When the military overthrew the Kaboré regime in Burkina Faso in January this year and MPSR (Patriotic Movement for Sovereignty and Restoration) took over, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, hopes were high. The young soldiers promised to put an end to insecurity, they also pledged to restore dignity, nationalism and peaceful life all over the Burkinabè territory. Now 100 days since they came to power, the junta is facing serious evaluation and assessment. Were they sincere to the Burkinabè masses?
The insecurity that got hold of the country since the popular insurrection of 2014 is the main factor that Damiba used to justify the January coup. He said, “enough is enough” and posed as the one who had come to solve the problem of the Jihadis’ attacks, and people believed them. The majority of Burkinabè were deeply convinced that Roch Kaboré was an incapable president. Now, four months after the MPSR seized power, fear and violence is rather on the rise, the dead are being counted almost every day, and the number of internally displaced people is swelling. The president tried to explain that inertia when he recommended the creation of a special anti-Jihadist defence unit and he even mentioned the need to adopt special military strategies. In reality, that is the proof that one of the failures of the current government in Ouagadougou. Incidentally, insecurity and its inherent sovereignty issue (in the case of Burkina) produced one or two occasions when President Damiba tarnished his image in public. During his first visit to Bobo Dioulasso, the economic hub of the country, 18-19 May 2022, someone asked him what the rapport between Ouagadougou and Paris was like under his watch and Damiba’s reaction did not impress. He lost his temper and made an utterance that embarrassed many. He told the young man who was curious enough to ask the question, “whoever thinks that they are strong enough can go ahead and make a coup d’état and lead the country their own way”. He then went ahead and instructed security personnel to keep an eye on the man who asked the question.
The other instance of Damiba’s hedging or avoidance of the position of France vis à vis the canker of Jihadism in West Africa lies in a critical reading of his book West African Armies and Terrorism: Uncertain Answers? (2021). The book was perceived as a feather in the cap of the lieutenant colonel. People saw in him a young army officer who is quite inclined towards good scholarship, the search for an answer to the daily misfortunes of the society around him. But the truth is that this book is the master’s thesis that Damiba wrote in War College in France, where he trained. The book meticulously lists the security problems that the West African subregion faces, the weakness of the national armies, the necessary Western secretive partners and the defence strategies put up by the various African civilian and military authorities. But the book never mentions the position of France in these Jihadist attacks. Is France really helping in the combat against the Jihadists? Does France know the hideouts of the Jihadists, etc.? The average reader finds it impossible to engage such a topic in a book, without learning of the overall role or position or intervention of France in that same menace. For instance, in Mali, France spearheaded a military anti-Jihadist operation dubbed “Operation Barkhane” in August 2014, which claimed the lives of several Jihadists, civilians, and French soldiers. The G5 Sahel group is a coalition of five French-speaking countries in West and Central Africa (Mali recently withdrew from it) and militarily, these countries have strong ties with France. The fact that the “place” of France in the terrorist attacks in the subregion especially in Burkina Faso, of late, is missing in what is supposed to be a handbook of Geopolitics and anti-Jihadist war makes several people doubt Damiba’s sincerity. Was he afraid to mention France’s role in the violence and conflicts in the subregion in his book? There is no doubt that hopes are being dashed day in day out. Some observers see in him an army officer who cannot be trusted, others go further by classifying him among those sellouts to France and they buttress their statement with additions like, “well, Damiba has a lot of money hoarded up in banks outside, and he just bought a mansion in Gabon (the backyard of France)”. Of course, such points are to be crosschecked. As a result, organizations and movements like “Ensemble pour le Faso” [Let’s work in unison for the progress of our country] and others that show the power of civil society, capture in these words the current situation in Burkina, when it comes to jihadist attacks, “the so long-awaited elephant came…but limping”. It couldn’t be said in a more appropriate way.
Extremely high salaries: The crux of the matter
The pay received by Damiba and his ministers has been the subject of much controversy. This crop of young leaders are gradually and unequivocally making history as the most highly paid people in the country. In mid-May, the newspaper Le Reporter announced that the salary of President Damiba is 7, 503,468 CFA Francs per month (around USD12,000) and his ministers’ monthly pay is 2,500,000 CFA (around USD 4,000). Other sources tried to explain that with the fact that the pay of the president was the cumulation of arrears, since March 2022, and they concluded that Damiba’s monthly pay is 4 million CFA. Let us recall that his predecessors Kaboré and Compaoré were respectively paid about 2 million CFA per month (roughly USD3,259). These figures make Damiba, the president with the highest salary in the history of the country What a paradox for a leader who was uttering Marxist, Pan-Africanist and patriotic words some few weeks ago, someone who preached equality and justice, in one of the poorest countries in the world! The Secretary General of the Government tried to justify these high salaries, but the reasons did not hold water. People are still flabbergasted.
Critics like Abdoul Karim Sango, the leader of the National Party for Renaissance reiterated that nobody elected Paul-Henri Damiba; he got hold of power through a coup d’état and, after subsequent manoeuvres, he was sworn in as president. To Mr Sango, Burkina Faso’s constitution states that the president must be elected by the people. So, the militants of that party simply believe that Damiba should demonstrate concretely what he is capable of, and then convince people that he deserves to be the president of the country. In other words, he was given the chance to justify his coup d’état but Damiba is failing to do so.
Another general remark is that the average Burkinabè is the victim in all this: they face two main problems which are jihadist violence and the high cost of living. The general inflation rate is 15 per cent and the price of food stuff rose by 25 per cent. The saddest aspect is that the government does not try in any way to check prices, and that leads many Burkinabè to admonish Damiba and his government, “you do not lead a putsch and then train in governance. You should learn enough on how to lead a country before you become president”. All this is to say that the new leaders in Burkina are beginning to disappoint, barely four to five months after they ascended to power. But it too early to pass such a judgement. The junta can positively change the situation around, if they wish to.
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.