Burkina Faso’s junta leader Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba was sworn in as president on Wednesday, less than a month after mutinous soldiers took control of the West African country in a coup.
The inauguration ceremony, which is not open to the public, was held at the Constitutional Court. Speaking to the nation on state television after taking the oath, Damiba praised the security forces and the people of the country who he said had been facing threats from extremism for more than six years.
“I swear before the people of Burkina Faso and in my honor, to preserve and respect, uphold and defend the Constitution, fundamental acts and the law, to do everything in my power to ensure justice for all the people of Burkina Faso,” he said. “Our country has always been strong during storms. That is why these tough times must be an opportunity for us to reach better horizons.”
Damiba seized power and promised to secure the war-torn country from growing extremist violence linked to al-Qaeda and Daesh terrorist groups that have killed thousands and displaced more than 1.5 million people. Since Damiba took control, Damiba has met with security forces, civil society, diplomats and politicians, but has not set a timeline for the transition to elections, something that the international community has said must be done as soon as possible.
When military regimes take power, the return to democratic, civilian rule can be long-lasting and uncertain, say conflict experts.
“Military regimes will often delay the transition back to civilian rule and will work to maintain some form of political influence in the background to ensure their interests are maintained,” said Alexandre Raymakers, senior African analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consulting firm. .
“Given the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso, the new military-led government is likely to argue that the security situation will not allow for a comprehensive electoral process, delaying a return to civilian rule,” he said.
Although Damiba has had strong popular support since taking control, some locals say they do not support the Constitutional Council’s decision to let him take over the presidency because he was not democratically elected. “We do not understand this at all, how can things go like this? The Constitutional Council inaugurates presidents who come to power through elections … It is as if they say that it is legal to make a coup in Burkina Faso,” Oumar Cisse a resident in the Sahel’s hard-hit city, Dori told The Associated Press (AP) by telephone.
A European diplomat who was not authorized to speak to the media told the AP that if they had been invited to the ceremony, European countries would have sent lower officials rather than ambassadors to point out that the constitution was not respected. The international community has condemned the coup. The United States paused $ 450 million in assistance to its Millennium Challenge Corporation, an independent U.S. agency that provides grants and assistance to countries that meet good governance standards. Within the continent, the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) have closed Burkina Faso, but stopped imposing sanctions. They demand the immediate release of former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who has been under house arrest in the capital Ouagadougou since his ouster.
Most people, worried about the conflict with extremists, still hope that Damiba will be able to stop the violence. But the 41-year-old leader has not yet formulated a plan for how to secure Burkina Faso better than the previous regime. Some mutiny soldiers who are not authorized to speak to the media said that the junta is willing to work with anyone who can help in their fight against the extremists, which may also include negotiations with the groups but only after military gains.
In recent times, there have been some successes. Earlier this month, more than 40 extremists were killed during joint operations with France and the Burkina Faso army, the French military said in a statement. France has several thousand troops in the Sahel region of West Africa, but has so far had minimal involvement in Burkina Faso compared to Niger or Mali.
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