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Capt Ibrahim Traoré: Burkina Faso’s New Military Ruler

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Burkina Faso’s Capt Ibrahim Traoré has become the latest military officer to seize power in a coup in one of France’s former colonies in West Africa.

He overthrew his former comrade, Lt Col Paul-Henri Damiba on 30 September, after accusing him of failing to fulfil his promise of quelling the Islamist insurgency that has gripped Burkina Faso since 2015.

Born in 1988, this makes the 34-year-old captain the youngest head of state in Africa, joining the ranks of two other coup leaders – Guinea’s charismatic Col Mamady Doumbouya, born in 1981, and Mali’s bearded Col Assimi Goïta, born in 1983.

“I know I’m younger than most of you here. We didn’t want what happened but we didn’t have a choice,” Capt Traoré told government officials.

During Lt-Col Damiba’s short time in power, attacks by militant Islamists – some of them linked to the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda – increased in Burkina Faso as they seized territory in rural areas and encircled cities, leaving the state in control of only about 60% of the country, according to some estimates.

With a lack of strong democratic institutions in a country where the military has long been dominant, Capt Traoré seized power with a pledge to improve security in a nation living in fear of the militants.

His coup – the second in Burkina Faso in less than nine months – is the latest sign of the epidemic of coups that UN chief António Guterres raised concern about in 2021.

“My appeal, obviously, is for – especially the big powers – to come together for the unity of the Security Council in order to make sure that there is effective deterrence in relation to this epidemic of coup d’états,” Mr Guterres said at the time.

But with global powers focused either on domestic crises – or the war in Ukraine – they have paid little attention to the instability that has wracked countries such as Burkina Faso.

“I know that France cannot interfere directly in our affairs,” Capt Traoré said, adding: “The Americans are our partners now, [but] we can also have Russia as a partner.”

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