If the cliché that where peaceful change is denied violent revolt becomes attractive is anything to go by, then it seems to capture the drama in the recent rash of coups in West Africa. As the dust over the July 26 2023 coup detat in Niger Republic was yet to settle, came the disturbing news of another military take-over of government – this time in the Republic of Gabon last week Wednesday, with shock waves reverberating across the entire world. Uniformed soldiers had appeared on the country’s national television to announce the ouster of the erstwhile President Ali Bongo, who they described as having been ‘retired’, even as he later appeared sitting despondently on a chair, and was calling on the outside world to “make some noise” over his plight.
With the development, Gabon becomes the latest African country to succumb to the growing, new wave of military take-over of governments on the continent in recent years. In less than a decade, governance has swung from constitutional democracy to military dictatorship in an increasing number of African countries namely Burkina Faso (2021), Mali, (202?), Niger (2023), and now Gabon (2023).
Reactions have expectedly been coming from within Africa and the rest of the world, with the bulk condemning the development as it ordinarily constitutes a set-back for the course of constitutional democracy on the African continent. Beyond the wave of condemnation, at least two Francophone countries – Cameroon and Rwanda are reportedly restructuring their military establishments to contain any coup aspirations by their soldiers. Such tendencies notwithstanding, the question hanging on the lips of many observers of the coup drama in Africa is, who is next.
Coming at a time when the expectations with respect to governance on the African continent are geared towards consolidation of democracy and economic development, the rash of coups remains ordinarily anachronistic, and unwanted. Yet it is the incongruity of the situation against the backdrop of expectations of good governance in Africa that accentuates the paradox of coups on the continent at this time and dictates a more holistic perspective of the manifest malady.
And this is why trouble shooting on the matter should go beyond the high drama that plays out with each coup exercise, and delve into the proximate and remote causes of these coups, especially in the light of their attendant disruptions of normal processes of governance in the affected countries. The foregoing consideration remains valid given the seeming solidarity between coupists from the different countries affected.
The first consideration is that these coups were long expected to take place at one time or the other. In fact it had been a trending consideration that coups in Francophone countries were coming rather later that expected. It is a painful fact of African history that these affected countries are former colonies of France who were railroaded between 1958 and 1962, into the oppressive framework of the Fifth French Republic by General Charles De Gaulle as constitutional, second class French citizens. That was at the climax of the various liberation struggles by African peoples in their search for independence.
It is easy to recall that only Guinea, with the prompting of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, declined to join the French Fifth Republic given the stringent terms for joining as dictated by France. For declining, Guinea suffered some of the worst instances of political denigration and physical pauperization ever recorded. France simply embarked on the destruction of all facilities they installed in Guinea including hospitals, schools, telephone lines, electricity facilities and others. Even tarred roads were scraped of the asphalt on them. Guineans of that generation in a fledging country, suddenly found themselves stepped back into the past with acute dislocation of the new life they had started to enjoy, just because they refused to be enslaved further by France. That is so much for the French and any of their reluctant colonies.
As for the other French colonies that acceded to the new slavery under the French Fifth Republic, all the world is seeing of them, is their contemporary status as modern day vassals of their former colonial master which still holds them down with political and economic hamstrings. And this is why the recent rash of coups not only betrays the incongruities in the democracy practiced by the Francophone countries. It actually constitutes the latter stages of the ongoing struggles for political and economic freedom by these countries, which was started by their forebears but was stalled, only to resume in this age and time.
Incidentally, the present crop of coupists in these countries are not the first sets of nationalists to aspire to change the status quo. Several leaders in their respective countries had aspired in the past to change the status quo -including offering credible resistance to the French establishment.
Historical evidence exist to prove that they were all eliminated by France and its western allies through direct assassinations or maneuvers of subterfuge, which include denigrating and blackmailing such targets with the aid of neighboring countries and assets. Without conjecture the same scenario may be playing out with the recent coup in Niger Republic, Gabon and any other so disposed as a vulnerable Francophone country, with Cameroon fingered as just waiting for a coup to take place.
It is in this context that the belligerent posture adopted by the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) may need to be modified substantially to reflect some sympathy for the coupists. This is because the democracy that is cited by ECOWAS as being disrupted by the coupists, may just be glorified slavery which all good thinking nations and peoples across the civilized world, abhor.