In the past three years, at least eight African countries have witnessed military coup d’états. This is coming when it was thought that Africa’s democracy had come of age when we were beginning to think that coups had gone for good, consigned to an era in the past when African governments were led by the military.
Coincidentally, all but one of the eight countries were colonised by France. Some of the countries are Mali, Chad, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger and now Gabon.
The first coup in Mali was in August 2020, when President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was overthrown by a gang of Malian colonels commanded by Assimi Goita. The coup came on the heels of anti-government demonstrations about worsening security, contentious elections for the legislature, and accusations of corruption.
After some pressure, resulting in fruitful negotiations, the junta agreed to hand over power to an interim administration run by civilians to oversee an 18-month transition to elections in February 2022.
However, a clash ensued between the coup leader and the interim president, retired Colonel Bah Ndaw, prompting the junta to stage a second coup in May 2021. Goita, who had been acting vice president, became president.
In Chad, the army seized control of the country in April 2021 when the country’s “soldier-king” president, Idriss Deby, was killed in combat while visiting forces engaged in fighting rebels in the north of the country.
However, instead of the speaker of the parliament taking over as stipulated by the country’s constitution, General Mahamat Idriss Deby, the president’s son, was named interim president. This sparked riots in N’Djamena, the country’s capital, but the military quelled it easily.
In 2020, President Alpha Conde changed Guinea’s constitution to run for a third term. This caused severe unrest that emboldened the country’s Special Forces led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya to overthrow him in September 2021.
The failure to tame bandits and terrorists, especially Islamist militants, led Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba to oust President Roch Kabore in January 2022. But barely eight months later, Captain Ibrahima Traoré seized power from Damiba to become the country’s new leader on September 30, 2022.
On July 26, 2023, members of Niger’s presidential guard led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani, an officer once involved in peacekeeping efforts in war-ravaged countries, seized power from President Mohamed Bazoum to address the “deteriorating security situation and bad governance.”
Last week, on August 30, top military commanders in Gabon forcefully abridged President Ali Bongo’s third term and annulled the controversial results of the recent election he was declared the winner of.
When we look at these countries, what we see as a common thread is a long stay in office, fuelled by greed and self-centeredness. Because the sit-tight bug has bitten the leaders, they employ all means foul to remain in office, like constitution amendment, election rigging, imprisonment of opposition members, weakening of opposition parties and suppression of individual freedoms and the press.
They riddled their reign with government corruption, which they employed to weaken all democratic and state institutions and turn those with oversight functions, like the parliament, into rubber stamps.
It is unfortunate, but true, that many African leaders have a warped way of thinking. They assume that they were created to be served; that God created them specially and that without them, their country cannot get anywhere.
We can see such an inordinate desire to hang on to power in Cameroon, where Paul Biya has been at the helm since 6th November 1982. For 41 years, he has held his country by its jugular despite spending most of his time seeking medical care in Switzerland. Uganda is one other country where its leader, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, has been in power since 26 January 1986.
Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso has been his country’s leader since February 8, 1979, and Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo since August 3, 1979, while Eritrea’s leader, Isaias Afwerki has been on the saddle since May 24, 1993.
Perhaps this trend will continue as long as those whom God has elevated to such positions continue to see themselves as extraordinary mortals whose death would cause time to stop in its tracks. They must know that the world would not pause and look back when they drop dead.
Then, the judiciary. Yes, the judiciary could be the panacea. This arm of government is the bedrock of sanity in a nation. Once it is corrupt and, therefore, unreliable, making it no longer a last sanctuary of hope for the traduced, then a nation is doomed. If it was upright, then a nation would get it right because there would be justice for all, which would translate into safety and prosperity for everyone. “A kingdom (nation) can endure with unbelief, but it cannot endure with injustice”, said Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio in his book, Bayan wujub Al-Hijrah alal ibad.
In April last year, I wrote here: “Once a nation-state finds itself in such a situation, only a few options are left for it to continue. Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio’s ethos for a nation’s survival should become a national creed. Its leaders must urgently embrace justice and fairness and the laws of the land must equally apply to king and serf. Then the leaders must truly see leadership as service to the fatherland and not a means for them and their families to aim at owning the land. In his book, Bayan Wujub Al-Hijra, the revered scholar, revolutionary and founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, said: ‘A kingdom can endure with unbelief, but it cannot endure with injustice.”
It is also time that African leaders began to see their people as humans who deserve the best in life. All that the average African wants is to feel he counts and that his feelings are respected. He wants an organized society and so he wants his nation’s institutions to work. He is also law-abiding, and he understands and respects the law if it covers everyone – high and low.
A look at all the countries in Africa where coups have taken place of late will reveal that not only is the judiciary in bed with all the deposed leaders but also the followers do not seem to matter in the scheme of things.
Again, in April last year, I concluded a writeup with this: “The easiest way to serve the people is to empower them to easily access basic needs. The little money in their pockets should be valuable enough to guarantee that. Once the people can afford basic needs because of leaders’ efforts, the crime rate and discontent will take flight. What way is better to empower than to provide work for the majority?” majority?”
Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.