Will Military Coups Continue to Plague African Politics? We’re Far Away From the Real Democracy

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During colonial times, Africans had high hopes of realizing liberal democracy, equity, improved living conditions, fair trial and justice, and equal access to public services and resources, benefiting them harmoniously. Fathers of nations of these African states soon became independent states, including the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere, Kamuzu Banda, and Keneth Kaunda, who campaigned and led successful fights for political and economic independence from the chains of colonialists and their draconian laws and treatment.

By the early 1960s, a few African countries, including Egypt, Ghana, Morocco, Algeria, Tanganyika, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, DR Congo, Nigeria, Senegal and most West African States, had gained independence. By 1995, almost all African countries were free from their colonial masters.

Just after the independence of these African countries, new masters took the realms of power and completely went against what Africans had hoped. Lavish living by the families of these new masters, complete disregard for human rights, democratic manipulations, corruption, nepotism, pilfering of public funds, and ethnic cleansing became the new normal of these new masters.

With little hope of change through civil governance and liberal democratic processes that ensure orderliness of leadership succession, transition, political authority and legitimacy in most African countries, a new trend of changing the course of leadership succession seems to be not stopping anytime soon the military coups.

These military coups have occurred in Africa even after these countries gained political independence from colonial rule. Since the 1960s, out of 54 African countries, 49 countries experienced coup attempts or revolutions. Over the years, this trend has been very much ongoing.

In just the past 10 years, there have been coups in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Sudan, Egypt, the Gambia, Chad, and Central Africa Republic. Also, there have been attempts for military coups and rebellion in Burundi, Somalia, DR Congo, Ethiopia and the Comoros in these past few years.

Also, read West African Political Crisis: What Our Silence Means for the Average Nigerien?

Why Do We Continue to Witness Military Coups in Africa Every Few Years? 

As much as the coups are in some cases senseless, bloody, and costly and result in loss of lives, destruction of infrastructures, and threaten the fragile democratic project in Africa, they are bound to continue to occur as the conditions for military coups are fertile and tempting for militaries in Africa to stage, plan and execute these coups.

One such condition is democratic manipulations by corrupt politicians post-independence. The organizational infrastructures for managing elections and the precepts and procedures of elections are essentially legally designed by those in power to favour them to win these elections. In most constitutions of these African countries, heads of national election authorities are appointed by heads of state as stipulated by their forms.

These heads of election authorities ensure their allies win elections by whatever means necessary as they are sure of reaping the spoils and rewards from these election winners. In Tanzania, for example, the head of the election commission authority is appointed by the sitting president and may also be a candidate for the coming election.

The election commissioners of all constituencies in the country are executive directors of cities, municipalities or councils and are all appointed by the president. They will likely be involved in rigging and brigandage to ensure credible and fair elections.

Mismanagement of state assets and corruption in civil governance are other conditions for African military coups and rebellions. It is expected to find political leaders in the so-called civil governments in Africa rotten to the core in corruption, stealing and thievery of state resources.

Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia was just recently found to have over100 bank accounts and 281 properties and looted over $975 million, Omar Bongo of Gabon, Such mismanagement and embezzlement of state resources are common in most of these countries as there are reported cases of fraud and stealing of state resources by political leaders or their immediate family members or associates of these political elites.

Political repression, deep polarization, and the absence of a liberal democratic tradition that upholds the rule of law, separation of power, and the will of the people are other conditions ripe for military coups and rebellion. Particular ethnic minorities, regions or religious sects are repressed, sometimes hunted like pigs, always under state surveillance and experiencing all kinds of torture and almost always embattled in courtrooms for cases including accusations of planned coups, sedition, and disruption of public order.

These treatments of some groups in these countries have led these minority groups to turn to rebel forces like Islamic insurgency and other forms of rebellion after harbouring hatred and revenge for their mistreatment, making coups likely wherever these groups get a chance to stage and plan coups.

Countries like Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Chad, Mali, DR Congo, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Sahel region countries are always susceptible to rebellion due to the treatment of some of the minorities in their country.

Nepotism to allies of the people in power in these states due to being from the same ethnic group’s religion is another condition where coups are likely to continue to occur in these countries. Political elites appoint their family members or associates, even those least qualified, to essential positions in state enterprises or posts.

Sons, daughters, wives, uncles or associates of these political elites enjoy appointments in crucial functions like in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tanzania, DR Congo, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and almost all these countries. Tenders of essential projects are awarded to firms of family members or associates of the political elites, leading to poor implementation of these projects as well as inflated costs of projects; hence, the familiar people are paying heavy prices.

Professor Kolibone Phago, director of the North-West University in South Africa’s School of Government Studies, stresses Africa’s need to buck this trend of nepotism and do so in haste. He says, “Allowing nepotism practices through family, friends and those least qualified to occupy leadership positions is tantamount to stealing Africa’s future from its young generation”. Military leaders are using this excuse to stage and plan coups to remove political elites and their nepotism.

Other conditions likely to fuel military coups and rebellion include despotic political rulership under the disguise of civil governance and unequal distribution of resources to the peoples and regions of states.

Why do African countries that are former colonies or overseas possessions of world powers lying in tropical latitudes, have religious, ethnic or tribal divisions with substantial natural resources like oil, uranium, or minerals, suffer from corruption and are strategically located as fertile grounds for rebellion and military coups?

The answer to such a question is all superpowers of this world are interested in the resources found in these African countries for their industries and their economy and that these superpowers are always on the side of African governments that are favourable to these superpowers.

Once they feel the leadership of a specific country in which their interests are threatened, they explore and exploit these ethnic, tribal or religious differences to stage and plan coups and put leaders on the side of these superpowers. But this is mainly due to the corruption of these African political elites that have prices, and a superpower with the highest bid wins the loyalty of these African leaders.

Are Military Coups Democratic Justices Justified? Or Are They Senseless and Costly?

Military coups are, in most cases, a result of years of failures of the political elites in these African countries to address dire political, economic, social or religious situations.

In some cases, after years of torture of certain groups, abject poverty, the highest form of thievery of resources, corruption of the highest order, state capture of corrupt individuals and powerful business tycoons, the leadership of the so-called civil governments turned into family empires, and election rigging with the help of well-designed constitutions that favours these political elites.

It is difficult to condemn military coups when they get rid of corrupt politicians who have found a way to perpetuate themselves in power. It is sometimes a welcome development to the majority of citizens of these countries as we have seen coups leaders promising heaven and delivering heaven, too, after emptying corrupt politicians pockets after coups and using the money for public welfare projects as well as advocating democratic constitutional change within a few months or years after a coup as the cases of Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Chad, Madagascar and Egypt during the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi.

As Josep Borrell, the European Union foreign policy chief, put it, “Naturally, military coups are not the solution, but we must not forget that in Gabon, there had been elections full of irregularities “. In most cases, these coups are senseless and costly to state resources and may result in loss of life, as coup leaders in the past have promised heaven and delivered hell to their people. The likes of Idi Amin Dada,  Sani Abacha, Robert Mugabe, Teodoro Obiang, Yahya Jammeh, Mobutu Sese Seko and Omar al-Bashir, to mention a few.

Is There a Way Forward?

There have been countless military coups in Africa since these African states gained independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Nigeria to Libya, Egypt, Mali, Niger, DRC, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Comoros, Chad, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central Africa Republic, Zimbabwe and Madagascar. These coups seem not to be stopping any time soon.

Powell and Thyne, in their 2011 article published in the Journal of Peace, state that “underlying causes of coups are present and worsening. Until these domestic dynamics improve, or regional or global actors can provide a solution, there is no reason to think coups should go away”.

Indeed, until African countries, state affairs become truly more transparent, inclusive and democratic with real liberal democracy that ensures an orderly process of leadership succession and change, independent judiciary and courts, the rule of law, free and fair election, equality, accountability, respect for human rights, political tolerance, proper management of diversity, adequate control of opportunities and constitutional reforms that are people-centred and democratic, coups will always be just one step away from occurring in Africa.

This is the only way African states can become genuinely democratic in their African context for the welfare of our beloved African continent as the continent strives towards improved living conditions of its people and civil governance.

hold a bachelor's degree in Public Relations and Marketing from St. Augustine University of Tanzania. I am currently working as a Hub Data Officer for Benjamin Mkapa Foundation at Usangi District hospital. I am an experienced Marketing and Sales professional where I have worked in this field for over 5 years. I have now worked in a PEPFAR HIV funded programme for over 3 years where I have been receiving various training and facilitation on the basics of comprehensive HIV care. I am passionate about traveling and creative writing and I am determined to learn more about writing to express my ideas that will inspire positive and constructive discussion in Tanzania for the welfare of the Tanzanian society.

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