In the dead of the night, gunfire erupted in the streets of Niamey, the capital city of neighboring Niger on the last day of March 2021. The incident happened two-days before the inauguration of the Current President. According to reports, heavy weapon fire was heard for about half an hour in the area of the presidential palace. But the Presidential guards repelled the attack. By the time the dust had settled, it was reported as a coup attempt attributed to an Airforce unit, which had been foiled and the perpetrators arrested.
The following month, the death of longtime Chadian strongman Idriss Derby saw the ascension of his son Mahamat Derby to the “throne” so to speak. The Chadian military literally installed him as interim president leading a transitional military council where many have called it a “dynastic coup.” Before his death, Idriss Derby was re-elected every 5-years since 1991 even though via questionable democratic processes. Ideally after his death, power is constitutionally meant to be transferred to his second in command. But alas, the army apparently had other plans.
A month after in Mali, soldiers also struck in the West African country. They captured the President and other top government officials. Assimi Goita, the head of the junta announced that the democratically elected government officials were stripped of their powers and that new election were to be held soon. Nine months prior, the protagonist of the May coup was the ring leader of an earlier coup. They promised an 18-month transition programme to civilian rule which is still to be seen.
Earlier in the month, the President of Guinea, Alpha Conde was captured by the country’s armed forces in a coup after gunfire in the capital, Conakry. In the subsequent announcement, the leader of the coup dissolved the country’s constitution and government. The coup has been met with almost universal disapproval of foreign countries and organizations, which have called for the coup to stop, for the prisoners to be released and for constitutional order to return.
Then just last week, news emerged out of Khartoum that a coup attempt involving military officials and civilians linked to the regime of autocrat Omar al-Bashir was foiled in Sudan.
These coup d’états are just the coups that has taken place this year alone. So, one may wonder whether we are witnessing a resurgence of military takeovers in Africa – particularly West Africa!
Going down memory lane, military coups have been a regular occurrence in Africa in the decades since independence. If one grew up in the 70s, 80s and early 90s in Nigeria, one should be familiar with martial music interrupting regular programming on the radio or TV often followed by an announcement that the military had taken over a civilian government or toppled another military regime. In the years following independence, Nigeria has had about eight coups between January 1966 and the takeover by General Sani Abacha in 1993. Since 1999 however, transfers of power in Africa’s most populous nation have been by democratic election.
Burkina Faso has had the most successful coup d’états, with seven and only one failed. Sudan has had the most with 15 coups – five of them successful. The most recent was in 2019 with the removal of Omar al-Bashir as head of state following months of popular protest. Omar al-Bashir had himself taken over power in a military coup in 1989. Other African countries such as Burundi has had about 11 coups Ghana and Sierra Leone with 10, Benin, Burkina Faso and Guinea Bissau with 8, while Niger and Chad has had about 7. Overall, Africa has experienced more coups than any other continent.
One would ordinarily ask, why the coups? Well, there are different answers to this question. Popular uprisings against long-serving dictators have provided an opportunity for the return of coups in Africa. While popular uprisings are legitimate and people-led, its success is often determined by the decision taken by the military. Similarly, given the instability African countries experienced in the years after independence, made them rife for coups. Most of these countries had conditions for coups, like poverty and poor economic performance.
While one is inclined to join the Nigerian government, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the United Nations (UN) and all other bodies and governments that condemned the recent events in Guinea resulting in the ousting of President Condé, we need to critically peruse what are the harbingers of coups. It is quite sad that a lot of African countries possess a cocktail of ingredients that stir coups with long term leaders who invest power in themselves at the expense of weakened institutions. Agitated citizens that are often victims of injustice and social inequality are also likely more welcoming of the regime change. However, history has shown that coup leaders don’t always live up to their promise.
Factors such as dictatorial regimes, corruption, and mismanagement of the economy are other factors that trigger coups in Africa. Coups have also revealed to have devastating effects on the economy. Given the uncertainty of military governance and the “unofficial rule” that when a country has one coup, that’s often a harbinger of more coups, investors tend to be apprehensive to put their money into an economy that is run by the whims of a dictator. They would rather take their chances with market forces. The likely effects in most cases are a lack of economic growth, increased inflation and pervasive unemployment, factors the military often cite as the reason they took power in the first place.
African countries need to begin strengthening its democratic institutions so much so that democratic processes will always prevail. Conducting free, fair and credible elections shouldn’t be rocket science and shouldn’t be too much to achieve. This has been one of the major causes of the incursion of the military in democratic governance. In most cases, elections are conducted in a fraudulent manner which gives rise to legitimacy issues, rancor in the ranks of the political elites and a feeling of disenfranchisement on the part of the people.
African countries should also begin to do-away with what has come to be known as “democratic dictatorship” whereby a particular person remains in power for donkey years albeit supposedly through the ballot box. The country’s constitution in this case is mostly “fine-tuned” to accommodate the president’s ambition. This was the case in Guinea with Alpha Conde changing the constitution by extending term limits so he can remain in power after his two-year tenure.
Once upon a time, Military Coups and the overthrow of existing government by a small group was the staple of African governance. And even though, as of recent, it would appear that Democracy has not only been enshrined in our communities but has come to stay, African governments that continue to play ‘rigmarole’ with irresponsible and tone-deaf governance may want to beware of the current emerging tide in Africa.
…After all, the Army and Martials are closely watching events and any trigger-happy group of soldiers are only a swift attack, stealth directed against duly constituted authorities and takeover of government installations and communications networks away from the resurgence of the Military coup in Africa. …” Nuff Said!”