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 claimed power Friday but appears to lack full control of the country.
Explosions and gunfire outside the French embassy in Ouagadougou Sunday afternoon. Protesters had been filling the streets of the capital since the evening before when they began burning projectiles and throwing stones over the embassy walls.
On social media, call-outs from unknown sources encouraged the protesters to take to the streets and prevent France from reversing Friday’s military coup in the country. Both the new junta and the French embassy have denied France has any involvement 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 with which we have been involved since the 1960s with mixed results on the ground,” said Nanema. “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 U.N. armored vehicle, waving a Russian flag, causing many on social media to speculate Russia may have had a hand in encouraging Friday’s coup. There was no immediate official Russian reaction to the coup.
Constantin Gouvy is an analyst with The Clingendael Institute, a Netherlands based think tank. Asked if Russian disinformation could be blamed for events over the weekend, he replied.
“We have seen widespread disinformation on social media and pro-Russian civil society organizations trying to rally people to protest in recent days,” said Gouvy. “It’s still early to judge, as to how much influence this has had and if it added fuel to the fire, though we can’t blame everything on Russian disinformation either. Since yesterday, people have taken to the streets for a host of reasons and grievances. We have seen people unhappy with the worsening 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 pro-Russians.”
Draped in a Burkinabe flag one man outside the embassy told VOA, “Russia will come and save us from the mess we are in because all the countries that worked with Russia have succeeded. This gives us the courage to go toward Russia, in order to overcome the terrorists. Given the insecurity, we thought that Damiba would orient us to Russia… but we have been waiting in vain.”
Asked how intervention in recent months by mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group had affected the security situation in neighboring Mali, Gouvy said.
“Wagner’s involvement in Mali has made things worse on almost all indicators,” said Gouvy.
The French Institutes, French government-run cultural centers, in both the country’s second city and the capital — were also vandalized by protesters. Protesters wrongly believed a French special forces base on the outskirts of Ouagadougou was sheltering the ousted president Paul Henri Damiba.
A news release Sunday afternoon said Damiba signed his resignation. On Saturday, there had been speculation he was planning to launch a counter-offensive against the putschist, as helicopters, still under his control circled the city. Local media has reported he has fled the country to neighboring Togo.
Daniel Gnienhoun contributed to this report