for the future of Burkina Faso, as well as his expectations of both the local and international community. 

 The leader has reiterated his commitment to the security of the country and his desire for state continuity. The new government has passed a fundamental act, that names Damiba Head of State, leader of the armed forces, and President of Burkina Faso, while giving no timeline to their transition to full restoration of the Constitution. Similar promises were made last year in Mali, before the government there announced a democratic transition would be postponed for five years; it is uncertain if Damiba will follow suit in this regard. 

Far from merely the saviour he wants to be perceived as, the new President has also expressed the importance of loyalty to the new order. Damiba has asserted that while the country is recovering, he will be uncompromising’ with those who act out of ‘selfish interests’ that betray the ‘will of the people’. This promise is especially significant coming from a leader who has full control of the military in a country that is no stranger to limiting citizens’ access to the internet and national media.  

Clearly driving Damiba is an authoritative approach to the Islamic State crisis that may spell danger for burkinabés. The President has met with diplomats from the EU, China, and Mali to appeal to the international community, helping legitimise his coup and bolster support for the new regime. His temperature hinges on his handling of extremism in the region and it is likely that he will employ the controversial Russian Wagner mercenary group that he advocated for prior to the coup.

In other African nations where this group has been employed, reports have come out of indiscriminate killings, harassment of civilians and human rights violations. Overall, Damiba runs the risk of endangering the population that currently supports him with his bold approach to the crisis. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: The coup reveals a weakening  West African democratic process and opens the door to new players.

The military takeover in Burkina Faso, similar to its Guinean and Malian counterparts, has generally secured local support. However, the coup has garnered attention from ‘concerned’ international bodies; the UN, ECOWAS, and the African Union all see this as the erosion of democratic processes in West Africa.

In the background of this coup, is the potential for increased Russian presence and influence in the country. A point of contention in the former government between Damiba and Kaboré had been the employment of  Russian aid. Kaboré had refused this option, even as French troops proved ineffective, for fears that it would alienate Burkina Faso from the West. This is not a concern shared by Damiba, who tried to convince Kaboré of accepting Russian mercenary aid, before ousting him from office. Increasing Russian presence in the region is alarming to current superpowers vying for influence, especially with Putin so quick to capitalise on shifting dynamics.

While the world watches yet another military coup and increased instability in the region, there are those calling for a reevaluation of West African democracies and how they are seemingly so susceptible to this type of takeover. Questions must be asked of organisations like ECOWAS and the AU, who have seemingly done nothing to impede the march of military power grabs. 

These blocs were created as a means of maintaining peace and democracy in the region, and now by choosing to not further sanction Burkina Faso are sending a message of tolerance of undemocratic processes. The diminishing role of African international bodies endangers democracy on the continent, facilitating the epidemic of coups in the region and opening the door to superpowers looking to increase their influence.