Burkina Faso president Roch Kaboré has called on mutinous soldiers to lay down their arms amid reports that he had been detained in what appears to be the latest in a wave of attempted coups in west Africa.
“Our nation is going through difficult times,” he wrote on Twitter. “We must safeguard our democratic gains at this very moment. I invite those who have taken up arms to lay them down in the best interests of the nation. It is through dialogue and listening that we must resolve our contradictions.”
Diplomats told the Financial Times that it was unclear whether Kaboré had been detained by mutineers or was being guarded by loyal soldiers. News agencies reported that he had been arrested the day after gunfire erupted near his residence and at military barracks in the landlocked west African country. The French embassy in Ouagadougou said the situation was “confusing”, as Air France cancelled two flights scheduled for Monday night.
The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) regional bloc described the situation as “an attempted coup” and called on the soldiers to lay down their arms and engage “in dialogue with the authorities to resolve the problems”.
The situation has emerged as frustration boils over about a lack of progress against the jihadist threat that has left thousands dead and millions displaced. Al-Qaeda and Isis-linked groups have in just a few years taken over wide swaths of Burkina Faso.
“The country is cracking under the tremendous stress jihadist insurgents have been placing on it for several years,” said Michael Shurkin, an ex-CIA intelligence analyst and director of global programmes at Dakar-based consultancy 14 North Strategies. “Neither its government nor its security forces are up to the enormous challenges the country faces and the population seems to be casting about for new solutions.”
The unrest comes after Kaboré’s administration banned mass anti-government protests triggered by spiralling instability. On Sunday, the government denied there was a coup, imposed an 8pm-5am curfew and cut mobile internet access, which most Burkinabe use, while protesters set fire to the ruling party’s headquarters.
The disturbances in Burkina Faso follow successful coups in Guinea, where soldiers removed president Alpha Condé in September after he pursued an extra-constitutional third term, and in Mali, where a group of colonels first seized power in August 2020. The military also seized power in Sudan last October and in Chad last year after president Idriss Déby’s death.
The ruling junta in Mali at first installed a civilian-led government, with coup leader Colonel Assimi Goïta acting as vice-president, and promised a swift return to democracy. But last May, Goïta ousted the interim government and installed himself as president and the junta has now said the transition back to regular elections could take until December 2025.
Sanctions imposed by Ecowas have only boosted the junta’s popularity in Mali and have not damped down the frustrations of ordinary people. Many are sick of the violence that has spread across the region since jihadis first seized northern Mali in 2012.
No country has suffered as swift or as brutal a fall as Burkina Faso, which was once seen as a paragon of stability in the region. The number of internally displaced people in the country has risen 18-fold in three years to 1.6m as of last week, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Over the past two years, the violence has been increasingly concentrated on the country’s thousands of artisanal gold mines, where jihadis — keen for lucrative sources of funding — have perpetrated massacres, levied taxes on miners and taken full control of mining operations.