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PoliticsBurkina Faso

Ousted Burkina Faso leader Damiba in Togo after coup

October 3, 2022

Togo's government has confirmed reports that Burkina Faso's ousted coup leader Paul-Henri Damiba fled there following a mutiny of junior officers. Meanwhile, ECOWAS envoys were being sent to Ouagadougou.

Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba attends his swearing-in ceremony in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Feb. 16, 2022.
Damiba himself was sworn in as president in February after taking power in a January coupImage: (Burkina Faso's Presidency/Handout/Xinhua/picture alliance

Togo's government said on Monday that ousted Burkina Faso coup leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba had taken refuge there in the aftermath of the latest military putsch in Ouagadougou on Friday. 

The minister of communication and government spokesman, Akodah Ayewouadan, said Damiba was in Togo as part of the country's commitment to "peace in the sub-region." 

"Togo, like ECOWAS, welcomes the fact that the spirit of peace has prevailed," he told the AFP news agency. "The reception of ... Damiba is part of this spirit."

Unconfirmed reports of Damiba's presence in Togo, originating from diplomatic sources, had circulated over the weekend as the two military leaders and their supporters vied for control of the country.  

Captain Ibrahim Traore had blamed Damiba's forces for conducting a "counteroffensive" with French assistance, prompting a categorical denial from France and violence at the country's embassy in Ouagadougou. Damiba had issued a statement calling on the breakaway military leaders to "come to their senses." 

Burkina Faso's self-declared new leader Ibrahim Traore is welcomed by supporters
Traore said he would not object to holding election by July 2024Image: Vincent Bado/REUTERS

On Sunday, Damiba and Traore then issued a joint statement brokered by local mediators announcing that Damiba was willing to step aside on certain conditions. These included guaranteeing the safety of him and his supporters, and keeping to the pledges his junta had made to the international community about a rather sluggish return to democratic government by the middle of 2024.

ECOWAS welcomes end to violence, sends delegation

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) welcomed that the rival officers in Ouagadougou had "accepted a peaceful settlement of their differences" and said it would send a diplomatic delegation to the country. On Monday, it said this process had been delayed by one day for "logistical reasons," and that the delegates would reach the capital on Tuesday. 

The team is headed by Guinea-Bissau Foreign Minister Suzi Carla Barbosa and includes former Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, the bloc's mediator on Burkina Faso.

The regional bloc has become somewhat accustomed to dealing with such situations, amid a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso in recent years, with all three countries currently under nominally interim military rule. 

In Burkina Faso's case, Traore blamed Damiba — as Damiba had blamed elected President Roch Marc Christian Kabore in January — for not doing enough to fight Islamist rebels in the country. The 34-year-old captain complained in an interview with Voice of America of poor conditions and inadequate equipment for his troops in the field. 

"I go on patrol with my men and we don't have the basic logistics," he told VoA. "In some villages, the trees don't have leaves because people eat the leaves. They eat weeds. We've proposed solutions that will enable us to protect these people, but we are not listened to. We made so many proposals." 

The seven-year campaign has claimed thousands of lives, displaced millions and left more than a third of the country's territory out of government control. 

Thousands flee violence in Burkina Faso

Meanwhile, Traore told Radio France Internationale that he would not object to keeping to Damiba's promises of holding democratic elections by July 2024, which ECOWAS had keenly sought. 

"We hope that the return to normal constitutional order will take place even before that date, if the situation allows it," he told RFI. "Our wish is that it can be done before 2024." 

"Why continue?," he asked, claiming that his priority was "the fight" against jihadis who have become increasingly active since the coup in January. He indicated that he was hoping to set up some kind of new civilian or military transitional authority incorporating political, social and civil society forces, saying he wanted such a group to assemble for the first time during this calendar year. 

France leaving coup-ridden region as Russia enters

Former colonial power France has been disengaging militarily from the region amid the military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea. 

Meanwhile, Russian paramilitaries, including the Wagner Group, are supporting the juntas in Mali and the Central African Republic, contributing to the French decision. They have faced allegations of massacres and other abuses. 

Traore played into these tensions over the weekend, accusing Damiba's loyalists of collaboration with France without providing evidence. His takeover on Friday had followed public demonstrations calling for a complete French withdrawal from the region and closer engagement with Russia

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia wanted the situation in Ouagadougou "to normalize as soon as possible, for complete order to be ensured in the country and for a return to the framework of legitimacy as soon as possible." 

msh/sms (AFP, AP, epd)