By SAM MEDNICK
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Mutinous soldiers said they detained Burkina Faso’s president on Monday, a day after rebellious troops seized a military barracks, setting off a series of gunbattles in the capital of the West African country.
It was not clear who was in control of the country, which was once a bastion of stability in the region but has been beset by an Islamic insurgency and internal political turmoil in recent years. A statement on President Roch Marc Christian Kabore’s Twitter account called for soldiers to lay down their arms — but did not address whether he was in detention. Meanwhile, mutinous soldiers surrounded state news station RTB.
“Our nation is going through difficult times,” read the statement on Twitter. “We must, in this precise moment, preserve our democratic advances. I invite those who took arms to lower them in the interest of the nation. It is with dialogue and listening that we must resolve our contradictions.”
It could not be confirmed if Kabore posted the statement himself, but his government had previously tried to downplay the mutiny, while acknowledging that a few cities were affected, and earlier denied he was in custody.
Two soldiers, however, told The Associated Press that they were holding the leader but they not say where they were keeping him. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Unrest began Sunday night, when soldiers took control of a major military barracks in the capital, Ouagadougou. In response, civilians rallied in a show of support for the rebellion but were dispersed by security forces firing tear gas. Burkina Faso has seen a series of anti-government protests as anger has mounted over the handling of the Islamic insurgency.
Groups of people celebrated again in the streets of the capital on Monday morning after reports of Kabore’s capture.
Kabore was elected in 2015 after a popular uprising ousted longtime strongman President Blaise Compaore. Kabore was reelected in November 2020, but frustration has been growing at his inability to stem the spread of jihadist violence across the country. Attacks linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are escalating, killing thousands and displacing more than an estimated 1.5 million people.
The military has suffered losses since the extremist violence began in 2016. In December, more than 50 security forces were killed and nine more died in November.
Mutinous soldiers told the AP that the government was out of touch with troops and that they wanted military rule. Among their demands are more forces in the battle against extremists and better care for those wounded and the families of the dead.
About 100 military members have planned the takeover since August, according to one of the mutinous soldiers.
Sahel experts say the government was overstretched, but it’s unlikely the mutiny will change anything.
“Burkina Faso’s army is profoundly ill-equipped and unprepared for the war it’s asked to fight. It’s out of its depth. Its frustration with an equally out-of-its-depth government is understandable. Regrettably, this is unlikely to improve anything,” said Michael Shurkin, a former political analyst at the CIA and director of global programs at 14 North Strategies, a business intelligence consultancy based in Senegal.
But as protests over the weekend and on Monday showed, discontent among the general population is also growing.
“People are tired with this situation of insecurity. Everyday, people are killed. In Burkina, there are areas that can’t be accessed. We have lost a big part of our territory,” said Jean-Baptiste Ilboudou, a civilian who was biking near the military base when gunshots were heard.
The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, which already has suspended Mali and Guinea in the past 18 months over military coups, issued a statement of support for Burkina Faso’s embattled president and urged dialogue with the mutineers.
Burkina Faso, too has seen its share of coup attempts and military takeovers — though it experienced a period of relative stability under Compaore, who ruled for 27 years until his ouster in 2014.
Earlier this month, authorities arrested a group of soldiers accused of participating in a foiled coup plot. It was not immediately known whether there was any connection between those soldiers and the ones rebelling now. Military prosecutors said nine soldiers and two civilians were being held in connection with the plot.
In 1987, Compaore came to power by force. And in 2015, soldiers loyal to him attempted to overthrow the transitional government put into place after his ouster. The army was ultimately able to put the transitional authorities back in power, who led again until Kabore won an election and took office.
Associated Press writer Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal, contributed.
People cheer in support of putschist soldiers near the national television station in Ouagadougou, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. Two mutinous soldiers told The Associated Press that Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore is being held by the rebellious soldiers. Gunshots rang late Sunday night near the president’s residence and in the early hours of Monday a battle took place at the presidential palace while a helicopter flew overhead. (AP Photo/Sophie Garcia)