West African leaders are due to confer to discuss how to respond to a coup in conflict-hit Burkina Faso earlier this week, the latest in a wave of military power grabs in the region that has prompted fears of further instability.
The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc had suspended and imposed sanctions on Burkina Faso’s neighbours Mali and Guinea following coups in August 2020 and September 2021, respectively.
Its extraordinary virtual meeting on Friday comes hours after Burkina Faso’s new military ruler called for international support in his first address to the nation since he led the overthrow of democratically elected President Roch Kabore on Monday.
“Burkina Faso more than ever needs its international partners,” Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba said in televised comments on Thursday. “I call on the international community to support our country so it can exit this crisis as soon as possible.”
On Tuesday, ECOWAS issued a statement to say the bloc “firmly condemns” the coup, accusing the military of forcing Kabore to resign “under threat, intimidation and pressure”. Kabore, 64, remains in detention, with the United Nations leading calls for his release.
In his speech from the capital, Ouagadougou, Damiba said he would convene various sections of Burkina Faso’s society to agree on a roadmap to plan and carry out needed reforms.
“When the conditions are right, according to the deadline that our people will define in all sovereignty, I commit to a return to a normal constitutional order,” he added, wearing a red beret, army fatigues and flanked by national flags.
‘Go on the offensive’
The coup makers, who call themselves the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration (MPSR), have detained Kabore, accusing him of failing to contain a worsening security crisis that has seen fighters linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) assert control in parts of the country.
Damiba said security would be the “main priority” and put the country on war footing.
“We must significantly reduce the areas under terrorist influence and the impact of violent extremism by giving security forces the will to fight, and we must go on the offensive.”
Kabore was elected in 2015 following a popular revolt that forced out longtime ruler Blaise Compaore. He was re-elected in 2020, but the following year faced a wave of anger over the mounting toll from an increasingly bloody conflict that has spilled over from neighbouring Mali.
The fighting has killed thousands of people and forced millions from their homes across West Africa’s portion of the Sahel region. This year, nearly 15 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger will need humanitarian assistance, four million people more than in 2021, the UN said on Thursday.
“It is a grim picture,” said Martin Griffiths, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, as he launched a $2bn appeal for humanitarian response.
“Conflict, drought and food insecurity, gender-based violence – all growing more quickly than the support that is available,” he said.
The coup makers in Mali and Guinea, as well as in the Central African nation of Chad, where the military took power in April 2021, have all set up transitional governments with a mixture of military officers and civilians.
The leaders in Mali and Chad agreed to 18-month transitions to democratic elections, while Guinea’s has not yet laid out a timeline.
Malian authorities, however, have gone back on their original commitment and have proposed delaying elections, originally scheduled for next month.