Burkina Faso put its faith in youthful junta leader Ibrahim Traore

World's youngest leader's previously unknown face now plastered on portraits around the capital Ouagadougou

The motive for Ibrahim Traore's coup was anger at failures to stem a seven-year jihadist insurgency. AFP
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Just two weeks ago, 34-year-old Ibrahim Traore was an unknown, even in his native Burkina Faso.

But in the space of a weekend, he catapulted himself from army captain to the world's youngest leader — an ascent that has stoked hopes but also fears for a poor and chronically troubled country.

Mr Traore, at the head of a core of disgruntled junior officers, ousted Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba who had seized power in January.

The motive for the latest coup — as in January — was anger at failures to stem a seven-year jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven nearly two million people from their homes.

A few days after the September 30 coup, Mr Traore was declared president and "guarantor of national independence, territorial integrity... and continuity of the State".

At that moment, Mr Traore became the world's youngest leader, wresting the title from Chilean President Gabriel Boric, a whole two years older.

And on Friday, a national forum made up of about 300 delegates named Mt Traore interim president until elections are held in July 2024, two members of the ruling junta told AFP.

Mr Traore's previously unknown face is now plastered on portraits around the capital Ouagadougou.

His photo is even on sale in the main market, alongside portraits of Burkina's revered radical leader Thomas Sankara, assassinated in 1987, and of Jesus.

Burkina's revered radical leader Thomas Sankara who was assassinated in 1987. AP

The rise of Ibrahim Traore

Mr Traore was born in Bondokuy, in western Burkina Faso, and studied geology in Ouagadougou before joining the army in 2010.

He graduated as an officer from the Georges Namonao Military School — a second-tier institution compared to the prestigious Kadiogo Military Academy, of which Mr Damiba and others in the elite are alumni.

Mr Traore emerged second in his class, a contemporary told AFP, describing him as "disciplined and brave".

After graduation, he gained years of experience in the fight against the jihadists.

He served in the badly-hit north and centre of the country before heading to a posting in neighbouring Mali in 2018 in the UN's MINUSMA peacekeeping mission.

He was appointed captain in 2020.

A former superior officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, recounted an incident that occurred in 2020 when the town of Barsalogho in central Burkina was on the verge of falling to the jihadists.

The highway into Barsalogho was believed to have been mined, so Mr Traore led his men on a "commando trek" across the countryside, arriving in time to free the town, he said.

When Mr Damiba took power in January, ousting elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Mr Traore became a member of the Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration, as the junta chose to call itself.

In March, Mr Damiba promoted Mr Traore to head of artillery in the Kaya regiment in the centre of the country.

Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba only came to power in January 2022 after staging a coup d'etat of his own. AFP

But it was a move that ironically would sow the seeds of Mr Damiba's own downfall.

The regiment became a cradle of discontent, and Mr Traore, tasked by his colleagues with channelling their frustrations, made several trips to Ouagadougou to plead their case with Mr Damiba.

Disillusionment at the response turned into anger, which appears to have crystallised into resolve to seize power after an attack on a convoy in northern Burkina last month that left 27 soldiers and 10 civilians dead.

"Captain Traore symbolises the exasperation of junior officers and the rank and file," said security consultant Mahamoudou Savadogo.

Traore vows to tackle jihadist groups

The new president faces a daunting task in regaining the upper hand over the jihadist groups, some affiliated with Al Qaeda and others with the Islamic State group. They have steadily gained ground since they launched their attacks from Mali in 2015.

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

Mr Savadogo said that one soldier overthrowing another illustrates "the deteriorating state of the army, which hardly exists any more and which has just torn itself apart with this umpteenth coup d'etat".

Mr Traore's takeover comes during a struggle for influence between France and Russia in French-speaking Africa, where former French colonies are increasingly turning to Moscow.

Demonstrators who rallied for him in Ouagadougou during the standoff with Mr Damiba waved Russian flags and chanted anti-France slogans.

Supporters of Ibrahim Traore protest against France and the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS in the streets of Ouagadougou. AP

"He embodies renewal, a generational renewal, a break with old practices," said Monique Yeli Kam, who came to the national forum representing her party, the Movement for Burkina's Renaissance, in order to "support and defend the vision of national unity".

Updated: October 15, 2022, 5:38 AM
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