Gunfire rang out early on Friday in Burkina Faso’s capital and the state broadcaster went off air, sparking fears that another coup attempt may be under way, nine months after the democratically elected president was ousted from power.
It was not immediately known where previous coup leader-turned president Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba was in the west African country. He gave a speech on Thursday in Djibo, in the north of Burkina Faso.
Friday’s developments felt familiar in west Africa, where a coup in Mali in August 2020 set off a series of military power grabs in the region.
“This smacks of a coup attempt,” said Eric Humphery-Smith, senior Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.
“While gunfire around military barracks could be due to some form of mutiny, the closure of the national television station bodes ill.”
Last week, Lt Col Damiba had travelled to New York where he addressed the UN General Assembly, defending his January coup as “an issue of survival for our nation”, even if it was ”perhaps reprehensible” to the international community.
Burkina Faso’s last coup came after similar takeovers in Mali and in Guinea, heightening fears of a rollback of democracy in west Africa.
None of the juntas has committed to a date for new elections, although Lt Col Damiba said last week that the transition in Burkina Faso would last for almost two more years.
Many in Burkina Faso initially supported the military takeover, frustrated with the previous government’s inability to stem Islamic extremist violence that has killed thousands and displaced at least two million people.
But the violence has failed to wane in the months since Lt Col Damiba took over. Earlier this month, he also took over the position of defence minister after dismissing a brigadier general.
“It’s hard for the Burkinabe junta to claim that it has delivered on its promise of improving the security situation, which was its pretext for the January coup,” Mr Humphery-Smith said.
Earlier this week at least 11 soldiers were killed and 50 civilians went missing after a supply convoy was attacked by gunmen in the Gaskinde commune in the Soum province of the Sahel region.
That attack was “a low point” for Lt Col Damiba’s government and “likely played a role in inspiring what we’ve seen so far today”, added Mr Humphery-Smith.