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Coups: What military juntas in West Africa have in common

When the military in Nigeria first struck in 1966, a few years after the country’s independence, it was for the same reasons given today for…

When the military in Nigeria first struck in 1966, a few years after the country’s independence, it was for the same reasons given today for military takeover across the West Africa sub-region in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad, and now, Niger.

Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, while announcing Nigeria’s first military coup, described the makers as the revolutionary council, whose aim was “to establish a strong, united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife.”

More than five decades later, the same issues of corruption, political instability, economic mismanagement and security remain a constant feature in the speeches of military juntas.

It has become a vicious cycle that West Africans are all familiar with.

To earn some form of legitimacy, the putschists will often target state broadcasting platforms as the next institution to take over, where they will discredit the civilian government and portray themselves as nationalistic, patriotic, defenders of the country’s sovereignty and its people.

These announcements will usually be received by citizens either with a lot of excitement or protest, depending on the circumstances. While the international community, through multilateral organisations, condemns unconstitutional takeovers, its response in some instances is perceived to be forbearing and dependent on its interests.

A transitional committee will be set up, delegations will be sent by multilateral organisations to mediate talks, and in some instances, sanctions will be imposed. And the putschist will resign from the military and contest elections as a civilian and ultimately remain in power until the next strong man shows up in another coup.

Niger Republic is the latest in the list of countries to have fallen yet again to the hands of a military junta, just two years after it had its first democratic transition of power.

Addressing the country in a broadcast, Col. Amadou Abdramane, alongside 9 other uniformed soldiers behind him said, “The defence and security forces have decided to put an end to the regime you know.

“This follows the continuing deterioration of the security situation, poor economic and social governance.”

Guinea

In September 2021, the leader of the coup in Guinea, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, who ousted the country’s civilian president, Alpha Condé, proclaimed that “the duty of a soldier is to save the country.

“We will no longer entrust politics to one man; we will entrust it to the people.”

He deplored the state of the country’s infrastructure, saying, “We don’t need to rape Guinea anymore; we just need to make love to her.”

Chad

Although the last coup in Chad had a slightly different scenario from previous coups, the quest for political control is a constant feature in the country’s history.

Disregarding the constitutional provision for the president of the Chadian National Assembly to take over as president of the country after the death of former President Idris Derby, the military, in what could be described as a covert coup, announced Mahammat Idris Derby, the former president’s son as the new head of state.

It claimed that the measure was intended to maintain stability and ensure a peaceful and democratic transition of power.

Burkina Faso

At the base of all the six coups that took place in Burkina Faso was the quest for political control, beginning with the ouster of the first president, Maurice Yaméogo days before Nigeria’s first coup on January 4, 1966.

Yaméogo, who consolidated his grip on power by entrenching a single party ruling system, resigned on the heels of an unpopular financial austerity plan, which ushered an unrelenting resistance.

Like Chad, an attempt by Blaise Compaoré to amend the constitution to extend his rule after 27 years in power led to massive resistance, and consequently, a military coup.

Mali

In August 2020, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita resigned after soldiers seized him from his home as part of a coup following months of mass protests against alleged corruption and worsening security in the West African country.

The coup makers, in a television broadcast said, “We are not holding on to power but the stability of the country. This will allow us to organise, within an agreed reasonable timeframe, general elections to equip Mali with strong institutions that are able to better manage our everyday lives and restore confidence between the government and the governed.”

While the circumstances may differ in the various countries mentioned above, the pattern and reasons remain the same. It is also clear that the putschists consider their act of forceful takeover as a patriotic duty to their country as evident in the names they call themselves—Revolutionary Council, Patriotic Salvation Movement, National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland etc.

More coups in Francophone countries; a coincidence?

Despite gaining independence decades ago, France’s influence on the francophones remains very strong, making policies to pander to the dictates of its former colonial master.

Until three years ago, France excised control over the currency, CFA franc, used in 14 African countries in both West and Central Africa, through its Treasury.

Under the CFA franc monetary system, each central bank must maintain at least 50 per cent of foreign assets with the French Treasury, foreign exchange cover of at least 20 per cent should be maintained for sight liabilities, each government is limited to a ceiling of 20 per cent of that country’s revenue from the previous year.

Although a bill ratifying the end of the CFA franc for the West Africa region was adopted by the French Council of Ministers in May 2020, the system remains intact in the central Africa region.

Some analysts explained the coups in West Africa as a revolt to the continuous influence of France in the region as demonstrated by Mali’s decision to severe ties with the former colonialist.

Nigeria’s former Minister of External Affairs, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, in a recent interview said, “What seems to be happening in Burkina Faso, and it has happened in Mali and the Central African Republic, is that young forces, what I will call the Thomas Sankara forces within the armed forces in these areas, have seen through the shenanigans of France, that they are not gaining anything from French military presence in their countries. It is like the French are there to pursue their own interests; therefore, they want them out.”

This is further validated by the anti-French sentiments expressed in the streets by citizens, many of whom demonstrate their preference for Russian alliance by flying the Russian flags and burning that of France.

Counterterrorism

One of the major causes of disenchantment for the Francophones is the inability of France to help its former colonies in the fight against terrorism as they have all expected under civilian government. The failure to contain the spread of terrorism pushed the military to take matters into their hands after looking up to France for many years.

Omar Alieu Touray, the president of the Economic Community of West African States Commission, recently told the United Nations (UN) Security Council that from January 1 to June 30, 2023, the region recorded 1,814 incidents of terrorist attacks, which resulted in 4,593 fatalities.  By end of April 2023, half a million refugees were recorded in the region.

Nearly 30 million people are in need of food assistance, and without adequate response, this number will increase to 42 million by the end of August, he warned.

While the military takeovers may not have realised the desired results yet, the coup makers believe that with the help of Russia and by severing its ties with France, their countries would soon experience stability.

Unconstitutional practices

The hue and cry over unconstitutional change of government is often expressed by the international community but not as much over unconstitutional practices, which in many instances drive unconstitutional change of government.

Some African leaders are famous for being the oldest in the world, who would never leave until they are shown the way out, often through the barrel of the gun.

Furthermore, the bid to shift the goal post in the middle of game by constitutional amendment to extend terms of office as recently attempted in Senegal often results in political instability.

These practices create the perfect atmosphere for putschists, who believe they have a duty to defend their countries.

Corruption/economic mismanagement

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many African countries came face to face with the realities of dilapidating infrastructure, government mismanagement of resources meant to cushion the impact of lock downs.

Government’s imposition of disproportionate restrictions on civic freedoms—often under the guise of containing the COVID-19 pandemic – limited people’s ability to hold power to account.

According to a survey by Afrobarometer, where 48,084 face-to-face interviews were conducted in 34 African countries between 2019 and 2021, people see levels of corruption rising in their key governing institutions, so they grow increasingly dissatisfied with their democracy.

Corruption perception index also rates sub-Sahara Africa as the poorest performing region with average score of 32, well below the global average of 43, while the score of the West African sub-region is just 33.

African leaders will not allow coups anymore – ECOWAS chairman

With Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu as the new chairman of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), many have expressed optimism on the revival of democratic governance. Tinubu said African leaders would not allow coups anymore.

Although Nigeria has played pivotal roles in entrenching democracy in the past in the sub-region, analysts says its capacity to the same now was in doubt as the country itself is fighting internal battles on all fronts.

While the idea of having a more robust security strategy by forming a regional force has lingered, states have been urged to uphold ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance as panacea for political stability.

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