Several dozen protestors waving Russian flags rallied in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou on Tuesday as West African delegates arrived on a fact-finding mission following the country’s second coup in less than nine months.
Demonstrators chanted support for Russia, called on France to leave the country and warned ECOWAS — the Economic Community of West African States — against “meddling”, an AFP journalist saw.
The impoverished Sahel state was plunged into turmoil at the weekend when Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had seized power only in January, was toppled by a newly emerged rival, 34-year-old Captain Ibrahim Traore.
The dramatic takeover coincided with violent anti-French protests and the emergence of Russian flags among demonstrators, stoking speculation that Traore may follow other regimes in French-speaking Africa and forge close ties with Moscow at France’s expense.
The ECOWAS delegation, whose visit was initially scheduled for Monday, arrived on Tuesday morning and was to head to the president’s office to meet Traore, officials told AFP.
The bloc, designed to promote democracy in one of the world’s most volatile regions, has witnessed five coups among three of its 15 members in little more than two years.
Its approach has been to urge junta leaders to set a relatively short timetable for restoring civilian rule — and to impose sanctions against those deemed to be ignoring the demand or sidestepping their pledges.
But it has also taken flak, with some critics accusing it of supporting Western, or specifically French, interests.
Traore said in a statement the ECOWAS visit was to “make contact with the new transition authorities” as part of the support that ECOWAS provided to Burkina Faso.
He said he had learned “with astonishment and regret” that messages had circulated on social media “calling for this mission to be hampered” and urged calm and restraint.
“Any person who commits acts aimed at disturbing the smooth course of the ECOWAS mission will face the force of the law,” Traore said.
The ECOWAS visit to Ouagadougou is headed by Guinea-Bissau Foreign Minister Suzi Carla Barbosa, whose country currently chairs the bloc, and includes former Niger president Mahamadou Issoufou, who is the mediator for Burkina Faso.
Landlocked and deeply poor, Burkina Faso has experienced little political stability since gaining independence from France in 1960.
The latest turmoil takes place against the backdrop of a bloody jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015.
Thousands of civilians, troops and police officers have been killed and nearly two million people have fled their homes.
Swelling anger within the armed forces prompted Damiba’s coup against the elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, on January 24.
Appointing himself transitional head of state, Damiba vowed to make security the country’s top priority but after a brief lull the attacks revived, claiming hundreds of lives.
Traore emerged on Friday at the head of a faction of disgruntled junior officers which proclaimed that Damiba had been deposed — also for failing to roll back the insurgency.
Damiba fled to the neighbouring state of Togo on Sunday following a two-day standoff that was defused by religious and community leaders.
Traore on Monday told the French radio station RFI that he would stand by a pledge that Damiba gave ECOWAS for restoring civilian rule by July 2024.
He said that he would simply carry out “day-to-day business” until a new civilian or military transitional president was appointed by a national forum gathering political and social representatives.
This meeting would take place “well before the end of the year,” he said.