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Burkina Faso’s junta leader Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba was sworn in as president Wednesday, less than a month after mutinous soldiers seized control of the West African country in a coup.
The inauguration ceremony, not open to the general public, was held at the constitutional court. Speaking to the nation on state television after taking the oath, Damiba paid tribute to the security forces and the country’s population who he said have been facing threats from extremism for more than six years.
“I swear in front of the people of Burkina Faso and on my honor, to preserve and respect, to uphold and defend the constitution, fundamental acts and the law, to do everything to guarantee justice for all the inhabitants of Burkina Faso,” he said. “Our country has always been strong during storms. That’s why these tough times must be for us an opportunity to get to better horizons.”
Damiba seized power promising to secure the war-torn country from growing extremist violence linked to al-Qaida and Daesh terrorist groups that have killed thousands and displaced more than 1.5 million people. Since taking control, Damiba has met with security forces, civil society, diplomats and politicians, but hasn’t set a timeline for the transition to elections, something 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 lengthy and uncertain, conflict experts say.
“Military regimes will often delay the transition back to civilian rule and will work to retain some form of political influence in the background in order to ascertain that their interests are maintained,” said Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy.
“Considering the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso, the new military led government will likely argue that the security situation will not allow for a comprehensive electoral process to be held, thus delaying a return to civilian rule,” he said.
Even though Damiba’s had wide popular support since taking control, some locals say they don’t support the Constitutional Council’s decision to let him assume the presidency because he wasn’t democratically elected. “We don’t understand this at all, how things can go like this? The Constitutional Council inaugurates presidents who come to power through elections … It’s like they’re saying it’s legal to have a coup in Burkina Faso,” Oumar Cisse a resident in the Sahel’s hard-hit Dori town told The Associated Press (AP) by phone.
One 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-ranking officials rather than ambassadors to make a point that the constitution wasn’t respected. The international community has condemned the coup. The United States paused $450 million in assistance for its Millennium Challenge Corporation, an independent U.S. agency that provides grants and assistance to countries that meet standards for good governance. Within the continent, the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) have suspended Burkina Faso, but stopped short of imposing sanctions. They’re calling for the immediate release of former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore who’s been under house arrest in the capital, Ouagadougou, since his ouster.
Still most people, worried by the conflict with extremists, are hoping Damiba will be able to stem the violence. But the 41-year-old leader has yet to articulate a plan for how he will secure Burkina Faso better than the previous regime. Some mutinous soldiers not authorized to speak to the media said the junta is willing to work with anyone who can help in their fight against the extremists, which could also include negotiating with the groups but only after military gains are made.
Recently there have been some successes. Earlier this month more than 40 extremists were killed during joint operations with France and Burkina Faso’s army, the French military said in a statement. France has several thousand troops in West Africa’s Sahel region, but until now has had minimal involvement in Burkina Faso compared with Niger or Mali.
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