Ques. Increasing coups in Africa
- In just over a year, Africa has experienced three successful coups (two in Mali and one more recently in Guinea), one unsuccessful coup attempt in Niger, and an arbitrary military transfer of power in Chad following the assassination of its president. These power grabs threaten a reversal of the democratization process Africa has undergone in the past two decades and a return to the era of coups as the norm.
- Reasons for non-survival of democracy in Africa: The above developments could be taking place in parallel to four broad trends:
- Colonial cartography, argues Peter Murdock, without considering the tribal and ethnic groupings leading to civil strife and wars in African countries such as Burundi, Central African Republic etc.
- The surge of foreign interest in Africa, dubbed as the ‘New Scramble’ for resources and influence in the continent;
- a democratic recession in Sub-Saharan Africa with weakening of democratic institutions and civil society; and
- the emergence of new and subtle methods of overturning constitutionally mandated presidential term limits and subsequently winning rigged or managed elections.
- In the early postcolonial decades when coups were rampant, Africa’s coup leaders virtually always offered the same reasons for toppling governments: corruption, mismanagement, poverty:
- Corruption: The leader of Guinea’s recent coup, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, echoed these justifications, citing “poverty and endemic corruption” as reasons for overthrowing 83 year old president Alpha Conde. Such justifications resonated with Africans as they accurately depicted the on-ground realities of their respective countries. According to Afrobarometer survey, 72% believe ordinary citizens “risk retaliation or other negative consequences” if they report corruption to authorities.
- Poverty: One in three people are now unemployed in Nigeria, West Africa’s largest economy. The same goes for South Africa, the most industrialized African nation. The economic impoverishment often steams anger and coups.
- Mismanagement: The irony of promising to strengthen rule of law, by taking power forcefully and breaking those same rule of law is self-defeating in nature. But the African people tired of misgovernance find this argument convincing and often end up supporting despots in the hope of a better rule.
- Low faith in democracy: African elections are becoming increasingly contentious and marked by fear. Worryingly, Afrobarometer’s surveys have indicated that only a minority of Africans believe elections help produce representative, and accountable leadership.
- External involvement: Russia has been notorious in this regard and its mercenary groups appear to play a deeper role in countries such as Mali, Libya, and the Central African Republic. Even the role of the United States (US) has been questioned as reports of the Malian coup plotters receiving training and assistance in the US emerged.
- To reverse this trend of growing coups in Africa, both African leaders and its external partners would have to play a crucial role. African countries need to quantitatively and qualitatively democratize and truly decolonise. African regional organisations must engage effectively with the civil society and major powers, on the other hand, must rethink and reassess its old tradition of shaping engagement with Africa.
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