Why are coups returning to Africa?

These power grabs threaten to reverse the process of democratization that Africa has undergone over the past two decades and return to an era of upheaval as the norm.

According to one studyIn sub-Saharan Africa, between 1956 and 2001, there were 80 successful coups and 108 failed ones, an average of four per year. this number has halved between then and 2019, when most African countries turned to democracy, only for it to be on the rise again. Why?

In the first post-colonial decades, when coups were rampant, coup leaders in Africa almost always offered the same reasons for overthrowing governments: corruption, mismanagement, poverty.

Leader Recent coup in GuineaColonel Mamady Dumbuya repeated these excuses. citing “poverty and pervasive corruption” as the reasons for the overthrow of 83-year-old President Alpha Condé. Soldiers who led a coup in neighboring Mali last year claimed “theft” and “bad management“prompted their actions. Similarly, the Sudanese and Zimbabwean generals who overthrew Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and Robert Mugabe in 2017, respectively, used similar arguments.
Guinean military says President Alpha Condé is under arrest as apparent coup unfolds

These hackneyed excuses still resonate with many Africans for the simple reason that they continue to accurately reflect the reality of their countries. Moreover, in many countries people believe that these problems are getting worse.

Research Network Afrobarometer conducted polls in 19 African countries, where 6 out of 10 respondents said that corruption in their country is on the rise (in Guinea it was 63%) and 2 out of 3 say their governments are bad at fighting it.

In addition, 72% believe that ordinary citizens are “at risk of retribution or other negative consequences” if they report corruption to the authorities, a sign that Africans believe that their public institutions are not only participants but also active advocates of corrupt systems. .

On the poverty front, an already tragic situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Africa’s fragile economy has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the three people are now unemployed in Nigeria, West Africa’s largest economy. Same with South Africa, the most industrialized African country. The number of extremely poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa is now believed to be over 500 million, or half the population.
It’s in the youngest continent in the world with an average age of 20 and rapidly growing population more than anywhere else, further exacerbating the already fierce competition for resources.

These conditions create favorable conditions for coups and for increasingly desperate young Africans who have lost patience with their corrupt leaders to welcome coups promising radical change, as witnessed in the streets of Guinea after the takeover, when some jubilant Guineans even kissed soldier.

But, as with the upheavals of the 1970s, these scenes of joy are likely to be short-lived, says Joseph Sani, vice president of the US Peace Institute’s Africa Center. “The initial reaction to what you see on the streets will be joyful, but very soon people will demand action … and I’m not sure that the military will be able to meet the expectations, provide basic services and much more. freedom,” he says.

The threat to democratic gains

What is clear is that these upheavals pose a serious threat to the democratic achievements of African countries over the past decades. Unfortunately, research shows that many Africans are increasingly losing faith that elections can lead to the leaders they want.

Surveys conducted in 19 African countries in 2019/20 showed that only 4 out of 10 respondents (42%) now believe elections are working well to ensure that “deputies reflect voters’ views” and “allow voters to remove ineffective leaders.”

In other words, less than half believe that elections guarantee representativeness and accountability, key components of functional democracies.

In 11 countries that have been polled regularly since 2008, the belief that elections allow voters to remove ineffective leaders has declined by 11% among citizens, according to the survey. It’s not that Africans no longer want to elect their leaders in elections, it’s just that many now believe their political systems are played out.

Leaders like the deposed Condé are part of the problem. The only reason he was still in power until the coup was because he drafted constitutional changes in 2020 to allow himself a third term as president. common practice of several leaders on the continentfrom Yoweri Museveni in Uganda to Alassane Ouattara in Ivory Coast.
Mali president resigns after arrest in military coup

The African Union rightly condemns the coup in Guinea, but its reaction to such constitutional violations has been restrained.

These double standards and alleged elite plots create the perfect environment for dashing young officers like Dumbua, 41, to step in and promise to save the day.

“If the people are oppressed by their elite, the army must give the people freedom.” said the new leader of Guineaquoting former President of Ghana Jerry Rawlings who himself led two coups

Perhaps it was no coincidence that Dumbuya was quoting the brash Rawlings, who very effectively expressed Ghanaian anger towards his political elite when he led military juntas in the 1980s. Desperate citizens living in political systems they often rightly regard as established can be easily seduced by anti-elite and anti-corruption rhetoric coupled with promises of the new.

Unfortunately, we must prepare for the possibility of more upheavals in Africa in the coming years. They cannot be expected in wealthier countries with strong institutions such as South Africa, Ghana or Botswana, but in poorer and more fragile states. So are Mali, Niger, Chad and now Guinea, where there have been recent coups and coup attempts.

Fifteen of the twenty leading countries Fragile States Index 2021 are in Africa, including countries such as Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Somalia and South Sudan, as well as larger countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia (which has been in violent internal conflict for almost a year) and Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa . country.
Men are taken out of prison camps.  Then the corpses float down the river

This increased chance of upheavals will make Africa as a whole less predictable and stable, which will hurt investors and could lead to a worse economic situation.

Can this undesirable trend be reversed? Yes, but while international condemnation of the coups in Guinea and elsewhere is critical as a deterrent to other potential power grabbers, the only actors who truly have the power to reverse this troubling trend are African leaders themselves.

They are responsible on the ground, and it is their response to these recent developments that will be the deciding factor. They need to revive faith in what democracy can bring to Africans. But if the issues hitherto cited to justify coups continue to deepen in today’s African democracies, the temptation to try something else will continue to be dangerously tempting to both changers and citizens alike.