Jubilations by citizens are popular on the streets of countries where coups took place in West Africa but, not without reversing the positive trajectory of civilian rule, especially in the Sahel region.
In just five months, the power grabs in Chad, Mali and Guinea have plunged the countries into political instability, having removed the heads of governments. And still afresh, are the two attempted coups in Niger and Sudan.
Before these coups, almost all the affected countries were in different political crises, with some protesters calling for the resignation of the ousted leaders.
In Guinea Conakry, which is the most recent, protesters and opposition leaders backed the army that ousted Alpha Conde, a human right professor and law activist, who was elected after decades of military rule in 2010 and became the first freely elected leader of Guinea since independence in 1958.
His victory was seen as putting an end to decades of authoritarian rule by the two Guineans pioneer presidents, Sekou Toure and Lansana Conte, who ruled the country for 26 and 24 years respectively.
But after the constitutional two terms in office, Conde changed the constitution, allowing himself a chance to stand for the third term, which he won, to the chagrin of opposition candidates and uneasiness in diplomatic circles. Opposition protests followed and dozens were killed.
The military said poverty and endemic corruption has driven them to overthrow Conde’s government and promised to install a transitional government, without giving a timeline or mentioned date of election.
In Mali, 25 May 2021 was the second coup in nine months, and since then, political stability has continued to elude the country. Like what played out in August 2020, the same Army Colonel led the coup and used the same military base to detain the president. And, what triggered the coup? Cabinet reshuffle!
After the coup, the army repeated the same promise of handing power over to civilians in 2022. However, it’s important to know that armies that have tested power seldom surrender it, and when they do, it’s just a matter of time before they strike again.
A question often asked by many is, “Why is Mali stuck in this circle of takeovers? This might further explain the role played by France, AU and ECOWAS in the current situation of the West African sub-region.
As highlighted by many analysts, Mali and the Sahel Africa are turning to a circle that is surrounded by insurgency and instability, therefore making them fertile land for military takeovers.
Like in Guinea, some Malian’s believed that the military junta will bring prosperity, they were fed up with the circle of poverty and corruption but other heads of government in the sub-region didn’t buy this, they wanted trusted civilian partners in Africa. So, the army reluctantly agreed to give up power at least on paper.
Now, according to plan, the interim government will oversee Mali’s transition for 18 months, but the Malian government is full of army brass. The coup leader was the vice president and his allies were heads of defence and security portfolios.
In Chad, Idriss Deby, a key figure in the fight against terrorism, had been all but “president for life” until he was killed in the front line by rebels, only to be succeeded by his son in an extra-constitutional process.
When French President Emmanuel Macron attended his funeral, he said, “France will not allow anyone to jeopardize and will not allow anyone to threaten the stability and integrity of Chad neither today, nor tomorrow,”.
Afterward, a meeting of the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC), acting on a report authored by its fact-finding mission to N’djamena, on May 14 effectively endorsed the junta’s plan, contradicting the bloc’s long-standing tradition on dealing with unconstitutional seizures of power.
Suspension is and has been the AU’s standard operating procedure since, until Chad happened.
“It exposes the African Union’s double standards,” said Obambe Gakosso, a Congolese political analyst.
“But the AU also forced the Malian army to name a civilian government back in August. It was clear that the army was uncomfortable and that this was not going to work,” Gakosso said.
In taking over, Chad’s military violated Article 81 of the country’s constitution, which provides for the head of the National Assembly to act as interim president in such circumstances and for the holding of within 45–90 days in the event of the president’s death, resignation or incapacitation.
The army also dissolved the National Assembly and the government, and suspended the constitution, despite protests from the civil society and political opposition – crimes big enough to warrant AU’s suspension and sanctions.
Major powers largely ignored or tacitly endorsed the power grab, according to Diarrah.
“The French said that they were ready to accompany the Chadian regime, but for Mali, there were threats of withdrawal, threats of the end of cooperation (Operation Berkhane).”
Sit-tight syndrome trigger coups in Africa
An International analyst, Dr. Lawan Cheri, said the AU’s endorsement of the junta in Chad emboldened the military to overthrow democratic governments in the other west African countries.
“If you look at it, in less than one year we are having about five – in Chad, Mali, Guinea and foiled attempts in Niger and Sudan,” he said
He said scholars like Powell, believed that Africa has the highest incidence of coups in the world with about 200 on record and 4 coups per decade.
“However, there are new forms of cold war between China and the Western World where both are seeking economic partners, especially those that can supply the much-needed raw materials and provide strategic military bases.
“France is heavily dependent on its former colonies and China is now the new-found bride that supplies infrastructure and loans therefore attracting a large number of the countries.
“Western countries especially France and the United States are noticing the danger and the decision makers are the leaders in the various West African countries. Thus, if a leader fails to dance to their tune, either side could sponsor a coup,” he added.
A former Nigerian ambassador to European Union (EU) and African Union (AU), Alhaji Usman Baraya, said the speech of President Muhammadu Buhari wouldn’t have been complete without making reference to the series of coups taking place in the Sahel.
“Chad is affected, Mali, Guinea are affected, and some attempts here and there. If you look at what is happening in our countries today, soldiers can come back anytime and give excuses and look at how it was celebrated in Guinea.
“Notwithstanding, like Awolowo mentioned, the worst democratic government is better than the best military government’ because the military regime is dictatorship, you either take it or leave it.”
He recalled that in one of his last assignments as an Ambassador to AU in Ethiopia, it was resolved that by 2020, one most important item they aimed to achieve was “silencing the gun”.
“Unfortunately, within the backyard of the African Union, where the headquarters was sited, the crisis of Tigray and Ethiopia erupted last year, 2020, so the vision was cut short.
“But the solution is, no matter the amount of provocation, the regional bodies ECOWAS and AU should remain firm. Let there be no crack!
Citizens only celebrate coup when government fails them
Another security analyst, Dennis Macree, said it’s mostly when citizens are discontented that the military intervene in democratic government. “If the government is doing very well, citizens will condemn the coup but if the government is not doing well, people will celebrate and dance on the streets.”
He said when coups are happening in Africa, it shows that the trend is very clear, people are suffering and people in government are not doing anything.
“It’s also a warning sign to other governments of the continent to do the needful otherwise it could come to them.
He said apart from poor performance by the African leaders, sit-tight syndrome of African leaders is one reason that fuel coups in the continent.
“African leaders should know that democracy is different from monarchy. Africans have the tendency to practice monarchy believing that it’s democracy, because democracy is the form of government that is common all over the world now and people tend to believe it.
“If you go back to the history of Africa, we have existed in kingdoms, we have kings and kings always believe that they are in charge and everybody else is their servant. And of course, when you bring democracy, democracy means one man, one vote, and it’s very difficult for the king to understand.
“The present-day kings in Africa are the presidents, so they find it very difficult to understand that their own vote is equal to that of the vulcanizer. That is why you see that in African democracy, people tend to impose candidates on the society. You hear anointed candidates by president, governors, party and so on. We are not able to remove the monarchy attitude in us.
“So, we are practicing democracy on the veiled system of monarchy. You find out that when the presidents stay in office, first term, second term, they tend to believe that the presidency and the country belong to them.
“We have a history in Africa where the president is richer than the country, and even in Nigeria where some presidents wanted to go for third terms because they don’t want to leave the office.
“African leaders will change the constitution to give them a third term so that they remain in power to continue what they are doing,” he said.
On the intervention by the Western powers, he said, “Africa must be very careful with their interventions, they are not intervening in our politics because they love us so much, they are intervening because of their interests.
“Why do you think France is interested in countries like Chad and Niger? The reason is that they are collecting natural resources, minerals that is very vital to their own economy. So, they do that either for the natural resources or for strategic reasons whereby they will exercise their influence.”