The rows of still burning truck carcasses, black plumes of smoke high in the sky, would prove to be the harbinger. Like a long pendulum, the dozens of trucks carrying sacks of millet, rice, soap and medicines had moved along what Burkinabes have come to call ‘the axis of death’. The road from Ouagadougou to Djibo, the once bustling trading city in Burkina Faso’s extreme north, now on the brink of collapse. Since February, the inhabitants of Djibo have been surrounded by jihadists who are slowly squeezing their lives out. The hunger is dire, everything is in short supply. Desperately waiting for the military escorted convoy that should have brought some relief last week. That never arrived. A short stop to pray ended in an ambush by the jihadists. 27 soldiers and 10 civilians were killed. The provisions smoldered. Also read: Jihadis and Russia see opportunities in Burkina Faso after new coup The videos that quickly circulated, the testimonies of those who could flee, they themselves became a fuse: discontent that had been brewing for some time could immediately explode. Did Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba know that when he saw the footage? After all, a bloody attack on a military base in November 2021 made him and other soldiers decide that enough was enough. That the president was not in control of the situation. That they should take over. Less than a year later, Burkina Faso is two coups further. President Damiba resigned on Sunday after a dramatic weekend in which angry protesters took to the streets to demand his departure as several army units clashed. Damiba drew the short straw. The words of the new leader, 34-year-old captain Ibrahim Traoré, echoed his predecessor’s seizure of power. They had to intervene, he also said, given the “continually deteriorating security situation”. Two million displaced persons Djibo was the drop, symbol of the promises that Damiba failed to keep. From a president who failed to prevent al-Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated groups from continuing to gain ground, north, west, southeast. Of the more than 3,000 dead this year alone, more than in all of 2021. Of the nearly two million displaced – tens of thousands of whom had just fled to Djibo. “When Damiba and his Mouvement Patriotique pour le Sauvegarde et la Restauration (Patriotic Movement for Protection and Restoration) took power, people had hopes that the situation would get better, that he would break with the ills of the previous government,” said politician. analyst and assistant professor Cheickna Yaranangoré from Ouagadougou. “It was a disappointment.” Also read: And again West African soldiers seize power The latest coup, yet another in Burkina Faso’s history, threatens to plunge the country further into chaos. Since jihadists crossed the border from Mali around 2015, Burkina Faso has been sinking into a cycle of violence spearheaded by terrorists and civilian militias who said they were fighting but became increasingly violent themselves. Innocent civilians paid the price: attacks, reprisals, extrajudicial killings. Battered and desperate, there was little protest among the 22 million Burkinese when the military took power in January. In fact, there was especially support for the 41-year-old Damiba, who was known as an anti-terror expert. “Give me five months,” he asked. A few weeks later, Djibo was surrounded. So the disappointments piled up. Also within the army, where divisions between units were brewing. The cracks have become sharper in recent months, says Constantin Gouvy, Sahelian researcher at the Clingendael Institute. “There were differences of opinion about the deployment and arming of civilian militias, about Damiba’s efforts to promote dialogue with jihadists at the local level and about his choice of international partnerships.” While Damiba continued to rely mainly on support from former colonizer France, the voices within the army and his MPSR swelled for cooperation with Russia. Problems of the previous regime meanwhile persisted, such as corruption and slow decision-making. In particular, the young officers who helped Damiba to power have been criticized by the president for setting them aside and setting wrong priorities. He would be more concerned with politics, such as his criticized “national reconciliation” process, than with what he had promised: tackling the security situation. “We see the same generation gap in society,” says analyst Yaranangoré, affiliated with the Dutch Institute for Multiparty Democracy. “75 percent of Burkinabes are under 35 years old, but they are economically and politically excluded, their voices are not heard. These young people want a radical break with the old system.” Breaking with French Neocolonization That also means: breaking with the French presence that they see as an inseparable part of that system. Young Burkinese look with admiration to Mali, where the military rulers exchanged French troops for Russian mercenaries from the controversial Wagner Group. Yaranangoré: “They see Mali’s junta as real pan-Africanists who have managed to break out of the neocolonization of France.” Wagner’s Telegram groups cheered the coup in Burkina Faso this weekend, fueling speculation that this group may have something to do with the coup. There are no indications for that. What is certain is that, as in Mali, Russian disinformation is widespread in Burkina Faso. The fires that have been stoked up last weekend, when supporters of the new coup plotters attacked French buildings with bricks, some with Russian flag capes around their necks. Ibrahim Traoré, the new young leader, says he wants to explore “new partnerships”, although he did not allow himself to be pinned to Russia in interviews. The question is whether he can live up to the hopes that many place in him. In a video statement in which Damiba reluctantly announced his resignation, he seemed to be warning his successor. “Our arrival brought a lot of hope in the people, to the point that it blinded us to the harsh reality of our country.” Traoré already made a first gesture. On Tuesday, the army brought a first load of relief supplies to Djibo by helicopter. It would involve seventy tons of food and other basic necessities. Update October 5, 2022: an earlier version of this story stated that at least 11 soldiers were killed in the attack near Djibo and 50 civilians were still missing. The army has revised the death toll to 27 soldiers and 10 civilians. 3 people are still missing. A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 5, 2022