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Are Africa’s relentless coups eroding democracy?

In the last five years, ten of all eleven recorded global military coups were in Africa, potentially diminishing the effectiveness of democracy in the long-term.

Just this year alone, there have been successful military takeovers in Chad, Mali, Guinea, and most recently in East Africa, Sudan.

Africa’s democracy is being threatened by these ongoing coups, caused largely by less-then-stellar governance from democratically elected leaders.

After most African countries gained independence, military coups began to crop up as a result of political instability, poverty, and corruption. Coup leaders argued they were in favour of ‘restoring democracy to the people’ by any means necessary.

In 2017, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was put under house arrest, impeached, and finally resigned after 37 years of ruling. The operation was led by the military who pointed to the shrinking economy and unprecedented poverty rates to justify their actions.

Mali has had two successful coups over the last two years. The vice president Colonel Assimi led the military in capturing the interim president Bah Ndaw and the acting prime minister Moctar Ouane.

This coup captured the attention of world leaders and international organizations. France halted its joint military operations with the Malian army but resumed in July this year. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) suspended Mali and ordered for the immediate restoration of power.

The recent Guinea coup in September to overthrow president Alpha Conde was also successful. Military leader Mamady Doumbouya accused Conde of going against the constitution by running for a third term as president. Additionally, corruption and delayed infrastructure development slowed the country’s economic growth.

By the end of October, Sudan’s power-sharing agreement between military leaders and Sudanese civilians was halted as the military seized power and dissolved the civilian government led by prime minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The coup was headed by general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Burhan said the coup was to avoid ‘civil war’, but international bodies condemned the act. The World Bank suspended its aid to Sudan and the African Union has pulled its membership until its civilian government is restored.

What are the consequences of these coups?

Sub-Saharan African countries that experience coups usually suffer economic hits, damaged international relations, and face global questioning of their democracies.

Most coup leaders claim to fight for people’s democracy, attempting to do away with bad governance and to better their country’s regime for prosperity.

According to the Afrobarometer report during the Mali coup in 2020, however, even if citizens appear to accept military interventions in the short term, they reject military rule as a system of government.

To that end, African democracy has not made enough international diplomatic progress to prevent eventually sliding back into authoritarian rule. The quality of the electoral process and the legitimacy, accountability, and performance of leaders are constantly questioned by African citizens, making it difficult to establish long-term stability.

Africa’s economy has worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic, too. According to the African Union, it is estimated that more than half of Africa’s population is living under extreme poverty. As a result, desperate youths support coup leaders for radical change, having lost trust and hope in their democratically elected leaders to create employment.

What does the future hold?

During these coups, Africa’s economic development is at stake. Populations are also at risk as countries descend into chaos – property is destroyed and lives are lost.

World leaders and international bodies are not doing enough to halt growing unrest. Keep in mind too that some Western countries support and sponsor certain coups with financial aid, infrastructure, and trade agreements in favour of better relations and resource benefits.

If the detrimental effects of coups are to be reversed, it lies with African leaders. Greed seems to be the priority for many politicians, who appear more interested in extending term limits and clinging to power, inadvertently fueling motivation for civil unrest and snowballing the severity of the situation.

Until the intentions of leaders become more civilian focused, it’s unlikely that coups will stop altogether. For now, we’ll have to see how things develop as the pandemic plays out.


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