West Africa’s fifth successful coup in just over two years is testing a regional bloc that’s running out of ideas to maintain political stability in the face of threats by jihadists.
The Economic Community of West African States, which aims to create a trading bloc and promote democracy, is negotiating a return to civilian rule in three member states including Burkina Faso, where the latest coup occurred this week. The country’s now-ousted leadership had agreed for elections to be held by July 2024 to restore democracy.
“Ecowas finds this new coup unfortunate at a time when progress had been made, through diplomatic and Ecowas efforts, to ensure a methodical return to democracy,” the 15-nation bloc said Friday in a statement calling for the deadline of July 2024 to be maintained.
The African Union echoed that call in a separate statement.
Burkina Faso, Africa’s fourth-biggest gold producer, has been under military rule since Jan. 24 when mutinous soldiers forced then-President Roch Marc Christian Kabore to resign. The regional bloc had initially hoped for a quick return to civilian rule after a succession of putsches suspended constitutional order. Mali and Guinea, the world’s top bauxite producer, have also succumbed to coups since August 2020.
Meanwhile, Niger President Mohamed Bazoum and his Guinea-Bissau counterpart, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, have both survived military attempts to topple their governments in the past 18 months. It’s gotten so bad that Embalo, who currently holds the one-year rotating presidency of Ecowas, floated the idea of creating an anti-putsch force to deter coup plotters.
In Mali and Burkina Faso, those originally seizing power from civilian governments did so on the grounds that national security was under threat by jihadists who’ve destabilized the wider region. But power grabs could also make the region more vulnerable to Islamist attacks by creating vacuums or jeopardizing military cooperation.
Mali and Burkina Faso have now faced second coups with control moving between military leaders.
In the latter, the same junta, known by its French acronym MPSR, remains in power after replacing Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba over his inability to stem jihadist violence, a junta spokesman said Friday on the state broadcaster, Radio Television du Burkina. Still, the new leadership ditched the democratic transition plan, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the cabinet and parliament. It also closed all borders and imposed a curfew.
Damiba, a 41-year-old colonel, had himself seized power in January, toppling Kabore over failure to quash Islamist violence. His replacement, Ibrahim Traore, a 34-year old captain, was named new MPSR President.
Ecowas’ attempts to restore civilian rule in the region have so far been met with little success. The bloc imposed strict economic and trade sanctions on Mali for six months, but took a softer stance in Burkina Faso and Guinea, conceding to longer-than-demanded transitions. In Guinea-Bissau, it deployed soldiers to protect Embalo in a rare military intervention.
In his first interview Saturday, Burkina Faso’s new junta leader sought to reassure the bloc that civilian rule could be restored even faster than agreed with the ousted regime.
“We don’t need two years,” Traore told Voice of America. “Ecowas shouldn’t worry about its timeline. We’re not here to hold on to power.”
(Updates with quote from new junta leaderin last paragraph)
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