The new wave of coups in the West African sub-region is troubling
In what has become a familiar spectacle, a group of soldiers led by a 35-year-old Major Ibrahim Traore announced that they had toppled the wobbly government of Col. Paul-Henri Damiba, himself a coup leader who overthrew the civilian government early this year. Although the new leader has promised to respect all existing international obligations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is yet to understand or get reconciled to the new situation let alone announcing sanctions or an engagement road map.
The reasons for the latest coup sound all too familiar in West Africa’s new coup-riddled landscape. They range from the failure of the deposed leader to check jihadist insurgency and increasing violence and insecurity to the worsening social and economic conditions in the country. Instructively, the latest coup succeeded in the streets before the coup makers declared a military success. Throngs of citizens had trooped out at the sound of gunfire in the vicinity of the seat of government in anticipation of a change long foretold. After the formal announcement of the coup, crowds massed in the streets in a jubilant salute. The deposed Damiba has since fled to neighboring Togo ostensibly on exile.
In recent months, a combination of jihadist insurgents in the northern and eastern parts of the country had engendered widespread insecurity in the country. Killings of many civilians and soldiers alike had become rampant. Significantly, the pressure of jihadist violence from the Sahel has created widespread political instability across West Africa leading to the military overthrow of civilian governments in Guinea, Mali, Chad, Sudan and Burkina Faso. In all these recent coups, the same set of reasons and justifications have been advanced.
In addition to jihadist militant pressure, the progressive withdrawal of France and French troops as a stabilising force has exposed the former French colonies on the West African coast to the ambition of politicised soldiers. A succession of weak and effete civilian administrations have made political intervention attractive to politicised soldiers. Notably, as the French interest and influence has diminished, there has been an increase in Russian mercenary presence and official Moscow interest in the region.
In what looks like a subtle recolonisation of the affected territories, the Russian government through the Wagner Group pays itself through mining contracts and concessions with unlimited access to minerals deposits. Given the rather close proximity between the Wagner Group and the Kremlin, it is little wonder that some of the crowds that trooped out in Ouagadougou to welcome the new government carried Russian flags and placards denouncing France.
Increasing Russian presence and interest in West Africa signals a significant shift of Western sphere of influence from West Africa where France had been the major holding power. In the specific instance of Burkina Faso, the recent coup indicates a further degeneration of a political situation that had been deteriorating since after the assassination of the charismatic Thomas Sankara. Successive attempts at democracy have been bedeviled by chronic economic hardship caused by instability in the international prices of the country’s mostly primary exports especially cotton. The landlocked country mostly dependent on the production of primary products has witnessed worsening social and economic conditions. Incidentally, democratic legitimacy has never been a replacement for sound economic management.
For Burkina Faso, the challenge is even more daunting. Both successive democratic regimes and the military juntas have all cultivated loyalty within a politicised military establishment which implies an inbuilt instability. Moreover, the effect of climate change on agricultural crop production for export and domestic consumption means ingrained economic and social unrest, the perennial excuses of lazy coup makers. The way out remains the restoration of a legitimate democratic government with an enhanced capacity for sound economic management to attract greater international support and assistance.