Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba is the new strong man in one of the poorest countries in the world. His planned task: to stop the collapse of the state.
Two men held up photos of the military chief from Burkina Faso
Supporters of coup leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba in Burkina FasoPhoto: Anne Mimault/reuters
BERLIN taz | His nickname is "Army", reports the Burkinabe newspaper L'Observateur Paalga about the new military ruler, "because of his military toughness". Determined Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba certainly looked it as he sat silently at the right side of the army captain who read out the military's coup declaration on Burkina Faso's state television on Monday evening. The 41-year-old is now, for the time being, the new strongman of one of the poorest countries in the world, where Islamist groups control a third of the national territory.
Even before the coup, Sandaogo Damiba's task was to stop the collapse of the state. On 3 December 2021, Burkina Faso's President Kaboré, who had now been ousted, promoted the lieutenant colonel to one of the most powerful posts in the army: Commander of the Third Military Region, which stretches from the capital Ouagadougou to the east of Burkina Faso, encompassing some of the country's most important conflict areas.
The promotion was part of a reshuffle at the top of the army to address growing discontent among the troops. For Damiba, it was the springboard to a coup less than two months later.
Many Burkinabe observers fear that Damiba could turn out to be a tool of long-time ruler Blaise Compaoré, who was toppled by a popular uprising in 2014 and has since been seeking revenge from exile in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire. Didn't the career soldier, who went to military school as a schoolchild, serve for a long time in Compaoré's presidential guard RSP, where he rose to the rank of company commander?
Advanced training at the Paris École de guerre
On the other hand, when in 2015 the old RSP chief Gilbert Diendéré attempted a coup to reverse the 2014 revolution, Major Damiba was one of the loyalists who thwarted it. Diendéré went to prison and is now serving a 20-year sentence - Damiba went to Paris for further training at the prestigious École de guerre. There, coincidence or not, the current military ruler of Guinea, who putsched last September, was also trained at the time.
Damiba served as a military commander in the towns of Dori and Ouahigouya, two hotspots of violence in Burkina Faso, after returning home and led a regiment of special forces until further promotion in 2021. What he achieved in these positions remains to be clarified. Time and again, soldiers in Burkina Faso blame their commanders for leaving them defenceless against Islamist attacks. This mistrust accompanies Damiba even now.
In France, Damiba not only received excellent training, but also wrote a book. "West African Armies and Terrorism: Uncertain Responses", published in 2021, provides, according to the publisher, a "critical judgement" on the current fight against terrorism. The fact that its author is now president is likely to boost sales: By Tuesday afternoon, the work had reached 235th place on the French Amazon ranking.