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Burkina: Ibrahim Traoré, new putschist and youngest head of state in the world

At the large market in the Burkinabe capital, the photo of Traoré, wearing a red Army beret on his head and military uniform, is now displayed on the stalls of photos for sale alongside those of the national hero Thomas Sankara, president putschist assassinated in 1987, or of Jesus.

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Burkina: Ibrahim Traoré, new putschist and youngest head of state in the world

At the large market in the Burkinabe capital, the photo of Traoré, wearing a red Army beret on his head and military uniform, is now displayed on the stalls of photos for sale alongside those of the national hero Thomas Sankara, president putschist assassinated in 1987, or of Jesus.

The 34-year-old captain - making him the youngest head of state in the world ahead of Chilean President Gabriel Boric, 36 - overthrew Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, himself a putschist in January 2022, on Friday.

A native of Bondokuy (west), he studied geology in Ouagadougou and joined the army in 2010. He graduated from the Georges Namonao Military Academy, a less glorious officer training school than the Prytanée militaire de Kadiogo (PMK) from which his predecessor Damiba and a number of senior Burkinabè officers come.

He leaves vice-major of the promotion named "Citizenship", says a former student who studied with him. He was "disciplined and brave", he assures.

- "Respected" -

Ten years of career at the front followed: he was deployed in the north and center of the country hit by jihadist attacks, then in Mali in 2018 within the UN mission, Minusma. He was named captain in 2020.

A significant feat of arms occurred that year when the town of Barsalogho, about 40 km from Kaya in the center where he was then based, was attacked by jihadist groups who threatened to bring it down.

The road being deemed mined, Captain Traoré then began with his men a "commando rally" on foot, says a senior officer anonymously, to liberate the city.

The kind of decisions that make the man "respected by his men and talked about him in different operations", underlines the same source to AFP.

Ironically, Traoré's recent career followed in the footsteps of that of Lieutenant-Colonel Damiba, whom he ended up overthrowing.

During the January 24 putsch against then-President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, which brought Damiba to power, Traoré was a member of the putschist junta, the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration (MPSR).

In March, President Damiba appointed him artillery chief of the Kaya regiment, from which the discontent will gradually come.

Appointed by his comrade spokespersons for the members of the MPSR in the field, he was sent several times to Ouagadougou to plead for a change of strategy with the president.

It was ultimately because he was not heard, say several of his supporters, that he marched on Ouagadougou on Friday, a few days after yet another attack, this time against a supply convoy escorted by the army in the north. Balance sheet, 27 military dead and 10 civilians killed.

"Captain Traoré is the symbol of the exasperation of junior soldiers and men of rank", those who are at the front, as opposed to officers known to be fond of cozy lounges, said security consultant Mahamoudou Savadogo.

Traoré will have the daunting task of regaining the upper hand in the fight against jihadist groups, some affiliated with Al-Qaeda others with the Islamic State, which have continued to gain ground since they began their attacks in " country of upright men" in 2015.

He promised to do "within three months" what "should have been done in the past eight months", a direct criticism of his predecessor.

Soldier overthrowing another soldier, Traoré is new proof, according to Savadogo, of "the degeneration of the army which hardly exists any more and which has finished tearing itself apart with this umpteenth coup d'etat".

His takeover is also part of a global struggle for influence between France and Russia in French-speaking Africa, where the former French colonies are increasingly turning to Moscow.

The demonstrators who supported him in Ouagadougou this weekend, waving Russian flags and chanting anti-France slogans, made Traoré's coup one more element in "the questioning of the influence French in West Africa," said an African diplomatic source in the Sahel.

The fact remains that after taking power, Traoré is, according to many AFP interlocutors in Ouagadougou, the bearer of new hope, a new start in a country which has been sinking steadily into the Sahelian war since 2015.

On Monday, L'Observateur Palgaa, a Burkinabè newspaper, ran the biblical headline: "Ibrahim, the intimate friend of God, will he be able to save us?".

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