President Mamady Doumbouya of Guinea highlighted the resurgence of military coups in West Africa and parts of Africa during the 78th United Nations General Assembly. In his seven-word summary, he declared, “There is a coup epidemic in Africa.”
Doumbouya, who seized power on September 5, 2021, through a successful coup that ousted President Alpha Conde, was sworn in as Guinea’s interim president on October 1, 2021. During the assembly, he addressed the heads of state, noting that the continent has experienced a surge in military incursions, particularly in French-speaking countries of the Sahara, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. He expressed concern about the sudden resurgence of this phenomenon, which was once thought to be a thing of the past, condemning and sanctioning these actions.
While military incursions into politics were considered a thing of the past following democratic changes in the sub-region between 1991 and 1999, there is now a palpable fear that the democratic gains of the late 20th century are being reversed. Recent events in the sub-region, including military takeovers in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Guinea, and Chad since 2021, have raised concerns.
Mali experienced two coups in 2020 and 2021. The first, on August 18, 2020, saw the overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta amid mass protests against his rule over issues such as corruption, economic mismanagement, and disputed legislative elections. Although the coup was internationally condemned, it was welcomed by many Malians. The military junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), established a transition government in September 2020, appointing Bah N’Daw as interim president and Colonel Assimi Goita, the coup leader and CNSP chairman, as interim vice president.
The transition government’s charter granted it authority to govern for up to 18 months before organizing a general election. However, in May 2021, Colonel Assimi Goita orchestrated another military coup, assuming the role of transition president in June 2021. In response to the government’s extension of the return to democratic rule by five years, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions in January 2022.
Chad has been under military rule since April 2021 when a group of military officers seized power following the assassination of President Idris Deby. General Mahamat Idriss Deby, named interim president by a Transitional Council of military officers, has led the country under military rule. The council replaced Chad’s constitution with a new charter, granting Déby, the son of the assassinated president, presidential powers and naming him head of the armed forces.
In Burkina Faso, two coups occurred in January and October 2022. The January coup ousted President Roch Kaboré, leading to the regime of Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, commander of one of the country’s three military regions. Damiba, a highly trained soldier with U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) participation, justified the intervention in the country’s politics by citing the deteriorating security situation.
According to a BBC report, Damiba’s military government alleged that Kaboré failed to unite the nation and effectively address the security crisis threatening the foundations of the nation. Damiba was later ousted in another coup led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré, his military colleague and a geology graduate from the University of Ouagadougou. Traoré, disillusioned by the lack of military equipment for Burkinabe soldiers and political corruption, declared himself the new head of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration. He assumed the position of Interim President, pledging to hold democratic elections in July 2024.
Speaking at the Mohammed V Palace in Conakry, Guinea, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya said that his mission was to “refound the state” by writing a new constitution, tackling corruption, changing the electoral system, and putting in place “free, credible, and transparent” elections. He also promised to “respect all the national and international commitments to which the country has subscribed.”
Guinea’s military junta has not specified how long it would stay in power, but it said that anyone taking part in the interim government would be barred from running for election in the process that would usher in a return to democratic government.
He said: “What I want to say is that international community must have the honesty and rectitude to not content itself by simply denouncing the development. Rather it must look at the underlining causes.“
He averred that there are deep-rooted causes of coups d’etat which must be identified in order to remedy the problem because a coupist is not only the person who picks up the arm to overthrow a regime.
“I want all to be well aware that the real putchist, and the most numerous, are those who plot schemes to manipulate the text of the constitution in order to stay in power eternally. It is those in white-collar jobs that change the rule of the game as the game unfolds in order to keep the reins of power at their control. There are broken promises, the lethargy of the people and leaders tampering with the constitution with their sole concern of remaining in power to the detriment of collective wellbeing,” he said, and warned that “today the African people are more awake than ever and determined to take their destiny with their own hands. The unequal distribution of wealth creates endless inequalities, famine the abject poverty, which makes the lives of the population increasingly difficult.
“These inequalities are part of the causes of the events that endanger our peaceful coexistence. When the wealth of the country is in the hands of the elites while newborns die in hospitals due to lack of incubators, it is not surprising that in such conditions we are witnessing coups in Africa.”
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the coup that toppled President Mohamed Bazoum in the Republic of Niger by his own presidential guards and brought General Abdourahamane Tchiani to power in July 2023. The coup attracted condemnation from ECOWAS, the African Union, and the United Nations, as well as the United States of America and France.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the coup that toppled President Mohamed Bazoum in the Republic of Niger by his own presidential guards and brought General Abdourahamane Tchiani to power in July 2023. The coup attracted condemnation from ECOWAS, the African Union, and the United Nations, as well as the United States of America and France. ECOWAS mobilized its military for intervention if the soldiers failed to restore the ousted president to power. Still, the military intervention was laid aside for diplomatic management of the crisis.
Why Military Coups Why are military coups sweeping across West Africa? The short answer, according to Al Jazeera, is that “weak democratic processes have often failed nations in Francophone West Africa and the Sahel in particular, resulting in deepening inequality, corrupt administrations, and fragile ethnic and cultural accords, according to experts. Those conditions, in turn, attract paternalistic superpowers that are keen to extend their influence.”
The United States Consul-General in Nigeria, Will Stevens, attributed the growing trend of military takeover of government in Africa to the refusal of some leaders to relinquish power after their tenure in office.
…I hope and feel that you (Africa) can fix the problems, and the problems are big. It’s climate change which leads to flooding, it is plastics pollution, it is food insecurity, and it is the backsliding of democracy in the region.
Stevens enjoined political leaders to ensure the peaceful transition of power. “I hope and feel that you (Africa) can fix the problems, and the problems are big. It’s climate change which leads to flooding, it is plastics pollution, it is food insecurity, and it is the backsliding of democracy in the region.
“Olusegun Obasanjo served two terms and left power; he set the precedent in Nigeria for you to serve and then step aside for your successor. Nigeria has enjoyed 24 years of presidential succession.
“President Buhari just did the same thing; he served his two terms and then he stepped aside. That is a big deal in democracy, peaceful transitions of power. That is a huge thing to be proud of; it does not happen very often.
“There are presidents of neighboring countries that have been there for a very, very long time, 20, 30, 40 years. This leads to democratic instability; it leads to coups.
“Nigeria is the fourth-largest democracy in the world. You just had a successful presidential transition, successful elections, and these are something you should not take for granted. The idea that people can come into power, they can serve and then leave is really cool.”
However, an analysis of the recent spate of coups in West Africa by a perspective Nigerian economist and managing director of the Financial Derivatives Company Limited, Mr. Bismarck Rewane, said that “coup d’etat could be a protest against colonial dominance, misrule and bad governance, electoral impunity, and tenure elongation” by unscrupulous politicians. Rewane said that there is “coup here, coup there, coup everywhere!” as Africa grapples with coup d’état contagion following up to 10 coup attempts since 2019. According to him, 45 of the 54 African countries have experienced at least one coup attempt since 1950.
“all the African countries that had a coup since 2019 had a unitary system of government.” In addition, “countries with coup attempts are characterized by underdevelopment, a high level of misery and poverty, poor democracy rating, weak legitimacy, botched election/tenure elongation.”
He posited that “all the African countries that had a coup since 2019 had a unitary system of government.” In addition, “countries with coup attempts are characterized by underdevelopment, a high level of misery and poverty, poor democracy rating, weak legitimacy, botched election/tenure elongation.
He averred that the coup contagion could spread from former French colonies to former British colonies. He said: “Africa faces waves of crises of order – civilian coup/military coup. The continent is on the road to crises of disorder – balkanization/African uprising.”
Democracy dies in a series of small stops. These small stops, as it concerns West Africa, are the steady erosion of democratic ideals like free and fair elections, the rule of law, corruption, etc. Writing in 1975, Robin Hallett, in his book “Africa Since 1875,” wrote that “political leaders brought about their own downfall and were overthrown in coups led by army officers.” Another historian, Peter C. Lloyd, wrote in “Africa in Social Change” that “both the economic poverty of small (West African states) and their sudden and unprepared attainment of independence from French rule.”
This was aptly captured by General Oligui Nguema, leader of the Gabonese military junta that seized power on August 30, 2023. Nguema said: “As former Ghanaian President Jerry John Rawlings said, ‘when the people are crushed by their leaders, with the complicity of the judges, it is up to the army to give them their freedom.”
He continued: “It is with this spirit that on August 30, 2023, like a meteorite in the dark night, the Defense and Security Forces of our country (Gabon) took their responsibilities by refusing the electoral coup which had just been announced by the Gabonese Elections Center following an outrageously biased electoral process.
Speaking in the same vein, ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia said that “coups are not isolated incidents; they often mark the beginning of a downward spiral of political, economic, and social crises.”
Similarly, a former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, had remarked that “a coup is not just a consequence of failed governance; it is a stark reminder of the urgent need for accountable and inclusive leadership.”
Mindful of these series of stops, former President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria has said that democracy needs to be “rejigged” and put in a proper direction. He said this during a “Democracy Dialogue 2023” that was organized by the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation (GJF) with the theme “Breaking New Grounds in The Democracy Development Nexus in Africa.”
Jonathan said that democracy in Africa continent has caused serious crises, including the challenges of poverty and unemployment that have created a crisis of trust in the hearts of the citizens.
He said: “Leadership is supposed to work to ensure that democracy is translated to economic well-being, explaining that democracy should be able to encourage development.
“Recently, we have experienced jubilations heralding the overthrown of civilian administrations in Africa; people jubilating about military overthrowing civil administrations, such victory songs will not last long, but it showed that Africa needs to rejig her democracy.
“As leaders, we have the responsibilities to ensure that democracy endures by adhering to the rules of law, respecting the rights of the people, strengthening public institutions, ensuring that we implement policies that will impact positively on the lives of our people.
…the epidemic of military government is raising stability concerns that are affecting development and investment inflow into the affected countries in West Africa sub-region.
Nonetheless, the epidemic of military government is raising stability concerns that are affecting development and investment inflow into the affected countries in the West Africa sub-region. The Chief Executive Officer of African Finance Corporation, Mr. Samaila Zubairu, told Bloomberg recently that the growing number of military takeovers in African states is raising concerns about stability and jeopardizing investment inflows into the continent.
Zubairu said that the AFC has suspended a project in one state that it has invested in and may delay the planned listing of its African projects because of the retrenchment of democratic rule. The AFC says it has an investment portfolio of about $11.5 billion in Africa.
The military juntas in Niger and Burkina Faso are also feeling the pinch. The country’s Minister of State, Mr. Bassolma Bazie, told the United Nations General Assembly that “a handful of African exiles are holding Niger hostage. We should stop the imperialist from setting fire in Niger as they did in Libya.
“Burkina Faso is experiencing cynical sanctions by the so-called international community led by France. Thirdly, in addition to cutting off aids and others, we have seen a blockade on the importation of important defense equipment to control and defend our territory. The international community is failing to assist states attacked by terrorists.”
ECOWAS also ordered financial sanctions against the military junta in Niger Republic and threatened military intervention to restore the ousted democratically elected president.
Briefing State House Correspondents in Abuja, Nigeria, on the decisions taken by ECOWAS regarding the situation in Niger, The Special Adviser to the President Bola Tinubu on Media and Publicity, Mr. Ajuri Ngelale, said that the financial sanctions would be implemented through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on businesses and persons related to or involved with the military junta in Niger Republic.
He said, “following the expiration of the deadline of the ultimatum and standing on the pre-existing consensus position of financial sanctions meted out on the military junta in Niger Republic by the bloc of ECOWAS Heads of State, His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has ordered an additional slew of financial sanctions through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on entities and individuals related to or involved with the military junta in Niger Republic.”
According to him, the latest imposition of financial sanctions was not an individual decision taken by Tinubu or a national decision of only Nigeria, stressing that the decision was that of ECOWAS as a regional body.
“I said that intentionally I didn’t make a mistake because I was given permission to make that statement and I emphasized that this is not an individual action taken by an individual President on behalf of an individual nation. This is an action taken Yes, but ECOWAS chairman who is the president of Nigeria, but standing on the authority provided by the consensus resolution of all ECOWAS members and heads of state with regard to financial sanctions being levied by ECOWAS Member States against the military junta in Niger Republic.
“There is an authority that we are standing on. It is not the Nigerian government’s authority; it is the authority of the resolution passed in public before now. This is the context, the nuance, and the detail that are required in our reports, lest our people be misinformed and we begin to be framed internationally as being in a situation where it’s Nigeria versus its neighbor, Niger, because that’s the narrative that some certain International Perspectives would like to advance for their interest,” Ngelale added.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its Country Report No. 2023/343: “Burkina Faso: Request for a Four-Year Arrangement Under the Extended Credit Facility” said that following two military coups in 2022, international development support for Burkina Faso has declined.
Burkina Faso “faces large balance of payments (BoP) and security need aggravated by acute food insecurity and political instability.
“In March 2023, the authorities obtained IMF emergency financing under the Food Shock Window (FSW) of the Rapid Credit Facility to address the ongoing food insecurity crisis, which in some regions remains acute. Following two military coups in 2022, international development support has declined. Burkina Faso has agreed with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on a return to constitutional order, with elections to be held by July 2024.”