Burkina Faso’s overthrown military chief agreed to step down two days after army officers announced his deposition in the country’s second coup in a year.
Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba “offered his resignation in order to avoid confrontations with serious human and material consequences”, according to a statement on Sunday by mediators.
Influential religious and community leaders held mediation talks between Damiba and the new self-proclaimed leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore, to resolve the crisis.
“President Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba proposed his own resignation in order to avoid clashes,” said Hamidou Yameogo, a spokesman for the mediation efforts.
Damiba set “seven conditions” for stepping down. They included a guarantee of security for his allies in the military, “a guarantee of his security and rights”, and assurance that those taking power will respect the pledge he gave to West Africa’s regional bloc for a return to civilian rule within two years.
Traore officially was named head of state after he accepted the conditions given by Damiba, calling on “the population to exercise calm, restraint and prayer”.
A statement issued on Sunday by the pro-Traore military said he would remain in charge “until the swearing-in of the president of Burkina Faso designated by the nation’s active forces” at an unspecified date.
The second change of leadership in a year started on Friday when military officers announced the deposition of Damiba, the dissolution of the transitional government and the suspension of the constitution.
Waving Russian flags
Damiba, who led a coup in January, had said on Saturday that he had no intention of giving up power and urged the officers to “come to their senses”. But he has now resigned and according to the Associated Press, left the country for neighbouring Togo on Sunday.
It remains uncertain if Togo was his final destination.
Tensions have been high in Burkina Faso since Friday, with clashes occurring between protesters and security forces.
Late Saturday, angry protesters attacked the French embassy in Ouagadougou as they believed Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a “French base” – allegations he and France denied. Burkina Faso is a former colony of France.
The French foreign ministry condemned “the violence against our embassy in the strongest terms” by “hostile demonstrators manipulated by a disinformation campaign against us”.
In a statement broadcast on state television, new military spokesman Captain Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho called on people to “desist from any act of violence and vandalism” especially those against the French embassy or the French military base.
To some in Burkina Faso’s military, Damiba also was seen as too cozy with former coloniser France, which maintains a military presence in Africa’s Sahel region to help countries fight various armed groups.
Some who support the new coup leader Traore have called on Burkina Faso’s government to seek Russian support instead. Outside the state broadcaster on Sunday, supporters of Traore were seen cheering and waving Russian flags.
‘Deeply rooted crisis’
Traore promised to overhaul the military so it is better prepared to fight “extremists”. He accused Damiba of following the same failed strategies as former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, whom Damiba overthrew in a January coup.
“Far from liberating the occupied territories, the once-peaceful areas have come under terrorist control,” the new military leadership said, adding Damiba failed as more than 40 percent of the country remained outside government control.
The landlocked state of Burkina Faso has been struggling to contain rebel groups, including some associated with al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).
Since 2015, the country has become the epicentre of the violence across the Sahel region, where thousands of people have been killed and about two million displaced.
With much of the Sahel battling growing unrest, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.
Conflict analysts say Damiba was probably too optimistic about what he could achieve in the short term, but a change at the top did not mean the country’s security situation would improve.
“The problems are too profound and the crisis is deeply rooted,” said Heni Nsaibia, a senior researcher at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Armed groups “will most likely continue to exploit” the country’s political disarray, he said.