The African continent has witnessed a significant number of military coups in recent decades, often accompanied by promises of stability and effective governance. These coups have had various sources and outcomes within communities, impacting the developmental trajectory and social cohesion of African governments in both positive and negative ways.
However, the recent surge in coups d’état in the Sahel region and other parts of Africa reflects a deep-seated discontent with the process of decolonization and a strong desire for self-determination. It is crucial to analyze the influence exerted by military coups in Africa on the repression of public unrest and uprisings. The current political upheaval in the Sahel area serves as evidence of the heightened awareness and enlightenment among the younger African population, particularly within the military.
Throughout African history, as in other regions of the world, military takeovers of governments have occurred for various reasons. They also have the potential to alleviate some public outrage and unrest. However, African military coups are often met with widespread outrage and revolts.
There are a few ways in which coups can be employed to counteract public wrath and uprisings. Military coups often come with their own unique set of repercussions and may ultimately destabilize the situation in the long run. The occurrence of military coups in Africa and their potential short, medium, and long-term impacts, whether positive or negative, needs to be analyzed.
The occurrence of military coups in Africa can have diverse consequences in terms of popular sentiment and revolutions. There are divergent opinions on the potential effects of coups. Proponents argue that coups have the capacity to alleviate popular discontent by addressing grievances and creating a perception of stability.
On the other hand, opponents claim that coups may intensify existing tensions and lead to further social turmoil. This issue is complex, as the effects of coups on public opinion can vary depending on unique contextual factors and conditions involved.
Africa is currently grappling with a governance model that has been imposed upon us, a model that may be effective for the West but struggles to adapt to our reality, according to Mamady Doumbouya (Col.), the Interim President of Guinea. I fully agree with the perspective expressed by Doumbouya, regarding the imposition of Western governance models at both national and regional levels. His analysis of this phenomenon is compelling and thought-provoking.
Postcolonial Africa continues to face the persistent challenge of a leadership deficit. This issue is further exacerbated by the influence of Western-influenced political parties and the lingering presence of tribal sentiments. However, it would be incorrect to solely criticize the Western governance system while engaging in unregulated power manipulation under the guise of the African indigenous system. The people of Africa deserve a satisfactory standard of living, equitable representation, transparent governance, and leaders who prioritize public service over personal gain.
The primary obstacle lies in the absence of a strong political culture, which poses significant risks to the advancement of democracy across the African continent. Moreover, the conduct of African politics further compounds these challenges. Democratic processes, the establishment of political parties, and the promotion of open and unrestricted public dialogue are unfamiliar concepts that need to be disseminated among the general population. At the same time, it is essential not to overlook the indigenous paradigm of consensus-building and collaborative leadership, which has existed for centuries, in favor of solely embracing Western ideologies.
Numerous African nations are actively working towards establishing institutions and adopting practices that align with the fundamental elements of the Western liberal democratic model. However, ethnic politics, language-based federalism, and the right to self-determination have emerged as significant factors contributing to political polarization, often resulting in violent internal conflicts. To what extent does this phenomenon have significant historical foundations in Africa, or is it primarily associated with an elite ideology? This question warrants further exploration and analysis.
The discussion surrounding the analytical elements of military coups in Africa is ongoing.
Military coups can be viewed as a reflection of the shortcomings in postcolonial civilian leadership and their failure to meet the aspirations of the African population. Regardless of the circumstances, a military coup should not be praised and indicates a failure across all domains.
In Africa, there is a tendency to confine pluralistic thinking and practice to immediate political and social actions, sometimes without thorough consideration. This can be described as a form of naive realism. Coup leaders often make promises to address the underlying issues that led to the coup, such as corruption, economic conditions, or social services. If these commitments are perceived to be fulfilled, they may gain support from a portion of the population.
However, the negative consequences of a military coup often outweigh any perceived benefits. The use of violence and intimidation to suppress dissenting voices often exceeds the level of repression experienced under civilian rule. As a result, the initial hopes for improved governance quickly fade after the military assumes power. Actions such as apprehending or eliminating adversaries, shutting down media organizations, and curtailing freedom of expression are common. While these tactics may not effectively gain popular support, they can deter mobilization and resistance against the coup.
Furthermore, coup orchestrators may attempt to co-opt opposing factions, undermining efforts to promote democracy and progress. This can include appointing leaders from opposing factions to government positions or making commitments to hold future elections. If the opposing party is fragmented or weak, they are more likely to acquiesce to these conditions.
The limitations lie in the need for greater focus on the challenges related to articulating and implementing pluralistic systems and processes in African politics, rather than viewing them as theoretical or conceptual possibilities. There is a broader uncertainty about whether a society acts as a catalyst for change agents or merely serves as an object of democratic change.
Despite the potential for temporary gains, it is crucial to recognize that the cycle of grievances often persists throughout the coup process. The effectiveness of various approaches cannot be guaranteed, as the intensity of public outrage poses a significant challenge to resolution. While coup leaders may attempt to implement promised changes, suppress dissent, or assimilate opposing factions to prolong their rule and prevent widespread revolt, the long-term outcomes remain uncertain.
Institutional views on democratization in Africa often focus on the general characteristics of political organizations, disregarding the unique tactics and performances exhibited by these groups during transitional processes. While military coups may seem tempting as a short-term solution, it is imperative for African nations to pursue lasting resolutions that break free from the destructive cycle and foster a positive trajectory.
The following are just a glimpse of the numerous African military coups that have sparked public outrage and revolts. There is no guarantee of success for any of these methods, yet coup leaders have employed them in an attempt to quell public dissent. In recent years, West and Central Africa have witnessed a notable number of military coups, highlighting the ongoing challenge in addressing this issue and causing significant political turbulence and social unrest.
Mali: In August 2020, a military coup resulted in the overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. This led to the establishment of a transitional government. However, in May 2021, the military dissolved the transitional government and formed a new one, prolonging the uncertainty.
Guinea: In September 2021, Guinea experienced a military coup that ousted President Alpha Condé. Mamady Doumbouya (Col.) assumed interim presidency, marking a significant shift in the country’s political landscape.
Burkina Faso: In January 2022, Burkina Faso witnessed a military coup that led to the ousting of President Roch Kabore. The army blamed Kabore for failing to effectively address the escalating violence perpetrated by Islamist militants. In September 2022, another mutinous group of military leaders overthrew Ibrahim Traore (Cap.), further exacerbating the country’s instability.
Sudan: On October 25, 2021, Sudan experienced a military coup led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhane (Gen.). The coup ousted the transitional civilian leaders who were tasked with leading the country towards democracy following the ousting of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
Chad: In April 2021, the death of President Idriss Déby in a battle with rebels resulted in a military council led by his son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, assuming power.
Niger: In February 2021, the military overthrew President Mahamadou Issoufou’s government, citing corruption and insecurity as reasons. Then, in July 2023, Mohamed Bazoum was overthrown by the military amid political upheaval, rising Islamist extremism, and increasing Russian influence in the region.
Gabon: In August 2023, a coup d’état took place in Gabon shortly after the announcement of incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s victory in the general election. The coup brought an end to the 56-year rule of the Bongo family in Gabon and saw Brice Oligui Nguema (Gen.) assume transitional leadership.
These military coups have sparked public discontent and protests, as citizens express their opposition to the civilian administrations. The underlying causes of these coups vary, including political instability, economic grievances, corruption, insecurity, and popular discontent.
While military coups may temporarily address the immediate grievances and frustrations of the public, they are not sustainable solutions to the underlying issues. Instead, they often lead to prolonged political instability, human rights violations, and economic hardships. Many African countries have experienced a recurring cycle of coups, hindering their development and democratic progress.
To effectively address public concerns and ensure long-term stability, it is crucial to prioritize efforts that promote democratic governance and the rule of law. Inclusive political processes that engage various stakeholders and address the systemic issues contributing to public discontent offer more viable strategies for mitigating upheavals and fostering social and political stability within African nations.
By focusing on democratic reforms, promoting transparency, and addressing socioeconomic disparities, African countries can establish a foundation for sustainable development and inclusive governance. This requires addressing corruption, enhancing accountability, and building robust institutions that can effectively respond to the needs and aspirations of their citizens.
Seife Tadelle Kidane (PhD) is a senior research fellow at the IPATC, University of Johannesburg. He is the director for Africa Speaks-Centre for Governance and Intra Africa Trade Studies, and a member of the AISSS Executive Board Director and the head of strategic research.
Contributed by Seife Tadelle Kidane (PhD) is a senior research fellow at the IPATC, University of Johannesburg. He is the director for Africa Speaks-Centre for Governance and Intra Africa Trade Studies, and a member of the AISSS Executive Board Director and the head of strategic research.