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Varied International Interests Despite Political Instability in Burkina Faso 

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U.S. Army Africa and Italian Carabinieri assist multinational trainers 
in Burkina Faso via US Army Africa.

Burkina Faso recently experienced its second coup d’état within nine months as Captain Ibrahim Traore was declared “Head of State, Supreme Head of the Armed Forces” this month. 

The transition comes after a group of officials, some of whom were aligned with the former leader, removed interim president Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba from power, causing the West African nation to delve further into political instability.

Shortly after Damiba’s removal, Traore and his supporters dissolved the transitional government and suspended the constitution. Damiba, who has reportedly fled to Togo, was deposed from office due to his inability to reorganize the military structure and mitigate an ongoing armed conflict with Islamists. 

Since mid-March, violence has increased, despite the military government’s promise to prioritize national security. Traore was declared “Head of State, Supreme Head of the Armed Forces” on Oct. 5.

Groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have caused massive destruction in Burkina Faso, displacing approximately 2 million people since their 2012 activity in Mali spread to nearby West African nations in the region. A pattern has developed within the past two years as Islamist insurgents have carried out widespread violence across West and Central Africa, killing thousands and diminishing support for fragile governments. Since 2020, Mali, Chad and Guinea have each experienced coup d’états, increasing fears of military authoritarianism in the region. 

The trend of coups in West Africa has undoubtedly been influenced by foreign nations such as France and the U.S. and multinational organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Since 2008, U.S.-trained African officials have tried at least nine coups (succeeding in at least eight) throughout five West African countries: Burkina Faso (three times), Guinea, Mali (three times), Mauritania and the Gambia. 

Traore was formerly head of the “Cobra” special forces unit in the northern region of Kaya and is considered to have been trained by the U.S. military, although officials at the Pentagon claim they are unsure of whether this is valid. Damiba, however, participated in at least six U.S. training events, according to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

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The United States cautioned Burkina Faso’s army of the risks of aligning with Russia, saying they did not support “any attempt to exacerbate the current situation in Burkina Faso.”

“We strongly encourage the new transitional government to adhere to the agreed-upon timeline for a return to a democratically elected, civilian-led government,” a Department of State spokesman said a week after the coup. 

Members of the international community have speculated about who the West African nation will seek support from on the global stage, with many believing Russia is the choice due to the presence of Russian flags among protestors. 

The Associated Press reports that Constantin Gouvy, a Burkina Faso researcher at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations mentioned, “One point of contention that has divided the MPSR (junta), the army and indeed the population for months is the choice of international partners. Damiba was leaning toward France, but we might see the MPSR more actively exploring alternatives from now on, with Turkey or Russia for example.”

However, citizens of the conflict-affected nation and members of the Burkinabe diaspora believe the political conflict has many dimensions and are skeptical of the notion of changing international partners.

“We must be careful when considering the idea of changing partnerships. Burkina Faso’s military government is not receiving support from the state of Russia, it is actually Russian businessmen with the ability to hire mercenaries and actors who provide services for governments, businesses and politicians,” a source that would like to remain anonymous said. 

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“Since independence, our nation has endured political or economic turmoil and when ethnic groups are marginalized, it boosts the number of civilians who become insurgents as they seek vengeance and retribution. We must consider our natural resources. Foreign businesses and states are interested in them and they are here for business,” they continued. 

Burkina Faso’s primary exports are gold and cotton, which comprises 70 percent and 13 percent of the nation’s total exports respectively. The state’s main trading partners include Singapore, the Ivory Coast, Switzerland, France, China and Turkey.

While reading a declaration on behalf of the junta’s new leadership, Lt. Jean Baptiste Kabre said, “Damiba has tried to retreat to the Kamboinsin French military base to prepare a counteroffensive in order to sow divide amongst our defense and security forces.”

On Oct. 1, Burkinabe protestors held a political demonstration at the French embassy in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, as supporters of the West African nation’s new leader claimed France is protecting the ousted Damiba, which French officials continue to deny.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the violence against our diplomatic presence in Burkina Faso. Any attack on our diplomatic facilities is unacceptable,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Burkina Faso is a former French colony, and France has maintained a military presence in Africa’s Sahel region to support nations struggling against Islamic extremists. In Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso’s second-largest city, groups also protested the French institute.

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Burkina Faso flag in Faramana, Burkina Faso via Gozilah52 on Flickr.

Copy edited by Jadyn Barnett

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