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Burkina Faso and 5 other coups in Africa, explained

There are shots. Rumors spread of a military takeover. The president is nowhere to be seen. The nation turns on the television and shifts collectively to the state channel, where they see new leaders, wearing berets and tired, announcing that the constitution has been suspended, the National Assembly dissolved, borders closed.

For the past 18 months, military leaders in similar scenes have overthrown the governments of Mali, Chad, Guinea, Sudan and now Burkina Faso. West African leaders convened an urgent summit on Friday on the situation in Burkina Faso, where the new military leader, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, told the nation in his first public speech Thursday night that he would bring the country back to constitutional order "when conditions are right. . ”

The resurgence of coups has alarmed the region's remaining civilian leaders. Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said on Friday: "It represents a threat to peace, security and stability in West Africa."

These five nations, which have recently experienced military coups, form a broken line that stretches across Africa's wide dent, from Guinea on the west coast to Sudan in the east.

First came Mali, in August 2020. The military exploited public anger over a stolen parliamentary election and the government's lack of protection of its people from violent extremists, and arrested President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and forced him to resign on state television. Mali actually had two coups in nine months.

An unusual coup took place in Chad in April 2021. A president who had ruled for three decades was killed on the battlefield and his son was quickly deployed in his place - a breach of the constitution.

In March 2021, there was a failed coup attempt in Niger, so in September 2021 it was Guinea's turn: A senior officer trained by the United States overthrew a president who had tried to cling to power. So in October, it was Sudan: the country's top generals seized power and tore up a power-sharing agreement that would lead to the country's first free elections in decades.

It is more than 114 million people now ruled by soldiers who have illegally seized power. There were four successful coups in Africa in 2021 - there had not been so many in a single calendar year since 1999. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it "an epidemic of coups."

The coup is contagious. When the Malian government fell, warned analysts which Burkina Faso could follow. Now that it has, they warn that if the coup plotters are not punished, there will be more coups in the region.

People are tired of their governments for many reasons - major security threats, relentless humanitarian disasters and millions of young people without prospects.

Governments are performing abysmal, said Abdul Zanya Salifu, a scholar at the University of Calgary who focuses on the Sahel, sub-Saharan Africa. Then he said, the military is thinking, "You know, why not take over?"

All three Sahel countries with recent coups - Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad - are struggling with Islamist uprisings that continue to spread, exploiting local tensions and grievances against political elites.

The coup in Mali happened in part due to the government's inability to stem the proliferation of groups loosely allied with Al Qaeda and Islamic State. In Burkina Faso, an attack in November last year that left nearly 50 military police officers dead is considered a key event leading up to the coup two months later.

Millions of people across the Sahel region have been displaced, and thousands have died - and often people say politicians do not seem to notice or worry, drive smart cars and send their children to expensive foreign schools. It's an explosive cocktail.

While their president was imprisoned at a military base, hundreds of Malays celebrated with soldiers in the streets. Not everyone supported the coup. But the junta's popularity has grown, though it took power again in May 2021 - the second blow in a disturbing nine-month period - this time from the civilian leaders who had been appointed to lead the transition to elections.

The regional economic bloc, ECOWAS, imposed punitive sanctions aimed in part at turning Malians against the junta, putting pressure on military leaders to commit to a speedy election schedule.

But "what is happening is the exact opposite," said Ornella Moderan, head of the Sahel program at the Institute for Security Studies, based in Pretoria, South Africa. The sanctions have caused anger, but against ECOWAS, not the junta. The military rulers, who are considered to stand up to foreigners with self-interest, now have overwhelming support, according to analysts and local news reports.

In neighboring Guinea, some initially greeted the coup leader as a liberator, but many also shut themselves in at home, fearing the future.

In Burkina Faso, a country that has experienced many coups, there were a handful of pro-putsch meetings the day after the military took power, but many people just went to work as usual.

Some said they were inspired by the way the junta in neighboring Mali had stood up to France, the increasingly unpopular former colonial power.

"Whoever takes power now has to follow Mali's example - reject France and start making our own decisions," said Anatole Compaore, a customer at a mobile phone market in Ouagadougou, in the early hours of the coup.

The pro-military sentiment does not include Sudan. There had been a popular uprising to overthrow a military dictator in 2019, but there has been persistent public outrage since October last year, when the military regained full control of the government and detained the civilian prime minister who had served in what was to be a power-sharing government.

Not necessarily. The armed forces of Mali and Burkina Faso have little or no control over large areas of their territories and rely heavily on self-defense militias with little training and dubious human rights records. Chad's military is considered one of the continent's strongest, yet it has failed to stop deadly attacks by Boko Haram and its splinter group, the Islamic State's West African province, a rebellion that is now ten years old. The military also could not prevent Chadian President Idris Déby, a retired general, from being killed on the battlefield as rebels tried to overthrow his government.

Paradoxically, the weakness of Burkina Faso's armed forces was a significant factor in the coup. Last November, 49 military police officers and four civilians were killed in the northern outpost of Inata. Both the military and the public were outraged that their officers were not well enough equipped or trained to withstand such an attack.

"It set the stage for this takeover," said Mr. Salifu.

There is a belief that strong men can better address security risks, especially in those Sahel countries where violence is spiraling, said Anna Schmauder, a researcher focusing on the Sahel in the conflict research unit of the Dutch think tank Clingendael.

But a military takeover does not necessarily lead to a more effective response to insurgency - continued attacks in Mali are proof of that, she said. In the end, Ms. Schmauder said, "Military powers are in a way there to stay and do everything to cement their own power."

African and international organizations have reacted with disapproving statements and sanctions, and in Mali the threat that a regional contingency force will invade - but few take the latter very seriously.

The African Union suspended Mali, Guinea and Sudan, but not Chad - a double standard that analysts warned could have serious consequences for Africa. For some, this was proof that the African Union has become little more than a weak and biased dictatorial club.

Following the coup in Burkina Faso, the regional economic bloc, ECOWAS, issued a statement saying such a move was "intolerable" and instructed the soldiers to return to their barracks. But it was not clear what ECOWAS could do, given its dubious record of brokering in Mali.

Forces further away have not made it much better. The United States, the EU and France approved the sanctions against Mali, but in the UN Security Council, Russia and China blocked a statement in support of them.

International powers insist that those in power hold rapid elections. But this demand makes some people angry who think the military is acting in the interest of the country.

Mali also had a coup in 2012, and many Malians feel that their country then did everything the West required of it in terms of democracy, such as holding elections quickly. But it solved nothing: the uncertainty got worse; corruption and standard of living, not better.

"There is this notion that bad choices are worse than no choice at all," Ms Moderan said. "We should actually tackle the political system that is not working."

And this is a problem everywhere that the West is "fetishizing" by sticking to a strict election calendar, Mr. Salifu, while ignoring or downplaying other elements of democracy - such as a free press, freedom from political repression or human rights.

All attention goes to "organizing periodic elections, which in most cases are false," he said.

Like in Mali, many in Burkina Faso said they had lost faith in democracy, including Assami Ouedraogo, 35, a police officer who resigned in November. "If we wait for the next election in 2025 to change leaders, our country will no longer exist," he said.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Ouagadougou.

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