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The way forward: Addressing the Incessant Military take over of power in Africa

The way forward: Addressing the Incessant Military take over of power in Africa

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Author: Lateef Madoti

Out of at least 486 attempted or successful military coups that have been carried out globally since 1950, Africa has recorded the largest number with over 214, of which at least 106 were successful. Based on data gathered by American researchers Jonathan M Powell and Clayton L Thyne, at least 45 of the 54 nations across Africa have experienced at least one coup attempt since 1950. The African continent saw a significant increase in coups in the last four years, with military interventions in Mali, Chad, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Niger, and most recently, Gabon. Since 2020, there have been 10 attempted coups mostly in West and Central Africa. Unfortunately in these countries, citizens have taken to the streets to cheer and throw heavy support to the disruption of democracy. In Niger, stadiums were filled by supporters of the military government after its July 26 coup. In 2021, there was also massive jubilation on the streets of Conakry and Boffa after the Guinean military officers removed Alpha Conde, the president who extended his constitutional tenure in office despite stiff opposition from the citizens. 

This idea of reacting to coup d’etat with optimism is an expression of deep-seated frustration with civilian rulers in Africa. The incessant military takeover of power has been attributed to several reasons ranging from corruption by democratically elected leaders to increasing levels of poverty in several parts of the continent. It is therefore important to assess the various solutions that can put an end to this sad occurrence in the continent.

Brief Elucidation on the Concept of Military Take Over of Power

Military Take Over of Power is also known as a coup d’état. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a coup d’état is the forcible, sudden, and illegal removal of a government, usually by the military or some part thereof. The coup may be with a greater or lesser degree of civilian collaboration, perhaps the collaboration of sympathetic politicians and parties and of occupational groups, such as union leaders. While the target of the coup is to remedy specific or immediate grievances, the outcome is unlikely to involve wide‐ranging changes in the social, economic, and political order. In other words, many often a coup is seen as an effective mechanism of bringing about revolutionary change by imposing some measure of reform in governance. However, recurrent military interventions have seldom contributed to long‐term social and economic problems in affected countries.


Highlights of Recent Coup d’etat in Africa

There has been recurrent military take over of power in Africa recently with most of them occurring in West Africa. It is pertinent to look into what transpired in some of the affected countries. 

Gabon: In August 2023, a group of Gabonese military officers announced a takeover of political power and cancellation of the results of the presidential election, which they considered lacked credibility. The announcement came shortly after the country’s electoral body announced that President Ali Bongo Ondimba had won a third term in office in the widely disputed presidential election. The son of former president Omar Bongo who governed Gabon between 1967-2009, President Ali Bongo has ruled the country since 2009. This continued control of power for decades led to a “deep resentment” of “dynastic-style politics” in the country.

Niger: On July 26, 2023, the military officers declared that they had ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. Consequently, General Abdourahamane Tiani became the new ruler of the country. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced its intention to deploy a regional force to restore constitutional order in the country. The military government on the other hand proposed a transition period of three years maximum before returning power to democratically elected leaders.

Burkina Faso: In 2022,  two coups occurred within 8 months in Burkina Faso. On January 24, 2022, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was unexpectedly ousted from power by the armed forces. Subsequently, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was inaugurated president in February same year. On September 30, Damiba was in turn removed from his position by the military and was replaced with Captain Ibrahim Traoré who was declared as transitional president until a presidential election scheduled for July 2024 is conducted.

Sudan: On October 25, 2021, soldiers led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane pushed out the transitional civilian leaders, who were supposed to lead the country towards a civilian regime after 30 years of dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir who himself was deposed in 2019. Sadly, since April 15, 2023, a war due to a power tussle between General Burhane and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdane Daglo has led to the death of at least 5,000 people in Sudan.

Guinea: On September 5, 2021, President Alpha Condé of Guinea was overthrown by a military coup. Subsequently, on October 1 same year, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya was inaugurated as the president of Guinea. The military government promised to return the reign of power to elected civilians by the end of 2024.

Mali: Two coups occurred within 9 months in Mali. On August 18, 2020, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was ousted by the military and a transitional government was constituted in October same year. However, on May 24, 2021, the military arrested the leaders of the transition government and inaugurated Colonel Assimi Goïta in June as the transitional president of the country. The junta promised to hand over to a civilian government after the elections scheduled for February 2024.


The Causes of Incessant Military Take Over of Power in Africa

The foremost reason for continuous military coups in Africa is economic inequality and poverty. According to the World Bank, the richest 10% of people in Africa exercise control over more than 40% of the wealth, while the poorest 50% share less than 10% of the economic wealth. Such a high level of inequality leads to social unrest, and popular discontent, and makes people more inclined to support the military interventionists – who usually promise to improve the economy to bring the citizenry a better life. This can be seen in Niger.

The country ranks 7th among the world’s uranium exporters and has a large oil reserve and abundant gold mines. Unfortunately, Niger has more than 10 million people (equivalent to 41% of its population) living in abject poverty. Foreign aid accounts for not less than 40% of the national treasury. Therefore, contrary to the usual fear of arbitrary change of power, thousands of Nigeriens assembled in the country’s capital Niamey, to show support for the armed forces that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.

Besides poverty and economic inequality, corruption is a serious challenge in many African countries. According to Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index, 43 out of 54 surveyed countries in Africa ranked below 50, indicating massive corruption. Along with the plunder and greed of the leadership, the ineffectiveness of public policies and poor management of government funds are the causes of people’s discontent and eroding public trust. Coups are now welcomed as an option for a change in legal regime in the hope that the new government will be less greedy. Sadly, many military rulers tend to commit the same mistakes and anomalies that they have previously condemned.

Another reason why the dark continent is trapped in a cycle of military interventions is the violation of democratic principles in many countries. In fact, when they acquire power, elected leaders often alter the term-limiting terms in their respective constitutions. Those undemocratic reforms had empowered some presidents to run for re-elections without a time limit and possibly stay in power for life. When that is done, the spirit of democracy is murdered and the seed for the destruction of democracy is planted.

Gabon is a good example. Prior to being ousted by the military, former President Ali Bongo Ondimba was aspiring for his third term in office since taking the reign of power in 2009. This was actually after the death of his father Omar Bongo, who had ruled the country for more than 40 years. Similarly, In Cote d‘Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara successfully pushed for the alteration of the constitution as president and gave himself a third-term mandate. The AU and ECOWAS never raised an issue or cautioned him. The same thing happened in Central African Republic and Burundi. The AU and other sub-regional groups never raised an issue nor cautioned them. A situation where the democratic regime in member states deteriorates and regional and sub-regional bodies decide to speak out only when coups occur can always lead to an increase in the military takeover of government in the continent.

Furthermore, widespread insecurity in most African countries is an important cause of incessant military interventions in Africa. Undoubtedly, many countries in the continent still face challenges such as insurgency, terrorism, and organized crime. This usually creates an opportunity that military leaders could exploit to overthrow duly elected governments. Niger is a typical example. In Niger, the Boko-Haram insurgents occupy the area around Lake Chad. Al-Qaeda and Daesh groups continue to exercise control over some territories on Niger’s border with Mali and Burkina Faso. As a result, Niger is frequently attacked with thousands of casualties in recent years. Therefore, the June 2023 coup in the country was not a surprise to some diplomats.

In addition, other multiple factors make the dark continent the focus of the coup wave. Prominent among these factors are external forces. Major powers of the world such as Russia, China, USA, etc., can incite subversion and support political Instability in Africa to promote their selfish interests. This can come in the form of exerting undue influence on the political direction of a country in the continent.

The Effects of Recurrent Coup d’etat in Africa

The incessant military coups in Africa come with many effects on the continent and its people. It is necessary at this point to examine some of these effects.

First of all, coups have weakened democratic institutions in Africa. Many civilian governments have been overthrown by juntas, leading to social and political unrest. Coups also erode people’s trust in democratic institutions leading to massive conflict and violence, especially between groups opposing and supporting the military government. This consequently further complicates the already fragile security situation and deepens divisions in the affected African countries.

With respect to the effect on the economy, abrupt regime change in African countries, especially poor ones, will continue to negatively impact the economy of affected countries as well as the entire continent’s economy. Overall, coups are followed by reduced investment and economic disruption. Political instability in many countries makes foreign investors hesitant to seek business opportunities in the continent. The inevitable consequence is that people’s income declines and this leads to increased poverty and inequality. In the same vein, the rising political instability in African countries negatively affects the African Union’s (AU) effort to implement the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) successfully.

Furthermore, the wave of coups also increases the risk of terrorism in Africa. Extremist groups hiding in a country can take advantage of the political instability in such a country to carry out attacks. For instance, under former President Mohamed Bazoum, Niger was an active partner of international forces in dealing with the fighters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda. Thus, the security vacuum after the coup in Niger can benefit armed groups and negatively affect anti-terrorism efforts. 

In addition, the continuous military coups are sowing the division between countries on this continent. Recently, two opposing sides have emerged in Africa. These include some countries that support military interventions and those that publicly condemn the actions to seize power as undemocratic. For example, the governments of Burkina Faso and Mali warned that “any military intervention in Niger to bring down the coup government will be considered against their countries.” In contrast, members of ECOWAS, led by Benin and Ivory Coast, supported the use of force to restore the recently overthrown civilian regime in Niger. Therefore, it can be observed that the possibility of conflicts between African countries will occur easily if the issues of coups are not properly managed. 

The Preventive Measures and Solutions to the Incessant Military Take Over of Power in Africa

The current situation in which the African continent finds itself is not only curable but can also be prevented if certain measures are implemented. Some of these measures are highlighted below.

1. Strengthened Democratic Institutions: Building and maintaining strong democratic institutions is very essential to curbing coups in Africa. This can be achieved through an independent judiciary, transparent elections, a robust civil society and a free press. These strong institutions would contribute immensely to a system of checks and balances on democratic governments. This would consequently improve governance and block the chance of military interventions in the continents as a whole.  

2. Promotion of Good Governance: Inclusive, accountable, and transparent governance can reduce the grievances that often lead to coups in the continent. Efforts to ensure equitable resource distribution, combat corruption and create unbiased opportunities for political participation can help build people’s trust in the civilian government.

3. Utmost Respect for  Human Rights: Ensuring the protection and enforcement of human rights, including freedom of assembly, speech, and the rule of law, is very crucial to political stability. When citizens feel their rights are duly respected, they are more likely to engage in peaceful political processes.

4. Economic Development: Addressing economic inequalities and providing equitable opportunities for economic advancement can reduce frustration and political instability. 

5. Military Reform: The government of every country in the continent must ensure that the military’s role is to protect the country and its people, rather than to interfere in politics. Professionalizing the armed forces of the country, promoting civilian control, and reducing the military’s involvement in civilian matters can help prevent coups in the continent.

6. International Support: The international community can play a huge role by providing diplomatic pressure and needed assistance in strengthening democratic institutions in Africa. Neighboring countries and International organizations can always help mediate in internal conflicts and encourage peaceful transitions of power.

7. Exploring Dialogue and Mediation: Encouraging open dialogue and mediation between civil society, different political groups, and the government can help address grievances and find lasting and peaceful solutions to conflicts. Mediation efforts can also help prevent the escalation of tensions.

8. Political Inclusion: Ensuring that diverse groups and voices are duly represented in the political process can help prevent feelings of marginalization and exclusion that can lead to political instability.

9. Strong Regional Organizations: The African Union and sub-regional blocs such as ECOWAS should take proactive roles in mediating conflicts, preventing coups, and promoting democratic values in member states. This may include developing mechanisms to identify early signs of coup plotting or political instability. Early detection would allow for prompt intervention to prevent escalations.

It is however important to note that each country has its own unique problems and dynamics.  Strategies should be meticulously adapted to the specific context of each nation. Additionally, preventing coups requires a sustained, unalloyed, and long-term effort that entails the cooperation of international actors, civil society, governments, and citizens themselves.  

Conclusion

Democracy has always been adjudged to be the best system of government that enhances speedy socio-economic development if properly practiced. Military interventions in governance often draw back the development of a country and its people. Africa is endowed with abundant natural resources coupled with large energetic human capital that can put the continent in its rightful place in the world. However, the incessant military coups in Africa keep moving the continent backward. It is therefore incumbent on all relevant stakeholders to look into the causes of this unfortunate occurrence and employ preventive measures and solutions that can enhance long-lasting and vibrant democratic regimes and socio-economic development in the continent.


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