Coup d’état in Burkina Faso: ​​'We thought it would happen sooner or later'

Screenshot of a video posted on Twitter on January 24, showing a presidential guard vehicle with bullet holes, not far from the residence of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Screenshot of a video posted on Twitter on January 24, showing a presidential guard vehicle with bullet holes, not far from the residence of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. © Twitter / @diassault.

Uniformed soldiers announced on national television that they had taken power in Burkina Faso on Monday evening, January 24. The announcement came at the end of a confusing day, marked by uncertainties around the fate of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré. The rumour of a potential coup d'état was already circulating in the country after mutinies in several cities on Sunday to demand the departure of army chiefs.

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On the evening of January 24, the military announced that it was taking power in Burkina Faso, closing the borders at midnight, dissolving the government and the National Assembly, and suspending the constitution.

Those behind the coup had united in a new transitional group called the "Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration" (MPSR), chaired by Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba. The group pledged to "reestablish constitutional order" within "a reasonable time".

The coup, denounced by the UN, was announced on national television after two days of tension in Burkina Faso.

'We stayed silent at first, we didn't really know what was going on'

The unrest began on Saturday night when mutinies broke out in several barracks across the country. The first shots were heard around 4am in Ouagadougou, in the Goughin neighbourhood not far from the Sangoulé-Lamizana military camp. 

Our Observer Freddy Lino, who works in communications, was there at the time, and posted several photos and videos on social media:

I had just returned, as I live not far from the main entrance to the camp, when I heard warning shots. They continued until 10am. Then it stopped. Then the shooting started again in the evening, around 11pm. We stayed silent at first, we didn't really know what was going on.

Video taken on Saturday night by Freddy Lino, near the Sangoulé-Lamizana military camp in Ouagadougou. Shots can be heard echoing in the background.
Another video taken on Saturday night by Freddy Lino, not far from the Sangoulé-Lamizana military camp in Ouagadougou. Here again, shots are heard.

Heavy gunfire was also reported in two other locations in the city: near the General-Baba-Sy camp and at the air base. On Sunday, the government confirmed the shooting, while denying a "military takeover". A curfew was however put in place from 8pm to 5.30am.

Questions about the fate of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré

On Sunday evening, gunfire was also heard near the presidential palace. On January 24, images shared online showed presidential guard vehicles riddled with bullet holes. The interior of one of them was stained with blood.

"According to several sources, the president #Kabore was arrested by soldiers. This morning at 200 [metres] from his private residence we could see this 4x4 of the presidential guard but it's impossible to know who was in it," reads this Tweet in French.
"An official Lexus of Burkina Faso, riddled with bullets, abandoned in the Patte d'Oie neighbourhood, where President Kaboré lived," reads this Tweet in French.

All day Monday, contradictory information circulated regarding President Kaboré's fate. Security sources first told FRANCE 24 and AFP that he was being held in a military camp. But information from a government source then assured that he had been "exfiltrated" by his guard in order to escape arrest.

In the early afternoon, a message calling for the laying down of arms to "safeguard [the] democratic gains" of Burkina Faso was posted on the president's Twitter account – although it is not clear who wrote the post. 

'It felt like we didn't know where the country was going'

The military's statement on national television was not unexpected on Monday. That morning, hooded soldiers had taken up position in front of the headquarters of Burkina Faso's national broadcaster. Demonstrators had also mobilised in a central square of Ouagadougou, in support of the coup. 

Soldiers in front of the national television station on Monday morning.
A group of demonstrators converged on Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, chanting the national anthem in support of the coup.

Clément Bassolé, a resident of Ouagadougou, told us how he felt after two days of uncertainty: 

On Sunday, we were woken up at about 4am by heavy gunfire. The internet connection was blocked, so we had to call friends to find out what was going on. Friends first told me it was temporary unrest, but during the day the shooting intensified, so I started to barricade my house. 

I think the majority of people in Burkina Faso wanted things to stop, because it felt like we didn't know where the country was going. Actually today, people went about their business, which means that they were expecting this outcome. 

On Monday afternoon, the ruling party [of President Kaboré] issued a statement calling for people to protest, but no one took heed of this [Editor's note: The statement denounced, among other things, an "aborted attempt to assassinate the president"].

Then, when the announcement was made that the army had overthrown the president, I was in a bar, and people reacted by shouting with joy, because many had been disappointed with him since 2015. This coup is not a surprise. But I am cautious about the military and their real ambitions.

Freddy Lino agreed that the coup was not a surprise:

It's not a surprise, especially since there was discontent, in particular due to the Internet cut-off [Editor's note: The government cut off mobile internet for several days at the end of November], so we thought it would happen sooner or later... But we wondered who would do it, and when.

After an announcement like that, we always wonder what will happen and we remain on high alert for the next steps, knowing that the situation is already very complicated in the country. This time, it is young people who have made this coup announcement. The problem is that it is complicated to lead a country when you have no experience in politics. So we'll see, because "the proof is in the pudding".

The 'inability' to fight terrorism at the heart of the political crisis

Interviewed on FRANCE 24 before the coup was announced, Jean-Claude Félix Tchicaya, a researcher at the Institute for Prospects and Security in Europe, believes that the situation could have been predicted since Kaboré took power in 2015: 

"Mr. Kaboré came to power after popular anger and a 27-year rule of Mr. Compaoré. Within this power, there was already a schism between the former military close to Compaoré [...] and the civil power of Mr. Kaboré.  [...] What presides over this major crisis is what some say is an incapacity or at least an inconsistency in terms of strategy to combat jihadism, terrorism, and economic and social insecurity."