On Sunday afternoon and throughout last night, large groups of protesters took to the streets of Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, attacking the French embassy, burning tires and waving Russian flags. Chaos has descended on the city after a new military junta took power on Friday but appears to lack full control over the country.
Explosions and gunshots in front of the French Embassy in Ouagadougou on Sunday afternoon. Protesters had filled the streets of the capital since the previous evening when they began burning projectiles and throwing rocks at the walls of the embassy.
On social media, calls from unknown sources encouraged protesters to take to the streets and prevent France from overthrowing Friday’s military coup in the country. The new junta and the French embassy denied that France was involved in the coup.
French forces inside the embassy responded by firing tear gas into the crowd and firing warning shots.
VOA spoke to one of the protesters, Ali Nanema.
“We have to leave the French partnership we have been involved with since the 1960s with mixed results on the ground,” Nanema said. “We have been facing a crisis for seven years but the collaboration with France does not give us satisfactory results. That is why we need another collaboration.
Three hundred meters from the embassy, at the Prime Minister’s office, putschists emerged from a commandeered UN armored vehicle, waving a Russian flag, leading many on social media to speculate that the Russia may have helped encourage Friday’s coup. There was no immediate official Russian reaction to the coup.
Constantin Gouvy is an analyst at the Clingendael Institute, a think tank based in the Netherlands. When asked if the Russian disinformation could be blamed on the events of the weekend, he answered.
“We have seen widespread misinformation on social media and pro-Russian civil society organizations trying to bring people together to protest in recent days,” Gouvy said. “It’s still early to judge how influential this has been and whether it added fuel to the fire, although we can’t blame it all on Russian disinformation either. Since yesterday, people have descended on the street for a host of reasons and grievances. We have seen people unhappy with the deteriorating security situation. We have supporters on Zoungrana, who led a failed coup attempt in January, but also Sankarists [supporters of a left-wing ideological trend]as well as the pro-Russians.
Draped in a Burkinabe flag, a man outside the embassy told VOA: “Russia will come and save us from the mess we are in because all the countries that have worked with Russia have succeeded. This gives us the courage to go to Russia, in order to defeat the terrorists. Given the insecurity, we thought that Damiba would direct us to Russia… but we waited in vain.
Asked how the intervention in recent months of mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group had affected the security situation in neighboring Mali, Gouvy said.
“Wagner’s involvement in Mali has made things worse on almost every metric,” Gouvy said.
The French Institutes, cultural centers run by the French government, both in the country’s second city and in the capital, were also vandalized by protesters. Protesters mistakenly believed that a French special forces base on the outskirts of Ouagadougou housed ousted President Paul Henri Damiba.
A press release issued on Sunday afternoon said Damiba had signed his resignation. On Saturday, there had been speculation that he planned to launch a counter-offensive against the putschist, as helicopters, still under his control, circled the city. Local media reported that he had fled the country to neighboring Togo.
Daniel Gnienhoun contributed to this report