Ibrahim Traore is the youngest head of state in the world. The young military wants to reform the African country of Burkina Faso – and remove it from the West.
A ghost is haunting West Africa. Its name: anti-imperialism. This is particularly evident in Burkina Faso, where Ibrahim Traoré has been in charge of the country since a military coup in autumn 2022. At just 34, Traoré is currently the youngest head of state in the world.
His turning away from the former colonial power France and his focus on Vladimir Putin’s Russia has brought the president not only recognition but also criticism.
Who is the young statesman? What does he want to achieve for Burkina Faso and West Africa? And why are some observers already comparing him to Thomas Sankara, who in the 1980s promoted the departure from France and strengthened civil rights in Burkina Faso?
Putschist and anti-colonialist
Traoré was born in 1988. He joined the army of his home country in 2010. His role within the military is controversial. Sources such as the British BBC and the Arabic broadcaster Al Jazeera write that he was part of the anti-terrorist unit “Cobra” from 2019 – the magazine “Jeune Afrique”, which is usually very well informed about African politics, meanwhile states that Traoré is never been part of the elite force.
One thing is certain: in September 2022 he helped with the military coup and the ousting of Burkinabe President Paul-Henri Damiba – and brought the “Patriotic Movement for Security and Reconstruction” (MPSR) to power. On October 6, 2022, Traoré declared himself Interim President of Burkina Faso. He promised to hold democratic elections in July 2024.
The main reason for last year’s coup was said to have been then-President Damiba’s inability to fight a jihadist insurgency in northern Burkina Faso. According to Traoré and the putschists, Damiba relied too much on the help of the former colonial power France in the fight against the Islamists.
And this is exactly where things get interesting with a view to Germany, Europe and the West. Because unlike his predecessors, Traoré seems to have a rather unconventional understanding of which international partners are important to him. After taking office, he said: “France must not interfere in our affairs. The Americans are currently our partners. However, we can also work with Russia.”
Traoré is pushing cooperation with Russia
It quickly became apparent what this focus on Russia and its President Vladimir Putin looks like. Traoré spoke at the Africa Summit in Saint Petersburg, among other places, and in his speech drew parallels to Russia’s historic struggle against Nazi Germany and Burkina Faso’s struggle against the remnants of French colonial rule. He called the Russian head of state “Comrade Vladimir Putin” at the time.
Traoré always ends his speeches with the words “La patrie ou la mort, nous vaincrons!”, in English: “Fatherland or death, we will win” – the motto of revolutionary Cuba under Fidel Castro.
The head of state makes no secret of his Marxist views elsewhere either. He is striving for a restructuring of the state towards an egalitarian society, as he explained in a television speech shortly after the putsch. He calls for a “refoundation of the state”, the restructuring of the system of government and extensive modernization to combat extremism and corruption.
Similarities to Thomas Sankara
Traoré is the direct successor to Thomas Sankara, who ruled Burkina Faso from 1983 until his assassination in 1987. Like Traoré, Sankara belonged to the military and came to power at the age of 34. He started a socialist revolution in Burkina Faso, which was still called Upper Volta when he took office, and initiated many reforms that improved the lives of the Burkinabe people.