The spate of coups in West Africa: to what avail?

On the agenda of a recent AU summit in Addis Ababa was the spate of coups in the West African region. The ‘wave of unconstitutional changes of government’ was found disturbing. The Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo bemoaned the trend, describing it as and ‘contagious.’ So far, the coups seem to have been engendered by issues of unemployment, particularly, among the youth, the increasing spread of Islamic militancy and insurgency, especially in the Sahel region and slow pace of economic reforms, restlessness within the armed forces as well as political corruption.  So far, there have been coups in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Sudan, and recently a failed attempt in Guinea Bissau.

Two US researchers, Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne have identified more than 200 coup attempts in Africa since the 1950s. “About half of these have been successful – defined as lasting more than seven days,” they claim.  “There was a drop in the occurrences to around two a year in the two decades up to 2019.” [Peter Mwai, Are Military takeovers on the rise in Africa? BBC Reality Check, 2 February]

Growing calls for democratic reforms and constitutionalism led to the decrease in military coups until 2019 [2021, the year military coups returned to the stage in Africa, Al Jazeera, Mucahid Durmaz, 28 Dec. 2021]

In a sudden turn-around coups are making a come-back, in a reaction to which Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Chairman of the ECOWAS, describes as contagious. Powell and Thyne claim that the situation is “influenced by a mix of external drivers, including the increasing and diverse number of international actors who are active in the continent prioritizing their interests, and internal factors such as widespread public frustration against corruption, insecurity and poor governance.” This is not a recent occurrence. It was same in the past as foreign investors concerned with their interests would aid coup plotters to be successful as long as they are assured of their profits.

What could be termed the ‘Banana Republic syndrome’ where investors supported leaders who protected their (the investors)’ interest as against the interest of the host country. Russia is cited in both the 2021 and 2020 coups in Mali and Burkina Faso. It is also fingered as behind Mali strong man Assimi Goita’s severance of all relations with former colonial overlord France. Foreign investors tolerate local politics and tyranny as long as their interests are served.

There have been some modest democratic successes in West Africa.  But some observers would rather see it as superficial at best. Periodic elections are not usually accompanied by respect for the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and civil liberties as well as freedom of expression. In some countries people vote for reward not out of conviction. Political power is inherited and leaders answer to powerful political overlords. Endorsement of coup leaders by powerful Western countries is not uncommon. The old ways of doing things politically have not changed.

Regional bodies as the ECOWAS and AU are literally held in contempt.  They are paper tigers with no bite. The organizations approach coups simplistically. It is more concerned with issuing edicts and codes of behavior for a nation whose immediate needs are more than merely promising dates for returning to democracy.  General Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former military and civilian president is reported as having asked Ghana’s former President J. A. Kufuor if democracy is a consumable item – na democracy you go chop?  The Regional body must respect the people and even the putschists who sometimes are treated like criminals. Truly, democracy does not put food on the table.  

The popular acceptance of the coups by the people of Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea is an indication of the people’s concern and need for change in their respective countries. And indeed, it must also be a concern for the military strong men to perform. Assimi Goita calls himself a reformer, not in the mold of either Thomas Sankara or Jerry Rawlings. “Remember me as the bearer of hope to the people, the one who came when your blood was shed for your desire for change.” This pledge is a sacred oath to the people of Mali who expect more from Goita. But can he deliver?

The causes of the coups of old have not changed. As long as Africa possesses its mineral and natural resources whose demand from the advanced economies keeps increasing there will be investors who would continue to influence African leaders with anything they can afford. Voting patterns remain as they were in the past and would never change as long as avenues for corruption exist. ECOWAS

have more to do to ensure that trade imbalance that exists among member states is addressed. Border closures that impede trade among member states must be addressed. Free movement in the region must be encouraged to increase trade among member states. As we write Nigeria and Ghana continue to close their borders. Trade among member states would increase employment among themselves.

The motives for coups d’état are always self-righteous but the perpetrators always end up more corrupt, devious and tyrannical. Mobutu Sese Seko was driven out of his country to die in a foreign country. Ghanaians tolerated J. J. Rawlings for almost two decades of economic deprivation and Sanni Abacha died in bizarre circumstances after almost half a decade of dictatorship and misrule. None of them died poor.

The conditions that trigger coups on the continent are existential and need to be addressed. And the continent’s democratic leadership must not turn a blind eye but find solutions to end or address the conditions that trigger military interventions to avert any unforeseen events in the future. Military interventions in Africa have drawn the continent back, needless to say, and beggars the question: when shall it all end?

Posted by on Feb 26 2022. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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