Just when the world was beginning to believe that military coups belong in the past in Africa, recent events have proved that it is not yet uhuru for civilian democratic rule in the continent. Guinea is the latest bad example of threats to democracy in West Africa. Recently, soldiers deposed Guinean President, Alpha Condé after hours of heavy gunfire around the Presidential Palace. Mamadi Doumbouya, the 41-year-old colonel who appears to be the leader of the military takeover, said in a statement at a meeting after the putsch that the army had little choice but to “give the people their freedom.”
This uncanny development made the West African regional body, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to slam a suspension on Guinea’s membership of the 15-member bloc in response to the coup. We recall that Conde was elected president in 2010 and was re-elected for a second term in 2015. Last year, he pushed through a constitutional change to allow himself to run for a third term.
He went on to win a presidential election in October 2020. Violent protests erupted across the country in response to his re-election, resulting in the death of dozens of protesters. It is instructive to note that the West African region has experienced four coups recently. Mali has had two military coups in less than a year. Last year only one coup was recorded but in 2021 there have been coups in Niger, Chad, Mali, and Guinea.
According to a report, from independence through 2004, the 16 West African states have experienced 44 successful military coups, 43 often-bloody failed coups, at least 82 coup plots, seven civil wars, and many other forms of political conflicts. Without doubt, Africa is the continent with the highest military coups in the world. Sudan has the most coups with 15. Similarly, Nigeria had eight coups between January 1966 and 1993. Burundi has seen 11 separate coups, while Sierra Leone experienced not less than nine coups between 1967 1997. Experts attribute poverty and poor economic performance to the incessant coups in Africa. However, we add, without justifying the rascality of soldiers, that bad behaviour on the part of the political class makes coups inevitable.
We also recall that Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, recently admonished ECOWAS to take proactive steps to prevent coups d’etat in the sub-region, and even on the continent as according to him, the unconstitutional seizure of power in any shape or form is simply unacceptable and has no place in the 21st century.
He observed that four coups within the last few months are a dangerous trend indeed in the sub-region. In the same vein, the Vice President noted that it was imperative that countries in the sub-region respect the provisions against unconstitutional accession to power, and apply it in all instances.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, sit-tight leadership has been the bane of most African leaders with their penchant for amending the constitution to prolong their stay in power. That is the cause of the current tragedy in Guinea and indeed some other countries that had experienced coups in the continent.
Democracy has been widely accepted the world over as the best system of governance. It is from this perspective that we call on African leaders to begin to provide good governance for the people. The continent is regarded as the poorest in the world. According to the World Bank, the International Poverty Line refers to those who have less than 1.25 US dollars a day to live on, and thus live on the very edge of existence. That is the state of affairs in many African countries.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) sets various indicators in its Human Development Index (HDI) to measure poverty in Africa and all other countries in the world. In the annual report on human development published by the United Nations (UN), the African countries of Malawi, Liberia, Burundi, Eritrea, Chad, Sierra Leone and Niger are regularly in the last place. This, in our view, has to change.
Invariably, African leaders must learn to respect the constitution of their countries. Attempts to perpetuate themselves in power through amendment of the constitution and election marred with violence, rigging and thuggery are usually precursors to military takeovers. This, too, must change.
To avoid being the laughing stock of the rest of the world as a theatre of coups, we urge that our leaders shun sit-tight mentality. Also, good governance, improved socio-economic conditions, free, fair, and credible elections will make military takeovers in Africa less attractive and the ugly phenomenon will naturally fizzle out.
Above all, we charge the military to rein in their inordinate ambition and lust for political power. They must demonstrate the discipline they are known for and focus on their duties of securing and defending the territorial integrity of their various countries. It has been proved that, in all cases, the military are not better than the civilian administrations they overthrow and vilify. Politicians must be allowed to make their mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them.