Home LATEST NEWS One coup after another in West Africa

One coup after another in West Africa

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The former Chadian president Idriss Déby is officially killed in combat while going to physically defend a border of his country against rebel commandos; his son then declared a state of emergency and established a de facto military dictatorship.

This succession of putschs takes place in parallel with the advances of jihadism in the Sahel, a vast semi-desert expanse of North Africa which goes from Mauritania to Chad via Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

With an Islamist guerrilla historically from the North (conflicts in Algeria, Libya), which is causing more and more damage. Since 2015, it has killed 7,000 people in Burkina Faso alone (and possibly 20,000 across the region), sometimes including foreigners sitting on restaurant terraces.

For six or seven years, frequent and deadly terrorist attacks, targeting civilians, law enforcement and foreigners – the bloody attack of January 2016 at the Hotel Splendid in Ouagadougou left 30 dead, including six Quebecers – shook the country. Thousands of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands forcibly displaced.

A man crosses the street as debris burns around it.

Protesters against Burkinabe President Marc Christian Kabore erected burning barricades in Ouagadougou ahead of his overthrow.

Photo: AFP / OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT

In Ouagadougou, the Burkinabé capital, events rushed after a violently repressed anti-government demonstration on Saturday 22 January.

The following day, Sunday January 23, mutinies broke out in some barracks, the soldiers complaining (for a long time) of not having adequate means in the fight against terrorism.

And then on Monday, January 24, the overthrow of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was officially announced on television by the military.

Mali, Guinea, Burkina…

In Mali, it was last spring: in fact, the completion of a putsch in two stages.

Already in August 2020, the Malian military had ousted the elected civilian power, but promised to leave quickly and restore democracy. Promise not kept. They doubled down in May 2021 with their coup phase II, the military announcing this time that they exercised power and would remain there for years.

In September 2021, it was the turn of Guinea-Conakry, where President Alpha Condé (who, like others before him, had changed the Constitution to stay in power) was driven out at gunpoint.

And finally in January 2022, Burkina Faso, where President Kaboré did not have the reputation of a cheat or a corrupt person. He had been elected and re-elected (in 2015 and 2020) with clear majorities and apparently clean.

Many men show their joy in a street.  Some are blowing vuvuzelas, others are waving national flags.  A man lying on the ground holds posters of the country's new strongman.

These Burkinabés were openly celebrating the ousting of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré on Tuesday in the streets of Ouagadougou.

Photo: The Canadian Press/AP/Sophie Garcia

But what he was instead reproached for, in an increasingly bitter and radical way, was his impotence in the face of jihad and terrorism.

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From coup to coup, the scenario repeats itself: an elected president is deposed by a group of army officers, who demand more resources to deal with terrorism, mutinied and went to the action, while denouncing the Western military presence.

A decisive point: the massacre of Inata

In recent months in Burkina Faso, the decisive point will undoubtedly have been the massacre of November 14 in Inata, a town in the northeast of the country. Militiamen affiliated with Al-Qaeda then attacked a barracks, killing around 50 gendarmes, left practically without weapons or logistical support.

The terrorists responsible for the killing – claimed – were members of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), affiliated with al-Qaeda, which had previously driven from this same region an enemy group, the Islamic State in the Great Sahara.

Infiltration by major rival terrorist groups, inter-militia wars, isolated populations taken hostage, forcibly displaced, immense territories (Mali is almost as large as Quebec), weakened and powerless states, decline of local democracy, military coups , Westerners who think they have come to help, but who are denounced as imperialists, this is the sad summary of geopolitics in the Sahel in 2022.

Malian demonstrators brandish placards on which are written slogans favorable to the putschist soldiers and hostile to France.

Malian demonstrators hold up placards on which are written slogans favorable to the putschist soldiers and hostile to France, on August 22, 2020.

Photo: Reuters / Moussa Kalapo

Cheering crowd and Russian flags

After the dismissal of President Kaboré in Ouagadougou, demonstrators were seen taking to the streets, cheering for the junta while waving flags, including Russian flags!

We asked the president several times to leave, but he did not listen to us. Instead, the army listened to us and understood, said a protester in the street, interviewed by AFP in a vox pop in Ouagadougou.

As far as we are concerned, this is not a coup, another protester said, it is the liberation of a country that was ruled by incompetent people.

A few hours after the coup, a journalist from the Reuters news agency saw a group burning a French flag, with placards on which was written: Together, we say no to France. We say shit to France!

And yet another pro-Russian testimony, this one collected by Reuters from a protester: Today, the people of Burkina Faso ask for the support of Russia to accompany them in this fierce struggle that is imposed on us..

Moscow Offensive in Africa

Moscow, as we know, is in the midst of a major offensive – military, diplomatic, political, symbolic – to affirm, or reaffirm, Russia as a world power, after the Soviet collapse of the early 1990s. first against Ukraine and Europe, of course, but not only.

In Africa, attempts are being made to capitalize on anti-Western sentiment, with the deployment of mercenary networks, mainly the famous Wagner Group, formed in the early 2010s around retired Russian ex-soldiers.

After having made his debut in the Donbass (Ukraine) and in Syria, he then intervened in Libya, in the Central African Republic, more recently in Mali and Burkina Faso. With detachments ranging from a few hundred to 1000 or 1500 men. Officially unrelated to the Kremlin, this paramilitary group is actually funded by billionaire Yevgeny Prigojine, a close friend of Vladimir Putin.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch wrote that the Wagner Group was guilty of violence against civilians and looting of mineral resources, particularly in the Central African Republic. In Bamako – and perhaps soon in Ouagadougou – anti-French sentiment seems to be driving the new military authorities closer to the Russians.

It is very doubtful that a few hundred Russian paramilitaries can go to do work against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Sahel, where thousands of professional French soldiers would have failed.

This is, however, an increasingly widespread belief in these two capitals, where the anti-colonialist rhetoric of the new coup leaders – and of part of the population who support them – is aimed at Europeans, but not Russians, seen by some as new saviors.

Announced withdrawal from France

The sequence opened in January 2013 with the military intervention of France at the call of the authorities then in Bamako (theOperation Serval, later renamed Operation Barkhane, with the addition of foreign soldiers) seems to be coming to an end, in a rather pitiful way.

France has already begun a withdrawal movement of its 5,000 or so soldiers in Mali, which despite some occasional victories against the jihadists, has not prevented their rise to power over the years.

Rather than leaving unilaterally, tail between legs, like the Americans fleeing Afghanistan in August 2021, Paris still hopes to maintain some form of intervention, within a UN or European framework.

In the name of the war against terrorism and the containment of migration, the European powers are wondering what to do. But what we have seen for seven years in the Sahel is not conclusive and looks more and more like a sword in the sand.

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