A popular uprising and mutinies of soldiers challenge the president of Burkina Faso : NPR
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso – Gunfire rang out Sunday night near the home of Burkinabe President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, raising the specter that a military coup could still be in progress after mutinous soldiers seized a military base earlier in the day.
Government officials had sought to reassure people that the situation was under control even as gunfire rang out for hours at the military base. But by the end of the day, anti-government protesters supporting the mutineers had also set fire to a building belonging to Kaboré’s party.
It was not immediately clear if Kabore was home, but several people in the area told The Associated Press that in addition to gunfire, they could hear helicopters hovering overhead.
A mutinous soldier also told AP by phone that heavy fighting was underway near the presidential palace, a claim that could not immediately be independently corroborated.
Sunday’s mutiny came a day after the latest public protest calling for Kabore’s resignation amid growing anger over the government’s handling of the Islamic insurgency. Anti-government protesters gave public support to the mutinous soldiers, prompting security forces to use tear gas to disperse crowds in the capital.
The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, which has previously suspended Mali and Guinea for the past 18 months over military coups, has issued a statement of support for Burkina Faso’s embattled president and has called for dialogue with the mutineers.
Defense Minister Aime Barthelemy Simpore told state broadcaster RTB that a few barracks had been hit by unrest not only in the capital, Ouagadougou, but also in other towns. He, however, denied that the president was detained by the mutineers, although Kaboré’s fate remained unknown.
“Well, it’s a few barracks. There aren’t too many,” Simpore said. “In some of these barracks, calm has already returned. So that’s all for now. As I said, we are monitoring the situation.”
A news headline on the state broadcaster described the shootings as “acts of discontent on the part of soldiers”.
“Contrary to certain information, no institution of the republic has been targeted”, continues the title.
At the Lamizana Sangoule military barracks in the capital, however, angry soldiers fired into the air on Sunday, directing their anger at the president. About 100 motorbikes then left the base chanting slogans in support of the mutineers, but were stopped when security forces deployed tear gas.
The soldiers put a man on the phone with The Associated Press who said they were seeking better working conditions for Burkina Faso’s army amid an escalating fight against Islamic militants. Among their demands are an increase in personnel in the fight against extremists and better care for the injured and the families of the dead. Mutinous soldiers also want the replacement of the military and intelligence hierarchy, he said.
There were signs on Sunday that their demands were backed by many Burkinabés who are increasingly distressed by attacks blamed on al-Qaeda and Islamic State-linked groups. Thousands of people have died in recent years as a result of these attacks and around 1.5 million people have been displaced.
“We want the military to take over,” Salif Sawadogo said as he tried to dodge tear gas in the streets of Ouagadougou. “Our democracy is not stable.”
Kabore first took office in 2015, winning elections held after longtime President Blaise Compaoré was ousted in a popular uprising.
Yet Kaboré has faced growing opposition since his re-election in November 2020 as the crisis of Islamic extremism in the country has deepened. Last month he sacked his prime minister and replaced most cabinet members, but critics have continued to call for his resignation.
On Sunday, protesters who supported the army mutiny said they were fed up with Kaboré even if the next presidential election is not before 2025. Protester Aime Birba said the violence under Kaboré was different from everything that Burkina Faso has known in the nearly three decades that Compaoré has been. in power.
“We are currently under another form of dictatorship,” he said. “A president who is not able to take security measures to secure his own people is not a worthy president.”
Earlier this month, authorities arrested a group of soldiers accused of participating in a foiled coup. It was not immediately clear if there was a connection between these soldiers and those who led a mutiny on Sunday. Military prosecutors said nine soldiers and two civilians were being held in connection with the plot.
West Africa has seen a series of West African military coups over the past 18 months, forcing the regional bloc known as ECOWAS to suspend two member states simultaneously for the first time. since 2012.
In August 2020, a mutiny in a Malian military barracks led to the arrest of the democratically elected president. He then announced his resignation on national television, and the junta leader does not want new elections for four years.
In September 2021, the Guinean president was also overthrown by a military junta that remains in power to this day.
Burkina Faso has also seen its share of coup attempts and military coups. In 1987, Compaoré came to power by force. And in 2015, soldiers loyal to him tried to overthrow the transitional government set up after his ousting. The army eventually managed to reinstate the transitional authorities, who took over the lead until Kaboré won the elections and took office.
Associated Press writers Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, and Arsène Kaboré in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, contributed to this report.