Soldiers are frustrated at the president’s inability to quell violence in the country
Burkina Faso President Roch Kabore has reportedly been detained in a military camp by mutinying soldiers demanding better conditions for fighting chronic attacks by jihadist militants since 2015, security and diplomatic sources said.
Residents heard heavy gunfire around Mr Kabore’s residence in the capital Ouagadougou on Sunday night, while armoured SUVs used by the presidential fleet were found abandoned in the streets on Monday, some of them peppered by bullet holes, and one was spattered with blood.
The Burkinabe president was not heard from after congratulating his country’s football national team on Sunday night for beating Gabon to advance to the Afrika Cup of Nations quarter-finals.
The mutinous soldiers reportedly demand the sacking of the military’s chief of staff and the intelligence services chief. They are also asking for more troops to be deployed to the frontline, better work conditions for soldiers in the barracks, and better care for wounded soldiers and their families.
The French embassy in Burkina Faso said on Monday the situation in the country remained confusing and advised French nationals not to go outdoors.
In a message on its website, the embassy said that French schools would remain closed on Monday and Tuesday and that two Air France flights scheduled for Monday evening had been cancelled.
Government sources could not immediately be reached on Monday by Reuters, which confirmed the president’s capture.
Defence Minister Gen Barthelemy Simpore downplayed on Sunday night reports about sustained gunfire in several military camps and rumours that the president has been detained.
The Western African country has been facing constant attacks by al-Qaeda en die Islamic State (Isis) militants spilling over from neighbouring Mali, which in December saw the end of a nine-year French-led military operation to push back extremists in the north.
But recently, escalation by the two militant groups appeared to have taken new dimensions, where al-Qaeda has carried out attacks in the north and northwest, while Isis consolidated its grip in the east and on the border with neighbouring Niger.
Sunday’s military rebellion aims to cut the heavy losses the military and security forces have suffered in the past months. But analysts say the army is ill-equipped and lacks the experience and training to be able to turn around the fight against the insurgents.
Journalists and eyewitnesses in Ouagadougou said the traffic flow was normal on Monday, with a heavy military presence around the state news station.
AP reported that fighting began on Sunday when soldiers took control of the Lamizana Sangoule military barracks in the capital. Media reports said that President Kabore, the head of parliament, and the ministers are currently being held in the base.
Mr Kabore has led Burkina Faso since 2015 after the end of nearly thirty years under former president and strongman Blaise Compaore in a popular uprising. Mr Kabore was re-elected in November 2020 for another five-year term in office.
Protesters have already shown signs of public support to the soldiers. Civilians marched on Sunday towards the presidential palace but were met by security forces with teargas and were dispersed.
The mutiny came a day after a public demonstration calling for Kabore’s resignation due to his government’s inability to quell the militants’ attacks which resulted in closing more than 3,000 schools across the country this month.
The terrorist insurgency has also caused the internal displacement of more than 1.4 million people and food insecurity for more than 2.8 million people, according to the UN.
Soldiers and protesters are also reportedly angry at the high death toll among the military and civilians. Last June, meer as 160 people were killed in an attack on the northern village of Solhan, militants burned homes and the local market.
In the north, where the insurgency has only intensified, insurgents killed 19 Burkina Faso military police and a civilian in November.