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On September 30, Burkina Faso experienced its second military coup in approximately eight months. Captain Ibrahim Traore, Burkina Faso’s new 34 year-old military leader, seized control from Paul Henri-Damiba. Traore claims Damiba, who only rose to power in January of 2022, failed to contain violence from rebel fighters tormenting the country. Traore capitalized on the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso to depose Damiba, who he accused of exacerbating the violence. Since Damiba took power in his own coup in January, violence increased by 23%. Rebel fighters, connected to both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, killed thousands of Burkinabe and displaced approximately 455,000 people between January and August of this year. Traore has made various promises since taking power in September; he ensures an end to the cyclical violence and promises to return power to the people by 2024.
The situation in Burkina Faso has remained volatile for years. The government only controls 60% of the country, with the remaining 40% under the control of various armed factions. A hunger crisis impacts nearly 650,000 people, and the United Nations estimated nearly 4.9 million Burkinabe are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Blockades by armed militias prevent vital aid from reaching towns and villages. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned Traore’s recent power grab, only months after suspending Burkina Faso during Damiba’s military takeover. ECOWAS claims the most recent coup upended slow but steady progress made by the state towards a return to constitutional order.
The situation in Burkina Faso has wide reaching implications. Anti-French sentiment, resulting from France’s colonial history in the area, festers within the state. This anti-French sentiment contributed partially to Damiba’s political demise; he received criticism for working with France to combat the violence from armed groups. Allegations that Damiba sought shelter in a French military base following his removal from office only exacerbated growing distaste for French involvement. Traore, on the other hand, has garnered immense support from anti-French groups, including some groups with an overlapping pro-Russian sentiment. The leader of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization with ties to Vladimir Putin, congratulated Traore and called him a “son of his motherland.” In the streets following Traore’s power grab, some supporters waved Russian flags. This raised fears in the international community of potential Russian involvement in Burkina Faso, and what that would mean for the security situation in the greater Sahel. It represents a possible regional shift towards Russia and away from the West, at a time when Russia has deeply uprooted the norms of the international community. Western leaders fear that Russian influence in the Sahel could lead to more coups resulting in pro-Russian governments.