Africa: Coups breed coups

A new year, another coup in Africa, especially West Africa that has seen no less than five military takeovers in the past year. Mali, Tunisia, Guinea, Sudan, and now Burkina Faso have been recent coup hotbeds amid widespread public discontent and disillusionment. Africa saw more than 10 general elections in 2021, and the majority returned the incumbent leaders. In some of the elections – such as in Chad, Republic of Congo, Djibouti, and Uganda – the incumbent was contesting for a third, fourth, or even fifth term. Most of these elections were marked by varying degrees of inhumanity.


Democratic governments in Africa are performing abysmally. People are fed up with their governments for many reasons — major security threats, relentless humanitarian disasters, and millions of youths having no prospects. Many countries – including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Somalia – are facing a range of brutal hostilities that are leaving much civilian suffering in their wake, causing some to tend to privilege military approaches to ending them.


Economic underperformance is an oft-cited predictor of coups, and coup leaders take advantage of this, and the failure of governments to respect basic rights, uphold constitutional obligations, and carry out promised reforms. The recent surge in the militarization of politics is a disturbing trend as it poses a threat to peace, security, and stability in West Africa, and Africa at large. Coups are contagious. If the coup plotters are not punished, there will be more coups in Africa.

West Africa is geographically vicinal with North and Central Africa. This means that upheavals in one region are a squirming catastrophe for the next, especially if there are no obvious consequences for coup perpetrators. Case in point, Mali’s interim president – Colonel Assimi Goïta – who is a two-time
coup leader is yet to be penalized for his involvement in the coups that brought him to power. His Guinean counterpart, Mamady Doumbouya also enjoys the same benefits from global and regional leniency towards coupists. This could encourage agitators in other countries to chart a similar course.


Looking forward, expressing optimism about the prospects for Africa’s democracy is difficult, especially in countries recently afflicted by military depositions. Therefore, Global and African institutions need to step back from toothless negotiations and be firmer in condemning and meting out sanctions on coupists, in order to arrest the continent’s increasingly fluid democratic systems. Already, the Global Peace Index(GPI) readings for 2021 point to a significant annual deterioration in Gabon, Kenya, Benin, Nigeria, and the Gambia.


While recent coups have occurred in the Central and francophone West Africa sub-regions, governments in anglophone West Africa should be at high alert as the risk of a coup contagion is high. With Anglophone West African countries – Nigeria, the Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Ghana-, more than countries in other regions, recording significant deteriorations in their decorum levels in the past year, a spillover is almost inevitable. But how can countries come out of this coup-trap?

There is this notion that no elections are worse than fraudulent and forged elections, and this has led to other democratic deficits such as ignoring or downplaying elements like a free press, freedom from political repression, or human rights. There is a dire need to actually address the continent’s flawed political systems. In the wake of national and local elections scheduled to take place in seven African countries (Angola, Comoros, Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Senegal, and Tunisia) this year, democratically elected governments need to look beyond the fetish of strict electoral calendars – which in most cases are rigged – as a marker of democratic progress and focus on upholding human rights, strengthening the rule of law and building credible, independent institutions.