By John Ikani
A battle-hardened Captain Ibrahim Traoré toppled Lt. Col Paul-Henri Damiba on September 30, marking the country’s second military coup this year, in what could slow down an eventual transition to civilian rule for the West African nation that has now suffered 8 coups since independence in 1960.
Notwithstanding, many Burkinabe are delightfully comparing the 34-year-old junta leader to Thomas Sankara, a Pan-African hero who was of the same age when he came into power in Burkina Faso.
“We have decided to take our destiny into our own hands and to support the young men who have just made yet another coup d’état. We believe Captain Ibrahim Traoré will give us hope,” echoed supporters in a fanfare on Monday to welcome the new regime.
What do we know about Captain Ibrahim Traoré?
Early Life and Education
Local Omega Medias reports that Ibrahim Traoré was born in the year 1988. He had his primary education in the town of Bondokuy, at the Mouhoun province of Southern Burkina Faso.
According to the biography rendered by Omega Medias in French Language, Traoré moved on to Bobo-Dioulasso where he was enrolled at the Accart-ville de Bobo mixed high school.
Subsequent academic engagements saw Traoré proceed to Joseph Ki-Zerbo University in the country’s capital Ouagadougou for his undergraduate studies.
Early Military Career
It was in the year 2010 that Traoré joined the army. He earned his first stripes two years later in 2012 and was assigned to the artillery regiment, based in Kaya in the Center-North region.
Traoré’s rise through the ranks was rapid. He became a lieutenant in 2014 and was decorated captain in 2020. Notable among Traoré’s exploits were his seven-month participation in the Otapuanu military operation at the Eastern region in 2018 and his service with the Markoye detachment in the Sahel region.
The junta leader also trained in Morocco and worked in the UN’s peacekeeping force in Mali where he was commended for his bravery during a militant attack on Timbuktu in 2018. He is said to be a good manager of men and resources as well as a hands-on officer who commanded the respect of troops in several engagements in Burkina Faso’s northern sector theatre of operations.
Foray In Coup Plotting
Did you know that Traoré helped deposed Damiba oust elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore who they accuse of failing to stem the tide of Jihadist violence?
In what may seem like a reward, Traoré was made chief of the artillery regiment in March as Damiba’s regime began to take shape.
But over the ensuing months, divisions started to appear between the two men as the security situation continued to worsen.
Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State have been carrying out attacks in Burkina Faso since 2015.
Current Youngest Head of State
Traoré eventually staged a countercoup on Friday, September 29. With the help of a group of disaffected young officers, he took over government buildings on Friday including the state broadcaster and announced that he was overthrowing the government of Paul Henri Damiba, accusing him of focusing on politics than the fight against terrorists.
With Damiba accepting resignation and fleeing to Togo, Traore officially became Africa’s current youngest head of state. He is 11 years younger than Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed who is currently 45 years old.
Before Damiba left for Togo, Captain Traoré accused him of collaborating with the French to stage a comeback, an accusation France and Damiba have both denied. But that didn’t stop an angry mob from destroying French institutions.
There is long-held resentment in Burkina Faso against its former colonial power. Many Burkinabe believe France has long meddled in their internal affairs, and that French troops have failed to tackle the Islamist insurgency.
Task Before Him
Captain Traoré and the ruling junta will now contend with stopping Jihadist attacks which they accused Damiba of failing to contain.
“We need to change the rhythm, we need to speed up things. The entire country faces an emergency. So each one at their own level must go faster and abandon all cumbersome and unnecessary red tape,” he said in his meeting with cabinet officials on Sunday.
Heritage Times HT had earlier reported that Damiba’s regime failed to make gains in stopping extremist violence with only about 60% of the country under state control.
Also, structural changes to unify Burkina Faso’s armed forces under a single command failed. It remains to be seen if Traoré can succeed where a democratically-elected and a senior military leader failed in quick succession.
Meanwhile, there has been widespread condemnation of the coup from the US, African Union as well as the regional ECOWAS bloc.
ECOWAS may be ruthless in ensuring that the new junta stick to the two-year timetable for the restoration of democracy it agreed with Damiba’s regime.
Captain Traoré wants to work with new international partners, including Russian Mercenaries from the Wagner Group, who are already active in neighbouring Mali. Kremlin allies, including the founder of Wagner, have praised the group in Burkina Faso, blaming France for the violence there.
However, the Wagner Group have been accused of human rights abuse in the Central African Republic where they have been active for years as well as in Mali. They are fears that they could be stoking the crisis in Burkina Faso in order to spread Russian influence. Over the weekend, former leader Paul Henri Damiba accused foreign forces of trying to destabilise the country.