A young army captain who led the latest coup in Burkina Faso was named interim president “unanimously” on Friday until elections are held in July 2024, two members of the ruling junta told AFP.
Captain Ibrahim Traore, 34, led disgruntled junior officers in the second coup in eight months to hit the jihadist-ravaged West African country.
Some 300 delegates from political parties, social and religious groups, security forces, trade unions and people displaced by jihadist violence participated this Friday in a national forum.
Held in the capital, Ouagadougou, it discussed the future of the country before power is supposed to return to civilians.
“Captain Traore has just been unanimously appointed president of the transitional (government) by the national forum,” a member of the nation’s board said.
Another board member confirmed the move.
Two weeks ago, Traore overthrew Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba.
Damiba himself had only taken power in January, ousting Burkina Faso’s last elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore.
The forum adopted article five of a “transition charter” stipulating that the head of the Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration (MPSR), as the junta chose to call itself, assumes the positions of transitional president, head of state and supreme head of the national armed forces, the two sources said.
Traore has been the leader of the MPSR since the September 30 coup.
The forum also adopted an article in the charter that says the term of the transitional president ends with the inauguration of a president resulting from elections scheduled for 2024.
It adds that the transitional president is not eligible to stand in the presidential, legislative and local elections organized to end the transition period.
– Country in trouble –
Traore did not attend the forum, but board member Captain Marcel Medah read a message from him urging national unity and peace.
“We must put aside our differences… and write a new page full of hope,” the message read.
Traore called for “clear guidelines for building a strong and resilient nation, a nation that can establish peace, security and sustainable development.”
One of the poorest nations in the world, Burkina Faso has a long history of coups since its independence from France in 1960.
The latter have their roots in unrest within the ranks of the army over the jihadist insurgency that swept from neighboring Mali in 2015.
Thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million have been displaced, and more than a third of the country is outside government control.
Traore has said Burkina Faso will follow through on Damiba’s promise to return to civilian rule by July 2024.
But like Damiba before him, Traore defended the coup, saying the authorities were not doing enough against the jihadis.
Damiba fled on October 2 after a weekend of violent protests that also targeted the French embassy and saw protesters raise Russian flags.
– Vocal support –
Traore had previously said he would only stay to conduct “current business”, but at meetings in Ouagadougou and Burkina Faso’s second city, Bobo-Dioulasso, supporters clamored for his appointment to the top job.
“Captain Ibrahim Traore must fully implement the reason he came,” said Oscar Seraphin Ky, one of his patrons.
Monique Yeli Kam said she came to the national forum on behalf of her party, the Movement for the Rebirth of Burkina Faso, to “support and defend the vision of national unity.”
“What we want is the confirmation of Captain Traore as head of state and president of Burkina Faso,” he said. “He embodies renewal, a generational change, a break with old practices.”
France, a close ally, has watched the new turmoil with deep concern.
A coup in Mali in 2020 caused friction with France and led to Bamako’s military intertwining with Moscow. French troops who had been fighting jihadists in Mali for nine years withdrew this year after the dispute escalated.
France’s ambassador to Burkina Faso, Luc Hallade, on Friday advised French citizens to limit their movements to “what is strictly necessary… for fear of new protest movements.”
Military vehicles guarded the entrances to the capital’s conference center where the talks were taking place.
According to local pollster Apidon, 53 percent of those surveyed would prefer to have Traore in charge.
Among his most ardent supporters, the scale of Burkina Faso’s security crisis makes it crucial to have a military man in charge, he found.