OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — More than a dozen mutinous soldiers declared Monday on state television that a military junta now controls Burkina Faso after they detained the democratically elected president following a day of gunbattles in the capital.
The military coup is the third of its kind in West Africa in the last 18 months, creating upheaval in some of the countries hardest hit by Islamic extremists attacks.
Capt. Sidsore Kaber Ouedraogo said the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration “has decided to assume its responsibilities before history.” They cited the deteriorating security situation amid the deepening Islamic insurgency and the president’s inability to manage the crisis.
It was not immediately known where President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was, and the junta spokesman said only that the coup had taken place “without any physical violence against those arrested, who are being held in a safe place, with respect for their dignity.”
He said the new military leaders would work to establish a calendar “acceptable to everyone” for holding new elections without giving further details.
After the televised announcement, crowds took to the streets, cheering and honking car horns in support of the takeover. People hoped that the coup would ease the devastation they have endured since jihadist violence spread across the country.
“This is an opportunity for Burkina Faso to regain its integrity. The previous regime sunk us. People are dying daily. Soldiers are dying. There are thousands of displaced,” said Manuel Sip, a protester in downtown Ouagadougou. The army should have acted faster in ousting the president, he said.
The communique read aloud on state broadcaster RTB was signed by the country’s apparent new military leader, Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba. He sat beside the spokesman without addressing the camera during the announcement.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on coup leaders to lay down their arms. He reiterated the U.N.’s “full commitment to the preservation of the constitutional order” in Burkina Faso and support for the people in their efforts “to find solutions to the multifaceted challenges facing the country,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The U.N. chief said the military takeover was part of “an epidemic of coups around the world and in that region.”
In a statement, Kabore’s political party accused the mutinous soldiers of trying to assassinate the president and another government minister and said the presidential palace in Ouagadougou remained surrounded by “heavily armed and hooded men.”
Gunfire erupted early Sunday when soldiers took control of a major military barracks in the capital, Ouagadougou. In response, civilians rallied in a show of support for the rebellion but were dispersed by security forces firing tear gas. Burkina Faso has seen a series of anti-government protests as anger has mounted over the handling of the Islamic insurgency.
Groups of people celebrated again in the streets of the capital Monday morning after reports of Kabore’s capture.
Kabore was elected in 2015 after a popular uprising ousted longtime strongman President Blaise Compaore. Kabore was reelected in November 2020, but frustration has been growing at his inability to stem the spread of jihadist violence across the country. Attacks linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are escalating, killing thousands and displacing more than an estimated 1.5 million people.
The military has suffered losses since the extremist violence began in 2016. In December, more than 50 security forces were killed and nine more died in November.
Mutinous soldiers told the AP that the government was out of touch with troops and that they wanted military rule. Among their demands are more forces in the battle against extremists and better care for the wounded and the families of the dead.
About 100 military members have planned the takeover since August, according to one of the mutinous soldiers.
Sahel experts say the government was overstretched, but it’s unlikely the mutiny will change anything.
“Burkina Faso’s army is profoundly ill-equipped and unprepared for the war it’s asked to fight. It’s out of its depth. Its frustration with an equally out-of-its-depth government is understandable. Regrettably, this is unlikely to improve anything,” said Michael Shurkin, a former political analyst at the CIA and director of global programs at 14 North Strategies, a business intelligence consultancy based in Senegal.
But as protests over the weekend and on Monday showed, discontent among the general population is also growing.
“People are tired with this situation of insecurity. Every day, people are killed. In Burkina, there are areas that can’t be accessed. We have lost a big part of our territory,” said Jean-Baptiste Ilboudou, a civilian who was biking near the military base when gunshots were heard.
The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, which already has suspended Mali and Guinea in the past 18 months over military coups, issued a statement of support for Burkina Faso’s embattled president and urged dialogue with the mutineers.
Burkina Faso has also seen its share of coup attempts and military takeovers — though it experienced a period of relative stability under Compaore, who ruled for 27 years until his ouster in 2014.
Earlier this month, authorities arrested a group of soldiers accused of participating in a foiled coup plot. It was not immediately known whether there was any connection between those soldiers and the ones rebelling now. Military prosecutors said nine soldiers and two civilians were being held in connection with the plot.
In 1987, Compaore came to power by force. And in 2015, soldiers loyal to him attempted to overthrow the transitional government put into place after his ouster. The army was ultimately able to put the transitional authorities back in power, who led again until Kabore won an election and took office.