By Toyin Falola
Military coup — and its sister-act, usurpation — have existed for centuries. Seventeenth-century England had its fair share of attempted and successful military coups. Eighteenth-century France suffered military coups. Even the eighteenth-century Oyo Empire, despite the ingenious move of having the war generals — Are — lived in a city far away from Oyo-Ile to avoid usurpations, still suffered deposition and military coups at the hands of Basorun Gaa. Between the 19th and 20th centuries, several countries of the world faced at least one attempted or successful military coup, from Asia to Europe to Africa. However, military coups have either fully become non-existent or significantly subsided worldwide, except in Africa, where there has been a fresh batch of military takeovers.
Truly, military coups have historically served several purposes. First, they have been an integral part of the growth and evolution of several countries of the world. Humans, by design, are curious experimenters. Therefore, it is only expected that several countries would have attempted military coups and the subsequent military rule that resulted from such coups as an alternative to the type of government they were practicing.
At its basest form, the motivating factor for military coups is a simple attempt to try something new, to see if there is a better alternative to how the country is being run. For this, military coups have served as the beginning of a learning curve for several countries, many of which have adjusted to find a system that works for them and will help them thrive — China finding solace in a communist dictatorship, the United Kingdom has opted for a constitutional monarchy, and for France, it is a semi-presidential government. These countries have gone through the proverbial fire of military disruptions and rules to become what they are today.
Furthermore, military coups result from a failing or failed system of government. Historically, military coups happen in countries experiencing turbulence — whether the turbulence results from a leader clenching on to power at the country’s detriment or widespread corruption running aground. We have also seen cases of coups due to the high-handedness and excesses of those in power. For every country that has experienced a coup, there is a backstory of oppression, corruption, dictatorship, stagnancy, and the suffering of citizens.
Africa is not the only place in the world where coups have happened. But Africa is currently home to the highest number of countries with recent military coups and takeovers. When the rest of the world aims for advancement and development, Africa is battling recurrent news of military coups and takeovers. There is something fundamentally wrong on the continent. While it is not out of place to blame the role colonization — and its resultant mambo-jumbling of people of differing races, cultures, and approaches — played in the disruption of the continent, it is important to note that Africa is not the only home of former colonies. India has never for once experienced a military coup. That is not to say India is perfect, but India is growing, evolving and learning.
Military coups have registered themselves as the transitional bridge in African politics. The poor leadership, country-wrecking corruption, mass abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, constitution, and citizens contribute massively to the military’s self-justification of military coups in these African countries. Ironically, the military that has often positioned itself as the restorer of law and order and the savior of the people is also notorious for committing the same or far worse offenses and abuse of power during their regimes. In West Africa, countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Togo experienced their first military coup less than 10 years after their independence. That speaks more to a fundamental problem or mentality that transcends political failure.
In Africa — especially with the recent military coups — there is more to it than military intervention. These coups and usurpation of power are beginning to look like the countries’ way of taking a stance devoid of the perceived cowardice of the deposed democratic leaders. There is a pattern to the military coups that have happened recently in Africa, as they have mostly been in countries that are former colonies of France.
Although it is being said that the days of colonization are far behind, there are indications of not-so-subtle neocolonialism by France within its former colonies, often aided by the French-state-backed elected leaders of those former colonies. In exchange for the pleasures of the French soil — akin to the resultant effect of the notorious model of assimilation and association — the leaders of these Francophone African states curry for the grace and favor of the French state, at the detriment of their countries and citizens.
There is also the hefty price for independence tied to the ridiculous agreements the French state has reached with its former colonies, including the enormous amount remitted to France annually for the use of the Francs CFA, the widespread exploitation of Nigeriens through mining done by French-state-backed Orano’s Somair, and the over-dependence of resources-rich Francophone African states on France are some reasons for these patterned military takeovers that have happened recently.
There is no denying that when the people are pushed to the wall, they would be left with no choice but to push back. This has been the case in Gabon, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. At this point, there is the need for introspection: are the African states that never experienced a coup better off? What systems of government do those states practice? Do they have a history of colonization? Are they multi-ethnic countries? How big are they by population? When we juxtapose the troubled countries with the ones that never had any coup using these metrics, we will then begin to see a clear path toward understanding the biggest root causes of military coups in Africa and whether they have been beneficial, and perhaps understanding the best way out.
Since the recent coups, there have been grand attempts by regional blocs like ECOWAS to resolve the issue, including opting to use a strong tone and attempting to strong-arm the putschists in Niger into returning power to the usurped president of the country. However, if historical antecedents are anything to go by, strong-arming the putschists is not the way to go, and opting for a full-blown-war or military operation can only result in a victory with two downsides: the emergence of rebels in the state or civilians becoming the victims in a case where the military intervention blows out of proportion. In both cases, the result does not spell good for the average citizen of the countries where the governments have been overthrown. What then needs to be addressed?
There is a need to address the root causes of these military coups, rechristened as interventions in African states. There is a need for holistic approaches that will result in proactive measures to mitigate the issues and usher Africa into a new era of evolution and growth that will banish military coups and regimes as relics of history.
At the Toyin Falola Interviews, our next panel session will focus on coups in Africa, drawing on the expertise of analysts invited from African states. King/Prof. Fuankem Achankeng, Col. (Rtd) Festus Aboagye, Dr. Omotola Ilesanmi, Prof. Vladimir Antwi-Danso, and Prof. Biodun Ogundayo will be sharing insights and expanding on the root causes of coups in Africa, how the coups tie back to geopolitics, the legitimacies of these coups, and resource management at a time like this. Furthermore, there will be a focus on discussing the true and systemic way out of the myriad of coup-inciting problems within countries on the African continent. Join us on Sunday, September 24, as our panelists discuss this time-sensitive and vital topic.
Sunday, September 24, 2023
Mauritius and Seychelles Time (UTC/GMT+4): 8 PM
East Africa Time (UTC/GMT+3): 7 PM
Central Africa Time (UTC/GMT+2): 6 PM
West Africa Time (UTC/GMT+1): 5 PM
Greenwich Mean Time (UTC/GMT): 4 PM
Cape Verde Time (UTC-1): 3 PM
Austin, Texas (CST): 11 AM
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