On September 30, the culture of military coups in West Africa took a turn for the worse in Burkina Faso. Soldiers had staged a coup and successfully overthrew the government of Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Damiba. Captain Ibrahim Traore (34), who took over as the new president, dissolved the transitional government and suspended the constitution. Damiba has officially resigned and fled to neighbouring Togo.
According to the coup plotters, Damiba was removed because of his inability to tackle the worsening armed uprising in the country. They also said the country was facing an emergency in every sector. Damiba had promised to improve the security situation in the country when he overthrew the democratically elected government of Roch Marc Kabore on January 24, 2022. He said the military intervened then was because of the inability of the ousted government to tackle jihadists terrorising the country.
Specifically, the Damiba-led coup plotters accused Kabore of not adequately supporting them against terrorists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. Since 2015, militants had terrorised Burkina Faso. They have killed over 2,000 people and rendered about 2 million others homeless. In November 2021, for instance, they attacked the northern Inata military base and killed over 50 soldiers.
Nevertheless, soldiers are meant to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their nation. They are not meant to dabble into governance. It is not as if they rule better when they get to power. Sometimes, they worsen the situation they met on ground. Rather than improve, the security situation under Damiba worsened. Armed groups reportedly increased attacks by 23 per cent. Experts say Burkina Faso controls as little as 60 per cent of its territory now.
It is regrettable that Burkina Faso has had a long history of coups since its independence from France in 1960. The first coup was on January 3, 1966 which led to the removal of the government of President Maurice Yaméogo. There were coups in 1980, 1982, 1983, 1987, 2014 and two in 2022. All together, the country has experienced nine coups since independence.
Elsewhere in West Africa, coups, which the late President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo introduced in West Africa in 1963, have apparently become fashionable, even though outlawed by the African Union (AU). It occurred in Mali in August 2020. There was an attempted coup in the same Mali in May 2021. There was one in Guinea on September 5, 2021. There was an attempted coup in Niger Republic in March last year and in Guinea Bissau in February 2022. Having experienced about 15 coups, Sudan has the unenviable record as the country with the highest number of coups in Africa.
Some of the triggers for coups in Africa are bad governance, corruption, poverty, insecurity and chaotic elections which engender civil unrest. Constitutional coups could also trigger insurrection and military interventions. For instance, Alpha Conde, who emerged the first democratically elected President of Guinea in 2010, tried to engineer the change of his country’s constitution by referendum to allow him to go for a third term in office when his tenure was up in 2020. He cracked down on his citizens who protested against his action. This partly contributed to his ouster as President amid allegations of endemic corruption and poverty that ravaged the country.
The prevalence of coups, especially in West Africa, does not augur well for the continent. It is against the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol. It is also retrogressive and embarrassing to the international community. It affects investment which can never thrive in a state of instability.
Modern societies have embraced multi-party democracy. Africa should not be different. Hence, we condemn the latest coup in Burkina Faso. We urge world leaders and international organisations to go beyond mere condemnation of coups and do something to put a stop to the phenomenon. It is worthy to note that despite the condemnations of the January coup in Burkina Faso by leaders like the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres; French President, Emmanuel Macron; and institutions like ECOWAS, African Union (AU), and the United States Department of State, soldiers still had the guts to stage the latest coup. ECOWAS had even suspended the country from its institutions and called on the military to go back to the barracks. The latest coup means all these admonitions fell on deaf ears. As usual, the international bodies have condemned the latest coup. ECOWAS, for instance, reaffirmed its unequivocal opposition to any seizure or maintenance of power by unconstitutional means.
It is time these organisations took more drastic measures to curb coups in West Africa. It has become obvious that the coup plotters do not reckon with condemnations and sanctions.
We wonder what has happened to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which the AU ratified in 2012. The charter calls on member states to identify illegal means of taking over power or staying in office and sanction the culprits. It is obvious this too is not working. Application of force, as ECOWAS did when it forced Yahya Jammeh of Gambia out of office in 2017, may be the ultimate solution.