Fears of a military coup have erupted in the city of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso as reports of heavy gunfire were heard at the Lamizana Sangoule military base. The country has been wracked by protests against the government as the citizens and military have been growing increasingly frustrated by the government’s failure to deal with an increasingly volatile Islamic insurgency that has spread throughout the Sahel region.
Soldiers seized control of the Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses both the army’s general staff and a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed 2015 coup attempt.
One of the inmates in the prison was General Gilbert Diendere, who was a key confidant and ally of Burkina Faso’s former president, Blaise Compaore, who was overthrown in yet another 2014 coup.
With a transitional government in place in 2015, Diendere tried to conduct a coup to oust them but it failed. For that he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2019. He is also currently being tried for the murder of Compaore’s predecessor, Thomas Sankara, during a coup in 1987.
The government acknowledged that there had been gunfire at the base, but stopped short of calling it an attempted coup by the military. The state news reported that the gunfire was the act “of discontented soldiers.”
“The military hierarchy is working to restore calm and serenity in the barracks,” the statement read. “Contrary to some information, no institution of the republic has been targeted.”
Defense Minister Aime Barthelemy Simpore, however, admitted to the national media broadcaster RTB that a few military bases had been affected not only in Ouagadougou but in “some cities elsewhere.” This fueled speculation that President Roch Marc Christian Kabore had been detained by troops, but Simpore denied this. Kabore’s whereabouts, however, remain unknown.
Burkinabe government spokesman Alkassoum Maiga said in a statement that, “Information on social networks suggests a takeover by the army. The government, while confirming gunfire at certain barracks, denies this information and calls on the population to remain calm.”
With Islamic insurgencies raging in G5 Sahel, a group of five countries located in the semi-arid, sub-Saharan region consisting of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, and Mauritania, the fears of coups by military forces continue. Mali has had two coups in the past 18 months and is ruled by a military junta. Neighboring Guinea has suffered a coup and the military in the country of Chad was taken over in a military coup after President Idriss Deby was killed during fighting with Islamist rebels.
The situation in Burkina Faso has been growing worse as fighters from the terror organizations of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) have killed nearly 3,000 people and displaced more than 1.5 million more in the violence that has gripped the nation. But the military has grown increasingly frustrated with the government of President Kabore. Earlier this month, he ordered the arrest of 10 troops that were suspected of conspiring against the government.
In November Kabore ordered a shakeup of the military hierarchy in order to gain more support from the military. At that time, large demonstrations were held in the country demanding that Kabore step down. Additional protests aimed at having Kabore step down were scheduled for the capital of Ouagadougou on Saturday, but those were stopped by security forces who reportedly used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
The Associated Press spoke with a soldier via telephone and he said the soldiers were wanting better fighting conditions when combatting the Islamic terror groups. They are demanding increased manpower in the military, and better care for those wounded and the families of the dead. The soldiers also want the military and intelligence hierarchy replaced, he said.