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A timeline of coup in West Africa and its implications for democracy in the region

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Background

West Africa has long been regarded as a diverse and dynamic region that has made significant strides in promoting democratic governance and stability over the years.

However, the region has not been devoid of political upheavals, including coup attempts and successful coups d’état, which have occasionally disrupted the progress of democracy.

This article aims to provide a chronological account of select coups in West Africa and discuss their implications on democratic processes and institutions.

Timeline of Coups in West Africa

1963: Togo

Togo experienced its first military coup when President Sylvanus Olympio was overthrown and killed. This marked the beginning of a series of coups that plagued the country for several decades.
1966: Nigeria

Major General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi seized power following a coup that resulted in the overthrow and assassination of Nigeria’s first democratically elected prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

Ghana – 1966

The first coup in post-colonial West Africa took place in Ghana on February 24, 1966. Led by the military under Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka, it overthrew President Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first prime minister and later president. The coup was prompted by economic mismanagement, rising corruption, and political repression. While it temporarily halted Ghana’s democratic progress, subsequent years

1974: Niger

Niger Republic suffered its first coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Seyni Kountché, toppling President Hamani Diori’s government and initiating a period of military rule.

1980: Liberia

Master Sergeant Samuel Doe orchestrated a coup, leading to the overthrow and execution of President William Richard Tolbert Jr. The coup marked the onset of Liberia’s protracted civil war.

1991: Sierra Leone

Military officer Joseph Saidu Momoh was ousted by Captain Valentine Strasser, plunging Sierra Leone into a decade-long civil war and political turmoil.

1999: Guinea-Bissau

General Ansumane Mané led a coup against President João Bernardo Vieira, demonstrating the fragility of democratic governance in Guinea-Bissau.

The 1999 Ivorian Coup

The first significant coup in West Africa occurred in the Ivory Coast, also known as Côte d’Ivoire. On December 23, 1999, military rebels led by Robert Gueï overthrew President Henri Konan Bédié. The coup highlighted deep-seated political and ethnic tensions within the country, as Gueï declared himself president. Despite early promises of democratic reforms, Gueï’s regime faced widespread protests.

Read also: Military takes over power in Niger, closes borders

2005: Mauritania

Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall seized power in a bloodless coup, overthrowing President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya.

2010: Niger

Niger experienced another coup, ousting President Mamadou Tandja from power after he attempted to extend his tenure through constitutional amendments. The soldiers who had held Bazoum were said to be protesting against the government’s handling of the country’s security situation. Niger has been plagued by a number of security challenges, including terrorist attacks and intercommunal violence.

2023: Niger Republic

On Wednesday, July 26, 2023, security sources mentioned that soldiers from the presidential guard in Niger had held President Mohamed Bazoum inside the presidential palace in Niamey.

Implications for Democracy

The recurring coups in West Africa have profound implications for democracy in the region. Each coup disrupts the democratic process, undermines the rule of law, and erodes citizens’ trust in political institutions. The frequent transitions of power through non-electoral means create an atmosphere of uncertainty, hindering sustainable socio-economic development and foreign investment.

Coups often result in the suspension of constitutional rights, restrictions on civil liberties, and increased human rights abuses. Political instability fuels ethnic and religious tensions, heightening the potential for violence and exacerbating intercommunal conflicts. It also provides opportunities for non-state actors, such as rebel groups and terrorist organizations, to exploit the power vacuum and disrupt regional security.