Burkina Faso coup leader Ibrahim Traore named transitional president

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Just two weeks ago, 34-year-old Ibrahim Traore was still unknown, even in his native Burkina Faso.

But in a weekend, he catapulted himself from army captain to the world’s youngest leader – a climb that has sparked hope but also fear for a poor and chronically ravaged country.

Traore, at the head of a core of disgruntled junior officers, overthrew Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had just seized power in January.

The motive for the latest coup – as in January – was anger at the failure to stem a seven-year jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced nearly two million people from their homes.

A few days after the September 30 coup, Traoré was proclaimed president and “guarantor of national independence, territorial integrity… and continuity of the state.”

At that lofty moment, Traoré became the youngest leader in the world, winning the title from Chilean President Gabriel Boric, a whole two years older.

And on Friday, a national forum consisting of about 300 delegates called Traore interim president until elections are held in July 2024, two members of the ruling junta told AFP.

Traore’s previously unknown face is now plastered over portraits around the capital, Ouagadougou.

His photo is even for sale on the main market, alongside portraits of the radical leader of Burkina, Thomas Sankara, who was murdered in 1987, and of Jesus.

Military career

Traore was born in Bondokuy, in western Burkina Faso, and studied geology in Ouagadougou before joining the military in 2010.

He graduated as an officer from Georges Namonao Military School – a second-rate institution compared to the prestigious Kadiogo Military Academy (PMK) of which Damiba and others in the elite are alumni.

Traore came second in his class, a contemporary told AFP, who described him as “disciplined and brave.”

After graduating, he gained years of experience in the fight against jihadists.

He served in the hard-hit north and center of the country before moving to a post in neighboring Mali in the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA in 2018.

In 2020 he was named captain.

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A former senior officer, on condition of anonymity, told of an incident that happened in 2020 when the town of Barsalogho in central Burkina was about to fall into the hands of the jihadists.

The highway to Barsalogho was believed to have been mined, so Traore led his men on a “command run” through the countryside, arriving in time to liberate the town, he said.

When Damiba came to power in January and ousted President-elect Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Traore joined the Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration (MPSR), as the junta called itself.


In March, Damiba Traore was promoted to chief of artillery in the Kaya regiment in the center of the country.

But it was a move that, ironically, would sow the seeds of Damiba’s own demise.

The regiment became a cradle of discontent and Traoré, tasked by his colleagues with channeling their frustrations, made several trips to Ouagadougou to plead their case with Damiba.

Disillusionment with the reaction turned into anger, which seems to have crystallized in a determination to seize power after an attack on a convoy in northern Burkina last month that killed 27 soldiers and 10 civilians.

“Captain Traore symbolizes the annoyance of NCOs and the rank and file,” said security adviser Mahamoudou Savadogo.

The new president faces a daunting task to gain the upper hand over the jihadist groups, some affiliated with al-Qaeda and others with the Islamic State group. They have steadily gained ground since launching their attacks from Mali in 2015.

Still, Traore has pledged to do “within three months” what “should have been done in the past eight months”, directly criticizing his predecessor.

Savadogo warned that a soldier overthrowing another illustrates “the deteriorating state of the military, which barely exists anymore and has just torn itself apart in yet another coup”.

Traore’s acquisition comes amid a battle for influence between France and Russia in Francophone Africa, where former French colonies are increasingly turning to Moscow.

Protesters gathered in front of him in Ouagadougou during the Damiba standoff waved Russian flags and chanted anti-France slogans.

Traoré seems – for now – to bring hope to many in a country that is steadily sinking into the swamp.

“He embodies renewal, a generational renewal, a break with old customs,” said Monique Yeli Kam, who came to the national forum to represent her party, the Movement for Burkina’s Renaissance, to “support and defend the vision of national unity “. .



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