A monthly intelligence report on the Sahara region, Sahara Focus, has warned that the Burkina Faso military regime has major regional implications, pointing out that the main stories and concerns about the Sahel in January centred on two issues.
According to the intelligence report by Menas Associates, a political risk consultancy, ‘’the first was the military coup d’état in Burkina Faso which began on 23 January with President Marc Roch Kaboré being detained in military custody about 36 hours later.
‘’The second has been the situation in Mali and the deployment of Russian mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group into the country. The two issues are not unrelated.
‘’Burkina Faso’s military coup d’état has potentially enormous and widespread implications with some analysts beginning to talk about the emergence of a ‘coup bloc’ in the Sahel. It has further weakened Western influence and that of international bodies — UN, EU, AU, ECOWAS — not only in the region but against coup d’états elsewhere in Africa.
‘’It has also weakened the enforcement of ECOWAS and other international sanctions, especially between sanctioned countries with contiguous borders such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea.
‘’Burkina Faso, following on from Mali and Guinea, has raised the spectre of more military takeovers. The most likely risk is Cote d’Ivoire, with Benin and Togo also looking vulnerable to deteriorating security situations.’’
Meanwhile, Niger appears slightly more secure under the new Presidency of Mohamed Bazoum, while Chad is also showing signs of improved governance.
The rise of anti-French sentiment is likely to see a decline in Paris’ regional influence which, in turn, will weaken it as a global world power.
ECOWAS’ seemingly overzealous sanctions against Mali are clearly giving the Sahel’s military juntas short-term popular support and legitimacy and have highlighted the limits of sanctions and diplomacy as well. This spate of military takeovers has also demonstrated the more positive role of armies as the regulators of last resort.
Continuing, the intelligence report said, ‘’the regional weakening of both the West and international organisations is providing opportunities for alliances with China, Turkey, the Gulf States and especially Russia.
‘’It is too early to tell whether these military takeovers are encouraging jihadists and the spread of terrorism but they probably will. As far as Mali is concerned, there is no evidence that the takeover has improved the security situation and the presence of Russian mercenaries may exacerbate it. This is relevant to what may happen next in Burkina Faso.
‘’The country’s new military leader is the 41-year-old Lt-Col Paul-Henri Damiba. In December had been appointed as commander of the strategic 3rd Military Region, which covers Ouagadougou and the adjacent Manga, Koudougou and Fada N’gourma regions.
‘’Some analysts viewed this promotion as an attempt by the beleaguered president to shore up support within the army. It followed November’s attack on the gendarmerie post in the northern town of Inata when 49 military officers and four civilians were killed. in his new role, Damiba proceeded to reorganise the military ranks, appointing new officers to key positions with the declared intent of battling the uprising.
‘’Between 1987 and 2011 he had been part of former president Blaise Compaoré’s Régiment de la sécurité présidentielle (RSP). However, he reportedly left the regiment in 2011 following a wave of protests and a violent army mutiny three years before the regiment was dissolved.
‘’He was later posted to the northeastern town of Dori as commander of the 11e Régiment d’Infanterie Commando (11e RIC) and to the northern town of Ouahigouya as commander of the 12e RIC.
‘’Damiba’s role in an attempted 2015 coup by military officers that briefly deposed the transitional government is contested. Some reports say that he had supported the attempted coup but later ones indicate that he gave evidence against those brought to trial.
‘’Following the 2015 events, Damiba left the country to pursue further military studies. He reportedly studied abroad, mostly in Paris, and when he returned was appointed as commander of the 30e Régiment de Commandement et de Soutien (30e RCS) tasked with supporting Burkina Faso’s counterterrorism strategy.
‘’In 2010-2011 he participated in at least two Operation Flintlocks with the US forces as well as: the US State Department-funded African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) course in 2013; the Military Intelligence Basic Officer Course for Africa in 2013 and 2014; and he trained in Burkina Faso with a US Defense Department Civil-Military Support Element in 2018 and 2019.
‘’Damiba has sought to present himself as an expert in counterterrorism. He studied at Paris’ Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers military academy, has a master’s degree in criminal sciences and published a book in June 2021 entitled ‘West African Armies and Terrorism: Uncertain Responses?’ in which he analysed counterterrorism strategies in the Sahel region and their limits.
‘’What Damiba may become best known for, however — besides leading the latest military coup — is that he recently called on the Burkinabé government to recruit mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group to help fight the jihadist ‘terrorists’.
‘’President Kaboré and his government were, however, strongly opposed to the proposal because doing so would alienate Burkina Faso from the West.’’