Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.
A coup is a global phenomenon that has occurred as far back as history goes. While the regularity across the world has reduced, we see an increase in coups in Africa. In Africa, coups have been a regular occurrence since most countries received independence.
Up to 2012, there have been over 200 coups attempted with 90% of African states experiencing at least one. The majority of coups are in the West African region which accounts for 44.4% of all the coups in Africa.
Coups are the means by which government change is forced through military takeovers. It disregards the democratic process of elections for brute force to effect government change. But what drives these military groups to choose an illegal direction to take over government power? In Africa, there are two drivers, internal and external.
Africa has a terrible track record when it comes to corruption. What’s worse is the effects of corruption that have a negative knock-on effect on the citizens. Many African countries are not able to provide basic necessities including education, health services, infrastructure, and employment opportunities. Taxes collected and donor funds are misappropriated daily to fill the pockets of the political elite.
Over time, corruption flows into the voting system. In many African countries, there are several politicians accused of rigging elections. Besides rigging elections, many sitting leaders have made adjustments to their countries’ constitutions, especially regarding term limits and age limits. In Guinea, for example, the most recent president changed term limits to three terms, which eventually led to a coup. By adjusting age and term limits, many sitting presidents have had long reigns in government while maintaining poor policies that continuously create disgruntled citizens.
When it comes to rigging elections, even the presence of observers from organizations like the AU and other African regional organizations is compromised. This is because some of these organizations are in favor of the ruling parties or leaders. Therefore, rather than condemn election results, they usually agree with the official government results like in Malawi and Kenya recently. In some cases, such as in Guinea-Bissau, the current president assumed power despite the elections still being contested in the Supreme Court. In Chad, a covert coup happened when the military installed the previous president’s son without an election.
The consistent abuse of the constitution and election process has stirred several coups across the continent.
But the factors driving coups do not end with the internal challenges. There are external forces that influence the rise of coups, including foreign interference and extremist groups. The work of foreign powers has always had a hand in African affairs. Russia is claimed to have had a hand in the coups in Mali and Burkina Faso in 2020 and 2021. The US trained the leader of the recent Mali coup. In Chad, Mahamat Déby was endorsed by France.
When it came to the UN sanctions against Mali, Russia and China were against France and the United States’ decision to create economic and border sanctions. Different international powers across the world have personal interests in each of these coups. Thus, they support the sides they prefer not just financially but with training and preventing sanctions at an international level.
Islamic extremism is another driver of coups, especially in West Africa. Political instability and poor economic circumstances in African countries create a favorable climate for the rise of militant extremist groups. In the Sahel, Mali and Burkina Faso have been faced with Islamic extremism from groups including Al Qaeda and ISIS. It is also reported that Islamist extremist attacks increased by 70% from 2021. The instability and insecurity caused by these groups exposes the weakness of governments. This in turn allows for coups to take advantage of weak institutions.
Is there a way this can be helped? The necessary changes need to start internally before considering external causes. Internally, Africa needs to turn away from cosmetic democracy where the process of voting is done for the sake of appearing democratic. Leaders need to address the socio-economic circumstances causing disgruntled citizens. These include providing adequate education, health services, and infrastructure to promote greater economic activity that will improve standards of living.
Beyond improving standards of living, democracy and the electoral process in Africa needs revisiting. With the help of regional and international organizations, respect for the constitution should be restored. Bodies such as the AU and ECOWAS should strictly uphold their mandates to keep governments accountable in holding free and fair elections.
Regional and international organizations should also approach coups with fair judgment. They should afford all coups the same punishment to deter others. Regional organizations should also avoid falling prey to foreign and state influence in conducting their mandates regarding democratic elections and managing coups.
Africa needs radical change and cooperation to reduce the risks of coups in the continent, starting internally with African states and regional organizations.
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