Elections in Burkina Faso 'not a priority', Cap Ibrahim Traore says

Saturday September 30 2023

Burkina Faso junta leader Captain Ibrahim Traore speaking to journalists in Ouagadougou on September 16,2023. PHOTO | X via CAPITAINE IBRAHIM TRAORÉ


Elections in Burkina Faso are "not a priority" compared to "security", the country's military leader Captain Ibrahim Traore said Friday on state TV, almost a year to the day after coming to power in a coup.

Traore, who had promised a return to democracy with presidential elections by July 2024, also announced planned changes to the constitution to make it more representative of the "masses".

"It's not a priority, I'll tell you that clearly, it's security that's the priority in a country plagued by militia violence," he told reporters, referring to elections.

"Even so, the goal was still to organise a ballot," he said, without specifying a date.

"There won't be an election that is only concentrated in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso and other nearby towns," he said, referring to two cities that have largely been spared frequent militia attacks.

Read: Military coups in Africa: What determines a return to civilian rule


"It has to be that all Burkinabe people choose their president."

At 34, Traore was the world's youngest leader when he was sworn in as interim president, vowing to win back territory and support a transition leading to elections in July 2024.

Traore on Friday went on to say he was planning a "partial change" to the country's constitution, saying the present text reflected "the opinion of a handful of enlightened people", to the detriment of the "popular masses".

"The current texts don't allow us to be able to evolve peacefully," he said.

Several thousand people demonstrated on Friday in Ouagadougou and other cities in support of the military regime, calling for the adoption of a new constitution.

When Traore seized power, he gave himself "two to three months" to improve security in Burkina Faso, but one year on, militia violence still blights the nation.

At the time, he cited the country's spiralling security situation as justification for the putsch.

Since then, the regime has focused on responding to attacks by affiliates of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group and has undertaken a massive recruitment drive for the Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland (VDP), a civilian force that supports the military.

Read: Irony of West Africa coups over cycle of jihadist violence

"However, despite hopes that Traore's efforts to regain territory and improve security would yield results, the situation has deteriorated considerably", said Lassina Diarra, a specialist on security in the Sahel.

More than 17,000 people have died in attacks since 2015 -- more than 6,000 of them just this year, according to a count by NGO monitor the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled).

Still, the government claimed at the end of last month that more than 190,000 people had returned to their homes after it chased insurgents from the areas, and regime supporters welcome what they call strong decisions by Traore.

"We are at war," Traore said Friday, blaming "certain actors" for refusing to sell the army equipment.

"Most of our equipment is Russian," he added, and there is "not much" French equipment.

Under Traore, relations with France broke down, with French forces that had been helping the Burkinabe army leaving the country at the junta's request in February.

Burkina has since moved closer to Russia and formed an alliance with neighbouring Mali and Niger, two countries also led by military regimes.

Read: Russia moves to fill void left by France in West Africa

Concerns about the erosion of personal freedoms in the country have recently been raised, and some have condemned alleged abuses by the VDP or armed forces.

French media outlets RFI, France 24 and Jeune Afrique have been suspended in the country, and correspondents from newspapers Liberation and Le Monde have been expelled in the last 12 months.

Traore on Friday said that "individual freedoms must not take precedence over collective freedoms".

Authorities announced on Thursday that four officers had been detained a day after the military government said it had thwarted a coup attempt.

The junta said late Wednesday that the intelligence and security services had foiled the attempt the previous day.

Asked about the attempted coup, Traore alluded to "manipulated individuals" and insisted there was "no malaise" in the army.