In the last 48 months, several West African countries have found themselves under military regimes. While some of these army interventions received cheers from hapless masses who may have agonised under perceptibly corrupt and inept civilian administrations, some believe that military in governance remains an aberration and retrogressive. What has caused this wind of military coup d’états to blow in West Africa? Is there any justification for military coup d’états under any guise? Is this trend, referred to by some as the ‘Francophone Spring’, exclusive to Francophone West African Countries alone, or can it spread? Hannibal Uwaifo, Mandy Demechi-Asagba and FEP Sugaba probe this bothersome shift, proffering solutions to curb the trend
Resurgence of Military Interventions in Governance in Africa
Reasons for Coup d’États
The resurgence of military Coup d’états in some parts of Africa, as undemocratic as it is, has its root causes and implications. While those still in authority in Africa, particularly in the ECOWAS State are quick to condemn this development and seek to intervene to restore what they call Civilian democratic rule, many citizens of the concerned countries seem to clearly unambiguously think otherwise. The recent intervention has been widely welcomed and applauded by the public in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger and Gabon, all in Francophone West Africa. While any unconstitutional takeover of Governance anywhere is condemnable, the Principle of “Causation” appears to be in strong support of recent Military Coups. Some of the immediate causes of these interventions, include but are not limited to: a) Unconstitutional changes in tenure of office, leading to tenure elongation. b) Deliberate narrowing of the democratic space by harassment and intimidation of the opposition. c) Suppression of ideas and freedom of speech. d) Large scale corrupt practices. e) Bad governance. f) Lack of reforms in all sectors of governance. h) Economic hardship and poverty. i) Ostentatious living by Leaders, their families and cronies. j) Wide spread abuse of human rights k) Lack of justice, access to justice, judicial in-activism and complicity l) Lack of accountability in all spheres of governance and m) Large scale insecurity and terrorist activities and so on and so forth.
These factors and many more have remained intractable for decades with the citizens, helpless in the face of iron fist kleptomaniac rule in most of these African States. In fact, what exists here is merely “Civilian rule” not “Democratic rule”, coupled with the burden of economic hardship and fight for survival. With no redemption in sight, any type of intervention is welcome, particularly when these Military Leaders are able to publicly identify these areas of concern and promise to address them.
In French West Africa, the iron grip of these former French colonies by the French Government, was bound to come to an end. This is against the background of unfair trade practices, economic and political emasculation of the government and resources of these Nations, installation and support of iron fist rulers, and the disdain/contempt which the citizens of these countries are held, in the face of economic and political oppression orchestrated by the Colonial Master. An example is the over 40 years of ‘Methuselah’, Paul Biya’s Civilian misrule in French Cameroon that has despondency, Poverty, Misery, Hunger and Civil war, as it’s dividends. While the people yearn for better governance, they are unable to express same through democratic elections, which are widely manipulated in favour of the status quo by the biased umpire which mostly consists of agents of the ruling Government.
The long term impact of civil, rather than democratic rule, and the sense of exclusiveness faced by most citizens, is a tonic for “messaic” intervention by the Military. It is also true that those who seize power also feel the pain of misgovernance, and are prodded to take these steps for patriotic reasons and love for their motherland. This is not say that the new sheriffs will be able to find acceptable solutions to all the problems they met which they attempt to resolve, rather, in most cases, they complicate them and end up creating new problems. But, the reality of Military intervention under the circumstances enumerated here stares us in the face, especially against the background that the Military rulers are citizens and supposed to be part of the Governance structure.
In 2022, Africa witnessed attempted Coup d’états in Six Countries, four were successfully executed. Similarly, of 18 Coups recorded around the world, all took place in Africa, except the one that took place Myanmar. This probably encouraged the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, to remark that “Military Coups are back”. However, the sophistication of the present takeovers arising from the complex colonial exploitation and global shifts in allegiance and realignment, makes the entire scenario more serious than previously. The challenge of Russia and China in Africa is a reality, and has changed the equation. The ability of Russia to provide Military assistance to the new Military Government, is a deterrence to any intervention by any external force including, ECOWAS, AU, and France and the United States, powers that hitherto, had the ability to upset the situation. The rejection of Economic and Political Agreements with the French, the close down of Embassies, the expulsion of Ambassadors and the forging of co-operation with Russia by the new Military Governments, is a pointer to an emerging new era, not just military takeover of government.
Flashback at the turmoil in Burundi, especially their altercations with their Belgian former colonial Masters, led to the involvement of Russia in the ensuing development and the protection of their economic interest. In this case, the arrogance of Belgium in it continuous undermining of the Burundi State and her legitimate government was cited as the reason, including the inability of the then Belgian Ambassador to respect State Protocols, by having a man as his wife in a traditional African State that accepts none of that. The Western instigated Political and Economic Sanctions, did not dissuade Burundi as a Nation.
The Central African Republic, is another example where the Russians have intervened and have control. The other interesting factor, is the ability of the new Military leaders to come together to form a common alliance to fight their common enemies. This is the threat from Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, including Algeria (not under Military rule) to resist any attempt by any regional or international force to intervene in Niger Republic. This is also a new development, never hitherto experienced.
The economic influence of China as a development Partner across the West African region and Africa, is also now a fact that plays significant roles in the ability of the new regimes to bluff the economic crumbs from the Western World. Although China has largely been perceived as having an ultimate Agenda, many however, believe that she is more honest and result orientated, than the hypocrisy of economic exploitation and political manipulation of decades of Western influence. Therefore, a combination of Russian Military Protection and China’s Economic Agenda, gives the new Military Leaders an edge over their adversaries. This is not to say that military rule should be allowed to stay and flourish, and be the order of the day. NO. But, with the reality on ground, all must agree to make the best use of the situation we find ourselves, join hands to correct the fertile ground created for this situation by our conscienceless and maximum civilian rulers, under the guise of democracy. We must reset Africa’s agenda for rapid economic, social and political growth. We must work out how to rapidly reduce our trade dejection, reduce poverty and economic hardship. We must create enduring social structures, that our economic and human capital can sustain. We must choose a system of government and governance that is economically viable, and transforms to stability for the general good.
The Role of the Judiciary
We must prepare a fertile ground for a system that promotes access to justice with judicial and judiciary activism. We must create a Judiciary that takes the purpose and objectives of the State and governance into consideration, when making decisions. The Judiciary must, like Brutus in Julius Caesar, do real substantial justice “not because they love the Gladiators less, but that they love their country more”. The Judiciary must repudiate technical justice, that leaves her citizens in despair and disbelief. Judges must be fearless and truly independent, to create a stable Africa. After all, Justice Olive Wendell Holmes, a former Chief Justice of the United States, posits in his book the Path of the Law, “the prophecy of what the courts will do in fact, and nothing more pretentious are what I mean by the Law”. This clearly shows the place of the Judiciary in the quest for good governance and stable society.
When we have done this, then Africa must now consider who their friends are, and make a sound decision in the present state of Geo-political re-alignments. Good democratic governance, sound economic judgement, strong social and political institutions and a vibrant Judiciary are the main antidote to Coup d’états, not threat of intervention, because those issuing the threat have bigger skeletons in their cupboards.
Hannibal Uwaifo, President of the African Bar Association
Rising Coups in West Africa and Implications for ECOWAS and Nigeria
The many coups in West Africa are reflections of failed and shrouded democratic leadership, and the pushed-to-the-wall reaction of the frustrations of the people to authoritarianism of African leaders. The impunity of these leaders had reached an intolerable crescendo, such that the military had to step in to save the people.
In recent times West Africa has experienced six coups since August 2020 in Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, with the most recent in Niger in July 2023 and Gabon in August, 2023, with failed coup d’états in Guinea Bissau and Gambia.
The good news is that the ECOWAS Heads of State are committed to ensuring all four States can restore full constitutionality by 2024, and establish a regional force that that will support ECOWAS member States.
Democratic Leadership Failure
Before now, all West African Region member States of ECOWAS were headed by democratically elected Presidents, even though in recent times, democracy is gradually being replaced with autocratic leaders who are now shoved down the throats of the people by selection using all illegal means, shrouded with make believe legality and a caged Judiciary to ratify their selection.
1. Corruption – Corrupt cartels enriching themselves to the detriment of the citizenry.
2. Corruption in governance – Allocation of natural resources to a few; for example, Niger – Uranium exploitation by France and the USA by a cartel, thus, impoverishing a country that should have no business whatsoever with poverty.
Sale of government-owned infrastructure to a select few in power, at a ridiculously low rate.
3. Deep seated and endemic corruption.
4. Persistently low levels of economic growth.
5. Foreign powers quest for geo-strategic influence and security.
6. Intra-State conflicts in support of African dictators, thus, fanning the flames of violent dissent.
7. Tenure elongation.
8. Unconstitutional and desperate selection and impositions of leaders.
9. Caged /dependent Judiciary.
10. Disobedience of court orders.
11. Autocratic regimes repressing any form of opposition.
12. Unlawful detentions and needless killings.
13. Executive impunity.
Political experts in the African region informed the United Nations (UN) in January 2023, that armed groups and violent extremists are increasing their influence in West Africa and the Sahel, while repeated coups d’états are destabilising governments.
Giovanie Biha, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Officer in Charge of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel ( UNOWAS), drew attention to the millions of children in the region who have no access to education because 10 thousand schools were shut down due to instability.
“Non-State groups are fighting themselves for supremacy, pushing States to the margin, and causing untold misery to millions of people who have to leave their communities to seek safety.”
This situation is precedented with job insecurity, food insecurity, health hazards, gender-based violence – rape and defilement of minors, economic downturn and loss of innocent lives, increased migration despite the hazards. Women and children are always at the receiving end – the vulnerable victims.
Despite the many challenges facing the African region, it remains a land of immense opportunities. Getting leadership right, is the key to making immense progress and occupying our rightful place in the comity of nations as the cynosure of all eyes.
1. Ensure a level playing field for democratic processes.
2. Agreement on the length of transitions to be specified and codified.
3. Implementation of affirmative action.
4. Promotion of dialogue.
5. All inclusiveness in governance and sustainable development.
6. Good governance.
7. Counter misinformation and campaigns jealously.
8. Engage actively in deradicalisation and reintegration.
9. Sustainable funding for regional security initiatives.
10. Creation of enabling environment for the people to reduce migration.
Implication of the Wave of Coups for ECOWAS and Nigeria
The coups in West Africa put a question mark on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in their role to promote cooperation and integration, in order to raise the living standards of their people and to maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations among member States and contribute to the progress and political stability of the member States. And, their works to address security issues, thus, developing a peace-keeping Force for conflicts in the region
Have ECOWAS and AU lived up to their expectations in the face of the coups? What are the criteria for leadership of these Regional Organisation? Are these organisations telling truth to power ?
These, to my mind, are questions begging for answers in the prevailing circumstances in Africa, and until the African Continent learns to tell truth to power, the wave of Coups d’états shall continue.
Obviously, the violation of Article 21(1) of the Charter herein reproduced has been the crux of the matter:
“All peoples shall freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources. This right shall be exercised in the exclusive interest of the people. In no case shall a people be deprived of it.”
For as long as this violation continues in the West African Region, the wave will be wilder and shall sweep through. Injustice swept under the carpet, will rear its ugly head. How else can one view the jubilation of the people, in the face of the coups? For these people, it’s liberation that must be celebrated.
These few are warning signs for those who are wise to learn from, or be swept by the wave.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in his speech as ECOWAS Chairman said:
“ECOWAS must bite back and cannot sit as a toothless bulldog, but, work collectively to pursue inclusive economic integration of the subregion”.
I cannot agree less, to his Excellency’s position on this.
His Excellency went further and pledged:
“I make pledge here that, in furtherance of her region’s economic recovery and growth, he will commit to democracy and the rule of law…”.
This to my mind is the primary foundation for democracy, which must be solidly laid for democracy to thrive and succeed. The good thing is that our leaders know the right thing to do, but doing it in all sincerity has been the problem. Not until our leaders begin to genuinely and sincerely rule with integrity and character, will we begin to enjoy the gains of democracy. The democracy we have in the African continent is a make believe, or rather ‘democrazy’ and or ‘shrouded authoritarianism’.
Arising from the above, it is crystal clear that political stability can be achieved in addition to true democracy and the rule of law, with some measures of high economic performance, productive employment, increased and sustainable export, reduction of military spending, eradication of corruption and independent Judiciary.
It is pertinent to admonish that, Coup d’états are not a solution to the many flaws of the democratic setting. Sincere dialogue, focus and determination to end injustice in the land, are better options. However, it may just be a necessary and lesser evil to end a rape of Democracy by unapologetic, endemic treasury looting and sale of the nations natural resources by a select few for their selfish end for a new era to emerge.
Mandy Demechi-Asagba, FICMC, 3rd Vice President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)
The Francophone Africa Spring
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Martin Luther King Jr
France may well take a lesson from the words of a former US President, Abraham Lincoln. He once said: “You can fool all people some of the time, and some people all the time. But, you can never fool all people all the time.”
Coups are `raining men`, in African Francophone countries. Six countries and counting, the latest being Gabon. Our eyes are open, to see where the tide blows next. Blow, it will.
Prior to these unfolding events, the media had been flooded with stories of France’s atrocious dance in its former colonies in Africa. Her dreadful presence in Africa, is legendary. Her monstrous activities are well documented, and ongoing. Despite the numerous exposés, she never thought it wise to heed the warnings therein. Over time, the clouds gathered. Everyone saw it, except France.
That France has a stranglehold over its former colonies, is no news. That France towers over the economic and political landscape of these countries, is no news too. That the people of her former colonies are wallowing in abject economic conditions, is still no news. What is news is that the people have risen in unison to say, enough is enough. The cry is unmistakable. The reasons are well understood.
As if to add insult to injury, France announced that it does not recognise the new regime in Niger. This was in response to the request by the new regime, for France to withdraw her Ambassador in Niamey. It is apparent that to France, the era of colonialism is much alive and thriving. The capo is not relenting. After all, her puppet African leaders, are well entrenched to do her bidding. Therefore, France could, with every audacity, every temerity, every gut, tell Africa which regime it recognises and which she doesn’t. That is how cheap Africa has become.
However, the blame game is enormous. Everyone has a fair share of it. Yes, France’s heavy handedness on her former colonies is devastating, economically and politically; Yes, France is looting the resources of these countries; Yes, France is the custodian of the foreign reserves; what may be difficult to argue against, is the colossal failure of leadership in all African countries. France may have her hands on every part of the pie, but what African leaders trade off for power, is a price even slaves would rather die than agree to pay.
That failure of leadership cuts across the spectrum of Africa, where corruption and impunity have assumed their own personalities. Amongst African leaders, there seems to be a competition on who best can impoverish his country. For if France is the albatross of the Francophone countries, what name do we call the devil’s relentless hold on other African Countries?
Nigeria lives in darkness. No words can capture the level of hunger in the country. Insecurity is the order of the day. How does one explain that Nigeria, an oil producing nation with five refineries, imports all its refined product needs? How does one comprehend that a nation sitting on vast reserves of bitumen and every conceivable stone material, cannot fix her numerous dilapidated roads? Virtually, every mineral God has blessed mankind with, is found in abundance in Nigeria. Why is food out of reach, when the country is blessed with arable land and good weather that enables all year-round farming?
What is remarkable in this entire saga, is the position of ECOWAS and the African Union, AU. It is laughable that these organisations that are peopled by the worst elements in leadership, could find a voice to condemn this so-called new Francophone Africa Spring. These leaders are themselves apostates of democracy; beneficiaries of mangled selection processes, otherwise called elections. These are African traitors, sick in body, mind and soul, masquerading as African representatives. The immediate reaction that followed ECOWAS’ pronouncement following the coup in Niger, said it all. It points to Africans indignation, towards these organisations that are bereft of any morality. Except the charters of these organisations are changed to reflect the yearnings of the people, they stand to exist only in name.
For those asking the question whether military coups can happen here or there, hold your breath. Disenchantment has no boundaries. Hunger knows neither tribe, colour nor creed. It is therefore, delusional for anyone to opine that the tide is Francophone Africa manufactured. It simply means that those who make peaceful change impossible, make violent change inevitable. The only panacea against coups is good governance, governance that recognises and takes on its responsibilities within the space of its social contract with the citizenry.
On France, yet again. In his well celebrated book, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe literarily drew our attention to this scenario playing out in French colonies and captured it eloquently. “Let us not reason like cowards, said Okonkwo. If a man comes into my hut and defecates on the floor, what do I do? Do I shut my eyes? No! I take a stick and break his head. That is what a man does.”
African Francophone countries have had enough of their colonial overlord, defecating on the continent. Those who have taken up sticks against this slave master deserve our applause, not condemnation.
FEP Sugaba, Freelance Writer, Zurich, Switzerland