Explained: Military Coup In Burkina Faso, The Rise Of Coups And Democratic Decline

The year 2021 was the worst in terms of coups. A study shows that more coups were attempted in 2021 than in the combined period of 2016-21.


Burkina Faso military announcing coup in January

The military in the African country of Burkina Faso on Friday announced that it's overthrowing the country's President Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba.

Damiba himself had become president after a military coup in January. He was a lieutenant colonel in the military. Captain Ibrahim Traore replaced Damiba as the new military ruler of Burkina Faso on Friday. 

Traore's coup is the second in nine months. Interestingly, it's a coup that follows another coup as military has toppled one of their own. 

Burkina Faso's coup is the latest in the line of coups in recent years. Coups have been rising over the years and this rise has coincided with disgruntlement among people against their governments.  


Here we explain Burkina Faso's military coup, reasoning of coup leaders, and the rise of coups in various parts of the world.

Military Coup in Burkina Faso

This is the second coup in nine months in Burkina Faso. 

In January, the military overthrew the civilian leader with the promise of making the country safer. The issue of safety is key to the second coup though.

Burkina Faso is home to a mounting Islamist movement with the government said to be in control of just about 60 per cent of the country. The movement has  been killed thousands and has displaced around 2 million people.


The inability of Damiba to control the Islamists or make gains against them through the military operations is a key reason behind the coup.

"Faced by the continually worsening security situation, we the officers and junior officers of the national armed forces were motivated to take action with the desire to protect the security and integrity of our country," said a statement by military personnel overthrowing Damiba. 

Hundreds of people have been killed in recent months in Burkina Faso at the hands of Islamists. On June 11, over a hundred people were killed in a single jihadist attack in Burkina Faso's area bordering Niger.

"Armed men killed at least 100 civilians in a rural district of northern Burkina Faso close to the border with Niger over the weekend...No group immediately claimed responsibility, but the assault happened in borderlands where militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State are waging an insurgency," reported Reuters at the time. 

The reasoning by leaders of both the coups —to drag the country out of the mess it is in— is common to coup leaders across the countries.

What are the reasoning of coup's leaders?

While exact conditions and circumstances differ country-to-country, there are some broad themes in coups across countries. For one, coup-leaders claim that the country is faced with grave problems and the existing leadership is not able to overcome them. In Burkina Faso, it's an Islamist insurgency. Somewhere else, it would be an allegation of corruption. 


"Multiple factors are driving the rise, including economic mismanagement, corruption, poverty and the failure of overwhelmed governments to resolve grievances over resources and progress social justice," notes the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). 

The popular disgruntlement with the rulers —often democratically-elected— over corruption of incompetence gives popular support and a sense of legitimacy to coups in some areas. 

However, coup-leaders often demonstrate that they are just like the leadership they have toppled as their regimes also get mired in corruption. Burkina Faso's Damiba regime is an example of this. He toppled the president with the promise that he would push jihadists away but he was unable to do so. As a result, he has now been ousted by people claiming to what Damiba claimed to do.


Then there is also a notion of ushering in 'true democracy' with coups or taking over power by claiming that the country is chaotic at the time and democracy would be restored when the chaos is down. 

"Despite this, organising coups with the intention of breaking with the constitutional order to reform a democracy is an unviable justification. Coups, with all their anti-corruption rhetoric, have not been the vehicle for social revolution. Neither is there any such phenomenon of a 'good coup'. In almost all instances, coup leaders in Africa have often proved to be just as corrupt as the regimes they had replaced and failed in their attempt to better the life of ordinary citizens," notes Abhishek Mishra of Observer Research Foundation (ORF).


The rise of coups, decline of democracy

Coups are on the rise in the world, from Asia to Africa and even the United States, if January 6, 2021 US Capitol attack could be counted as an attempted coup, since those people also sought to overthrow a democratically elected leader and replace him with a leader of their choice.

The year 2021 was the worst in terms of coups. A database made by the University of Central Florida and the University of Kentucky said more coups were attempted in 2021 than in the combined period of 2016-21.

The BBC reported, "Coups dropped to around two a year in the two decades up to 2019...While in 2020 only one coup was reported (in Mali), in 2021 there was a noticeably higher than average number - six coups or attempted coups were recorded."


In September 2021, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said "military coups are back" and blamed a lack of international unity in response to military coups for the rise.

Freedom House reported that democracy across the world declined for the 16th year straight in 2021.

Countries that saw declines in their democracies outnumbered the number of countries that saw improvements in 2021, reported Reuters, citing the report.

The report further said that as many as 80 per cent of the people of the world lived in "partly free" or "not free" societies.

In such a world environments, rising coups further pose a threat to the development of free societies rooted in democratic values and human rights.


The return of foreign-fuelled coups

During the Cold War period, both the United States and Soviet Union attempted to prop loyalist regimes across the world. This meant that third world countries often became their turf for geopolitical power play. These countries often used their spy agencies to fuel coups against regimes they did not like.

While the end of Cold War put brakes on such power play, there are signs that such games might be returning, particularly as the West faces a threat from Russia unprecedented since Cold War period. China too is also emerging as a challenger to the world order, particularly one rooted in democracy.


The ORF notes, "Russia, particularly has been notorious in this regard and its mercenary groups appear to play a deeper role in countries such as Mali, Libya, and the Central African Republic. Even the role of the United States (US) has been questioned as reports of the Malian coup plotters receiving training and assistance in the US emerged."