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Burkina Faso's second coup this year allows Russia a foot in the door in West Africa

Plus: Germany decides to keep its nuclear power plants running through the winter

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Today's briefing is a ~4.8 min read:

  • 🪖 Burkina Faso's military coup: how it impacts France and Russia.

  • ➕ Plus: Colombia restarts peace talks with a rebel faction, Mexico’s government sprung for spying on journalists (again), and Germany extends its nuclear power plants through the winter.

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Burkina Faso's second coup this year

In brief:

  • Last Saturday, Burkina Faso’s interim-President Paul-Henri Damiba was deposed by Captain Ibrahim Traoré, a 34-year-old artillery officer, in the country’s second coup this year.

  • The coup will likely tip the region’s geopolitical balance in favour of Russia and further diminish France’s long-held influence there.

Ibrahim Traoré: The radio on the right is for issuing commands to my troops, the radio on my left is so I can call my mother. Credits: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

Two coups in a year

These past few months have been tough for us all, what with rising inflation and the return of pumpkin spice lattes. But spare a thought for the Burkinabé people who’ve had to live through two military coups in one year.

  • The latest coup began early last Friday with reports of heavy gunfire in suburbs of the capital Ouagadougou (pronounced ‘WAH-guh-DOO-goo’ - go on, you know you want to say it 😉).

  • By Friday evening, President Damiba had been removed from office and exiled to Togo, and Captain Traoré had declared himself the “President of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration”.

How did we get here? Back in January, Lt Col Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba overthrew former-former President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, on the grounds of being unable to defeat a powerful Islamist insurgency in the north of the country.

  • Damiba’s coup was initially popular with citizens due to the previous government’s inability to defeat Islamist insurgents.

  • But his popularity plummeted after it became clear that he would also be unable to get control of Burkina Faso's security situation.

As they say, live by the sword, die by the sword.

The geopolitics of it all

Burkina Faso’s latest coup will have regional and global consequences.

1. 🇫🇷 France's influence in West Africa is declining

Earlier this year, France was forced to evacuate its troops from Mali after a coup in the West African country. According to regional experts Benedikt Erforth and Denis Tull:

“Paris now faces accusations of failing to get a grip on the security situation [in West Africa] and even perpetuating neo-colonial patterns of dependency.”

Last week's coup in Burkina Faso is likely to follow the same pattern:

  • Traoré’s supporters reportedly attacked the French Embassy, convinced that French authorities were harbouring Damiba and plotting to reinstate him as president once the situation had stabilised.

2. 🇷🇺 Where there's a power vacuum, there's Russia

France’s retreat has left a vacuum in West Africa and Russia has been more than happy to fill it.

Traoré’s pledge to divert “all fighting forces to refocus on the security issue” has raised concerns that his troops will collaborate with Russian paramilitary groups.

In contrast to France, Russia’s influence across sub-Saharan Africa has increased in recent months, with supporters of the recent coup in Burkina Faso reportedly seen flying Russian flags.

What’s next?

It is still too early to definitively conclude that Captain Traoré will collaborate with Russia’s Wagner Group, but it appears likely.

The big questions for Burkina Faso’s future are:

  1. Can Traoré improve the country’s security situation and get the Islamist insurgents under control?

  2. Will Traoré break with tradition and keep his promise to return the country to civilian rule in two years' time?

If 2022 is any guide, the answers to both questions will be no.

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The Americas

🇧🇷 Brazil

President Jair Bolsonaro has decided to bring forward welfare payments to increase his re-election chances.

  • The payments were initially scheduled for 31 October but have been brought forward six days to ensure the benefits are paid out before the second round of voting in Brazil's presidential election.

  • Whether bringing forward payments that were due to be paid anyway will have a meaningful effect on undecided voters remains to be seen.

🇨🇴 Colombia

The Colombian government and the leaders of the rebel group National Liberation Army (ELN) have agreed to restart peace talks after a four-year break.

  • The talks were halted in 2018 after the ELN bombed several police stations.

  • A ceasefire or treaty with ELN would be a significant win for Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who has optimistically promised to deliver “total peace”.

🇲🇽 Mexico

The personal devices of several journalists and human rights activists were infected with Pegasus spyware between 2019 and 2021, according to a new report by Citizen Lab.

  • Crucially, the infections were detected after Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador assured the public that the government was no longer using the program.

  • Multiple governments worldwide have reportedly used the Israeli-designed Pegasus spyware to spy on opposition figures, journalists and activists.

🇺🇸 The US

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has kicked off his Latin American tour, during which he will meet with three leftist leaders in the hopes of establishing at least working relationships.

  • After a stop in Colombia, Blinken will head to Chile then Peru.

  • The rising number of leftist politicians in Latin America presents an ideological and political challenge for Washington, and Blinken has been sent to smooth things over.

🇺🇾 Uruguay

The head of security for Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou was arrested last week over his involvement in a gang that provided Russian citizens with fake Uruguayan documents.

  • The forgery ring provided falsified birth certificates with proof of Uruguayan heritage, which were then used to apply for Uruguayan passports.

  • It is not just Uruguay: an investigation revealed that citizens of Russia, Venezuela and Cuba were also involved in the scheme.


Is this nuclear’s time to shine?

Via Giphy

The news: Germany has announced it will delay the closure of two nuclear power plants to boost the country’s energy supplies ahead of winter.

  • With Russia turning off the tap on gas imports, Germany and other EU countries have been forced to find creative ways to keep the lights on - or more importantly, the heating on - during the upcoming winter months.

Some context: Germany used to obtain a quarter of its electricity from 17 nuclear reactors until 2011, when the government phased it out following Japan’s Fukushima disaster.

  • Despite most Germans being against nuclear power, public opinion recently shifted in favour of keeping the remaining reactors running this winter.

A nuclear resurgence? In July, the European Parliament voted to include nuclear energy in the EU’s green investment taxonomy, which will help encourage private investment in the technology.

  • German finance minister Christian Lindner also came out in defence of nuclear power, tweeting:

“For the time of the crisis we should therefore not only leave the 3 remaining [nuclear power plants] on the net. [...] we would have 5 safe, climate-friendly power plants that can make an important contribution to price reduction.”

Rightly or wrongly, building new nuclear plants won’t help solve the problem in the short term, not least because nuclear power plants take around a decade to construct and bring online.

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