A CASCADE OF EVENTS that may define Africa’s future has started in West Africa. The era of coup d’état has returned. This week, no fewer than nine per cent of African countries are currently under military rule. In less than two years, three democratically elected governments have been truncated, with a replacement by military in uniform claiming to have better ideas on how the countries should be run. What could well be counted as the fourth is from a Central African country on the eastern fringe of West Africa, involving the replacement of the deposed leader with his son who returned the country to full military rule, thus ending the quasi civilian regime his father ran. Assimi Goita started the current cycle of coup d’état on May 24, 2021 in Mali, deposing President Bah N’daw, an interim replacement for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita who was removed from power earlier in August 2020 by a military alliance led by the same Goita. The 39 year-old army colonel first disrupted an existing democratic arrangement, facilitated a quasi-democratic replacement and later removed that altogether, making himself the leader of a new government that is essentially military. His second coup attempt may have been motivated by the Chadian event a month earlier.
Idriss Déby Itno, the Chadian politician, military officer and president of Chad from 1990 until April 20, 2021, when he died while commanding troops had ruled the country for over 30 years, with no sign he was ready to step down until he died. The Patriotic Salvation Movement was the ruling political party in Chad, the platform he used for perpetuating himself as an authoritarian leader in office under the guise of democracy while he served five consecutive terms since seizing power and was running for a sixth when he died. During previous elections, he reportedly forbade the citizens of Chad from making online posts and outlawed social media use until 2019, although restrictions still appear to continue to exist. This is easy to verify based on the level of mention of Chad in global online community. After Déby’s death, the ideal decisions were jettisoned. His succession was done as if his political base and ruling party had no provision for a deputy who could have taken over from him. Thus ended the civilian regime he ran as his son, a military general and 37 years old then, was sworn in to replace him, effectively returning Chad to a full-blown military government.
On a Sunday morning, early in September 5, 2021, Guinea Conakry’s President Alpha Condé was removed through a coup d’état led by Special Forces commander Mamady Doumbouya, 41, who alleged that “poverty and endemic corruption” motivated him and his colleagues to overthrow Condé’s government. That people trooped to the streets, celebrating Condé’s ouster was instructive as complaints against him included that of the dismal situation in the country, including the scarcity of water and electricity. His path towards military overthrow may have been paved by his overreach in trying to embark on tenure extension, essentially playing the same script as his Cote d’Ivoire counterpart, Alassane Ouattara who is currently serving a third term. In June 2020, Condé pushed through a constitutional amendment to enable him cling to power beyond two terms. He subsequently ran for the next election and was sworn in for the third term in December 2020.
The wind blew back to the East where the wave appeared to have originated. Bordering on Chad is Sudan. The events about unfolding may have also been motivated by happenings in its western neighbour earlier in the year, with no rumpus arising afterwards and some ambitious Sudanese officers wanted to gamble. October 2021, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan sacked the Transitional Council, including Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok, thus truncating the temporary government of military and civilian leaders put in place since the overthrow of Omar Al Bashir’s government in April 2019. Al Bashir, his former boss, seized power as a military man in 1989 and later transformed into a civilian president but ran an inept civilian rule. The overthrow of Transitional Council by Gen. Burhan’s coup upended Sudan’s fragile transition to civilian-led democracy. His subsequent rule has been considered unpopular and consistently resisted by the Sudanese people since he assumed power to the extent that he recently made a compromise that failed to appease them.
Over 100 protesters have been killed by armed military personnel trying to forcefully quell the protests taking place in major cities all over Sudan, resisting Al-Burhan’s military takeover. A deal struck on November 2021, reinstating Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to lead a technocratic cabinet until elections in July 2023 broke down when Hamdok resigned recently in response to people’s strident discontent about his acceptance of that position after he was released from detention by Gen. Burhan, insisting on full democracy and that military rule was unacceptable and should be discontinued.
Now, it is Burkina Faso. In a speech on the ouster of Koch Kabore this week in a coup, Army Captain Sidsore Kader Ouedraogo mentioned lack of integrity and sovereignty among other reasons his group took over power. It seems the civilian leaders have abandoned their democratic mandates and have been preoccupied with some other irrelevant pursuits. Burkina Faso has been having a rough deal with insecurity and insurgencies. Kabore, who has spent over six years in office, did not appear to have any solution to these, and the citizens appear fed up with him. It may therefore mean that the soldiers took advantage of prevailing sentiment of public discontent to launch the coup, about the third – but the only successful – in the past couple of weeks in the country.
This may not yet be the end in Africa generally, or West African countries in particular. There is some degree of validity to the complaints of those carrying out the coup in those countries. At this stage, the double standards and indifference to people’s plights are commonplace and obvious among the various African leaders. Why did people celebrate military takeovers in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and in 2019 in Sudan? In West African countries, the deteriorating security situation, poor economy, food challenge and standards of life are among their complaints. Our regional organisations have been shamefully docile and ineffectual – with double standards at work. Why do these regional organisations appear docile and helpless when things go wrong under the failed national political leaders but shout on roof tops, crying foul when such civilian heads of government are toppled? Why did they keep mum when Alpha Condé was brutalising and killing his countrymen who opposed his third term bid , but became vociferous against those who ousted him through coup d’état? At what point do they draw the line between what is strictly a state’s internal affair and what should be of concern to the regional bodies? These regional groupings appear to be exclusive clubs or cults of personalities. They need to be asked some questions. Are they for the people governed or are they exclusively for the heads of state of the various countries alone? This applies to ECOWAS, ECCAS, COMESA, SADC, CEN-SAD, EAC, IGAD as it does to the AU.
It sounds counterintuitive that Alassane Ouattara and Alpha Conde rightfully thought they could violate democratic and legal routes to power through regime elongations by removing term limits and still continue to sit in regional conferences, participating in decisions against military coup leaders who seize power in other countries. But Conde’s time came when his cup became full; and he was ousted. Outside West Africa, other regions could soon begin to experience such a rude awakening. With Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Paul Biya of Cameroon or Paul Kagame of Rwanda still in the saddle, the problem of double standards persists. They can only lead within the limits of the examples they are morally qualified to show. An attempt of any leader to stay in office beyond normal term limits is a coup d’état by other means against the constitution and a symptom of personal insecurity. Nelson Mandela became a global hero for voluntarily leaving office after a term. Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan became more popular and respected outside office than when he was a president for voluntary conceding election victory to his political opponent. No single person has all the answers to his country’s questions or all the solutions to his country’s problems. It is time they stoped pretending that they are indispensable. While in office, the various national government leaders should roll up their sleeves and think of how to make Africa better, not by spending disproportionately huge revenues and tax payers’ money on self-protection and self-perpetuation in the name of national security.
The yardsticks for measuring the success of nations’ political leaders in Africa appear elastic and vary depending on who is making assessment. The outside world looks only at democracy and GDP – which are aggregate and generalised – while individual citizens of countries directly involved are concerned with security, good infrastructure, quality health services, adequate and safe water, better economy and many other benefits of good governance which, sadly, have become elusive for the most parts. This could explain why people troop out to celebrate military takeovers in the affected countries, at least for the sense of a reprieve they tend to offer, albeit temporary. Altogether, five African countries have undergone unwholesome transition from civilian to military rule in two years, with serious dislocations of their political economies.
These overthrows have tested the strength, resolve and effectiveness of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) and other regional groupings in dealing with political and economic emergencies. Their response to the on-going health emergency of COVID-19 – particularly at the onset – has shown a stark absence of emergency preparedness at national, regional and continental levels. This also showed a flawed and skewed outlook of regional economy. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), though commendable and timely in conception, has not made much noticeable impact one year after the take-off of trading, not because the potentials are absent but because the political will of various governments in African countries to move from ceremonies in presidential palaces to commercial fields, and breaking down legal and political barriers, is generally lacking. The weaknesses of the regional economic communities (RECs) and the continental body – the AU – have become very apparent as threats of sanctions have been ignored by affected military adventurers and such threats have failed to serve as deterrent to the growing number of coup d’état. The coup planners and executors therefore seem more emboldened and encouraged to do more, expanding the frontier of African countries brought under military rule.
These further reveal the weaknesses of these regional bodies in the public perception, essentially a reflection of the weaknesses of individual country leadership. Their ineffectiveness is not limited to socio-economic issues, but also extends to the political. They have also shown clearly their poor understanding of diplomatic implication of their tardiness, inactions and weak responses to urgent issues of national, regional and global relevance and consequences. The legitimacy and credibility of ECOWAS, other RECs and the AU are therefore a big baggage as they seem now to be clubs of leaders with questionable democratic credentials. Many of their countries lack appropriate intelligence or don’t engage in intelligence sharing with others; corruption is rife and mismanagement of economies is also widespread. If the global community must have reliable vital information about Africa’s economy, demographics, human development indices, service industry, food security status, social security, climate challenge and embark on appropriate interventions, national leaders in all countries of Africa would need to change track and speed. And they will need to be more proactive, accountable, applying leadership global best practices. The challenge still remains that, based on principles of subsidiarity, RECs will depend on individual countries for information, AU will in turn depend on RECs for guidance and UN – by extension – will depend on AU. But, as long as the quality of information coming from countries is substandard, Africa will continue to remain backwards and the uninspiring leaders who put themselves as individuals before the people they lead will have to be blamed.
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