Nine months after the coup that ousted President Roch Kaboré of Burkina Faso, a new putsch ejected ruler Damiba on September the 30th. It also generated violent attacks on French institutions in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso that started with an unconfirmed information spread on social media. We retraced the origine of this rumor and established a mapped timeline of the subsequent events.
Panic in Ouagadougou. A new coup pushed Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba out of office on September the 30th. Afterward, rumors started spreading about a possible counter-attack supported by the French military. The new leader Ibrahim Traoré remained silent. In the meantime, French institutions became the targets of crowds wearing anti-imperialists signs … and waving Russian flags.
Vidéos, pictures, and news flooded social networks, most unverified. In this context of political mayhem, journalists and political experts questioned the implication of Russia in the coup. Our investigation could not confirm this hypothesis nor the presence of Wagner Soldiers on the ground. However, it retraced the rumors that circulated during the first days that followed the coup.
Saving private Damiba
On Twitter, @EgountchiLdna is the first account to tweet that a coup was being prepared. Founder of the “Black African defense’s league”, Frenchman Egountchi Behanzin is well known since his association was disbanded in 2021 by the French minister of Interior Gérald Darmanin. Despite that, he still aggregates 243k followers on Facebook, 29.8k on Tik Tok and 5 740 on Twitter.
On the 30th of September 2022, at 12:42 PM, Egountchi Behanzin Tweeted : “Uncertain coup. According to our sources, Paul Henri Damiba (the former Head of State of Burkina) may be safe with the french special forces in Ouagadougou, after the french embassy’s order, as asked by the Elysée.”
Behanzin “is a Frenchman from Benin who lives in France. He is probably not the source of the rumors. He reads the Whatsapp loops, like everyone else, according to journalist Danouma Ismael Traoré. The misinformation starts from there because there is no need to read or write. And the population is mostly illiterate.”
A few hours later, a second tweet was published. “French paratroopers dropped from an aircraft over Ouagadougou, capital of #BurkinaFaso. A source from the French Embassy confirms to me that Luc Hallad would coordinate actions at the request of the Élysée to secure their puppet Paul Henry Damiba.” According to Danouma Ismael Traoré, the information had already been shared on WhatsApp groups on September 30.
The identity of those paratroopers remains unclear. A few days later, FasoCheck, a burkinabè fact-checking media, explained the plane was actually from Niger, releasing “burkinabe soldiers preparing a military parachutist diploma”. In the original video, we could not identify which type of plane it was. There is also no evidence of such a partnership between Niger and Burkina Faso.
The following day, the 1st of October, at 2:39 PM, the rumor of Damiba being protected by the French is shared by the new military group on the burkinabè television channel RTB. Information was denied by French Embassy in a press release 1 hour later on networks.
According to the military putschists, Damiba had taken refuge in the Bila Zagré military camp in Kamboinsin. Several dozen demonstrators turned out on Saturday afternoon to demand Damiba’s exit from the camp. They gathered at one of the entrances in the southeast of the camp. In the pictures of the rally, a Russian flag and several Burkinabe flags can be seen. The clashes, however, came to nothing. The demonstrators had to face the military who controlled the camp. They prevented any entry into the compound.
Trouble in the « Land of honest men »
The same day, videos posted on social networks show a crowd of youngsters repeating anti-France and anti-EU slogans. The demonstrators threw stones at the French Institute and set fire to the guards’ huts at the entrance.
In the meantime in Ouagadougou, several videos of the French embassy on fire started to sprinkle on social networks. People trying to burn tires and kicking down a door. The videos are reshared by France 24 and AFP.
The videos were shot in front of the French embassy, at the level of the Avenue de l’Indépendance, which explains the main road that we can see. The attacks started around 2:30 PM and lasted all afternoon. Another scene takes place 1 Rue de l’Hospitalité, Quartier Koulouba, Ouagadougou.
On the night of October 1 to 2, Russian flags waved over the procession of demonstrators in the center of Ouagadougou, at the United Nations traffic circle. A military man paraded in front of the crowd. He’s seen on a United Nations armored vehicle waving his flag, surrounded by a multitude of Burkinabe. A Twitter video shows the float, with a gas station sign in the background. The same as one of the Oil stations, located on Dimdolossom Avenue, a few meters from the traffic circle.
The next day, on October 2, a video went viral on Twitter in the early afternoon. It shows again a military putschist on an armored vehicle, near the offices of the Prime Minister. He is waving the Russian flag, to the applause of dozens of Burkinabes. The original video was first posted in the early afternoon by journalist Henry Wilkins, a correspondent for the Washington Post and the BBC. He explains that it « was shot a few minutes ago by a friend ».
The political situation remains hard to read. The Russian government made no official statement to this day about the coup. Only Evgueni Prigojine, head of the Wagner group, has already welcomed this new power grab on its social networks.
BLACK BOX – How did we investigate?
First, we collected all media available on the net from 3 different events: the attack on the French embassy in Ouagadougou, the rampage at the French Institute in Bobo-Dioulasso, and a big demonstration on a what looked like an important square in Ouagadougou. We tried to set a date and place for each of these scenes to build a timeline of the events. We used reverse search and Google Maps to identify the locations. One major difficulty was that there is no street view in Burkina Fasso, so we had to base our analysis mostly on satellite view and crossing footage from social media.
Our research led to another spot of demonstrations: the Kambouinsin military camp where people thought Damiba was taken in by the French. We then noticed the tweets of Egountchi Behanzin and began to trace his background. This led us to Kemi Seba, and a group of anti-France influencers publishing statements about this new coup.
We infiltrated various Telegram and Facebook groups in order to have insights into the coup. We encountered consistent hostility to our questions, being called spies of the French military or colonialists. A local journalist helped us get into some of the Telegram groups that could have played a substantial role in the coup but we did not have access to the history of the messages.
We also interviewed him to get information in order to establish a geographical and chronological verification of the events. We also tried to no avail to interview Egountchi Behanzin but he he redirected us toward his secretary, which didn’t answer our question. Thus we lacked evidence of his implication in the coup, and of his potential links with Russian interests.