Burkina Faso Junta Isolated Internationally As Violence Worsens

The West African nation of Burkina Faso faces increasing international isolation while the threat of Islamist insurgency grows larger. The junta government is at odds with the United States, France, and U.N. over various grievances, including discontent over the junta’s legitimacy and its promises to restore democracy.

Leaders from 2022 coups cited security deterioration and the failure of previous governments to curb the violence of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State-aligned militant groups as key motivations for their respective takeovers.

Burkina Faso faced two separate coups in 2022, one in January that saw Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, the first non-military ruler of the country in 50 years, deposed by a junta led by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba. Damiba was then deposed in September during a coup by Captain Ibrahim Traoré. Both Damiba and Traoré cited their predecessor’s failures to contain the on-going cross-border Islamist insurgency burning through West Africa and the Sahel, with the most recent rise in violence in 2015. Traoré has promised to return Burkina Faso to democracy by 2024, but international and local governments doubt his statements, with Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo alleging deep connections between Traoré’s government and the Russian terrorist/paramilitary Wagner Group.

Following the military takeover, the United States removed Burkina Faso from its African Growth and Opportunity Act (A.G.O.A.). U.S. Trade Representative stated the “unconstitutional change” in the nation’s government following the coups as the reason. Tensions now escalate as last week, a Burkinabe government spokesperson confirmed that the junta had requested the French ambassador to be re-called without citing a reason, though some suggest this to be indicative of the growing anti-French sentiment in West Africa following France’s exit from the region. The Burkinabe government also told the senior-most U.N. official in the country, Resident Coordinator Barbara Manzi, that she leave Burkina Faso immediately.

Despite the juntas claims to curb violence, attacks against civilians continue to rise. Burkinabe people continue to suffer at the hands of unrestrained violence, mostly in Northern regions along Mali and Niger. At least 28 people were found shot by Islamist militants on New Year’s Eve in the north-west region.

A local group called the Collective against Impunity and Stigmatisation of Communities (C.I.S.C.) said that the violence was carried out by armed civilians masquerading as members of an auxiliary force who, “freely engage in organised looting and targeted abuses of [the] civilian population.”

A major driver of these coups is legitimate fear and discontent over Burkina Faso’s response to the Islamist insurgency, a conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands and forced over two million people to flee their homes. In January of 2022, Damiba’s coup was met with cheering crowds as people believed that the military junta would improve the country’s security situation. But the junta’s increasing diplomatic isolation will likely only exacerbate insecurity, as western nations refuse aid until the nation’s democratic institutions improve. While isolation policies against the military juntas may be deserved, the international community needs to evaluate how to balance incentives to keep the Burkinabe government competent enough to protect its people, but fluid enough to be amenable to democratisation.