AP EXPLAINS: Burkina Faso at risk for more unrest after coup

FILE - People take to the streets of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Jan. 25, 2022 to rally in support of the new military junta that ousted democratically elected President Roch Marc Christian Kabore and seized control of the country. Officials from the European Union and five countries of the north African Sahel region are meeting as the bloc readies to impose sanctions on Mali and as political turmoil roils Burkina Faso. The meeting Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022 brings together EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and foreign ministers from Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. (AP Photo/Sophie Garcia, file) (Sophie Garcia, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

OUAGADOUGOU – Mutinous soldiers in Burkina Faso forced democratically elected President Roch Marc Christian Kabore to resign this week, announcing they are now in charge of the West African country that's under siege by Islamic extremists.

The junta says Kabore failed to stem the jihadist violence that has killed thousands during his time in power. However, there are already new concerns that the coup could ultimately result in more attacks across Burkina Faso.

Here is a look at the risks the country now faces and the challenges ahead for the new military rulers already under international pressure to cede power:

WHAT FURTHER UPHEAVAL COULD FOLLOW?

While there is widespread local support for the mutiny, the division between the gendarme forces and army became clear in the takeover. Mutinous soldiers told The Associated Press that the gendarmes tried to protect Kabore.

There is also the risk of other elements within the military that may not be entirely loyal to coup leader Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, said Neil Thompson, a research analyst in the Middle East and Africa team at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“While the coup leaders said they represented all branches of the armed forces, factionalism between different units is an issue, as are divisions between the officer corps and ordinary troops," Thompson said. “The country has a history of mutinies, and further disruption is a major downside risk.”

WHAT ABOUT THE ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS?

Political tensions could give Islamic extremists the ability to stage more attacks, according to Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy.

“The coup is a major propaganda success for extremist groups operating in the Sahel, vindicating their view that they hold military momentum," he said. “It reinforces their narrative that they are a valid political alternative.”

Soldiers with the military junta, though, told the AP they will do a better job at protecting the country. They plan to invest in upgrading the military, including buying night goggles and better helicopters, something they had repeatedly requested from the previous regime but never got.

WHAT ARE THE JUNTA'S IMMEDIATE CHALLENGES?

The regional bloc known as ECOWAS suspended Burkina Faso coup over the coup, as it had previously done for both Mali and Guinea for similar military takeovers. ECOWAS also imposed punishing sanctions on Mali when its coup leader failed to organize elections within 18 months as initially promised.

The European Union’s high representative, Josep Borrell, also has warned that if constitutional order is not restored it will have immediate consequences for the bloc's partnership with the country.

The junta is expected to face heavy pressure to organize new elections by 2023, though so far it has only said publicly that it would do so on a timetable acceptable to everyone.

There are some signs already, though, that the junta may not be so open to negotiation. Moussa Diallo, secretary-general for Burkina Faso’s labor union, said coup leader Damiba issued a veiled threat during a 30-minute meeting with labor leaders this week. Union leaders interpreted that as a warning not to speak out against the military junta.

HOW IS THE JUNTA RECEIVED BY CITIZENS?

Prior to the coup, anti-government demonstrators had been calling for Kabore's resignation because of his inability to stem the violence from extremist groups.

There have been displays of widespread public support for the military takeover, including a rally in the capital, Ouagadougou, that drew hundreds of people this week. And support has been strong in parts of Burkina Faso hard-hit by extremist attacks.

“Now we are sure things are going to change, this is what we want. We support the army because they are dying everyday like animals,” said Hamidou Zango, the chief of Gorgadji, a village in the Sahel region where pro-junta rallies also have taken place.

Mamadou Drabo, who leads a civil society group that had demanded Kabore's resignation, said he's sent a letter of support to the junta. But he's still seeking clarity on how it plans to lead the country out of the crisis.

“They have to literally bring peace back and return displaced people back to their areas,” said Drabo of the Save Burkina Faso movement. “If they succeed in doing that, the population is going to support them 100%.”

WHAT’S HAPPENED TO THE OUSTED PRESIDENT?

On Sunday, Kabore was extracted from his house by the gendarme forces trying to protect him. Troops loyal to the junta pursued him for at least 12 hours, according to two soldiers. Kabore apparently refused a European offer to evacuate him into exile, according to two diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

He then was handed over to the army Monday afternoon once the gendarme forces realized they were outnumbered and had no way out. Soldiers who saw Kabore after he was detained said he insisted on writing his own resignation letter, compiling multiple drafts before signing it.

The junta will only say that Kabore is in their custody at a secure but undisclosed location. One soldier told the AP that no decision has been made yet about whether he will remain under house arrest.

Guinea's deposed president remained in junta custody there for four months until he was granted permission to travel abroad for medical treatment. Other African leaders forced from power over the years have sought exile abroad.