A spate of eight coups in the last three years, including the recent ouster of Gabon’s president by soldiers, has highlighted why military takeovers are returning in African countries.
Early Wednesday, military officers seized power after an announcement that President Ali Bongo had secured a third term in an election, ending his family’s 56-year hold on power.
The African Union Peace and Security Council met Thursday. It announced the immediate suspension of Gabon from “all activities of the AU, its organs and institutions” until the country restores constitutional order.
In Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Niger and Chad, coup leaders are still in control despite widespread condemnation and sanctions.
Experts say sanctions on some countries have hit ordinary citizens and have only hardened resistance to outside interference and bolstered popular support for the various juntas.
Reasons for coups
Security analysts said these power grabs threaten a reversal of Africa’s democratisation process in the past two decades and a return to the era of coups as the norm.
“In the early postcolonial decades when coups were rampant, Africa’s coup leaders virtually always offered the same reasons for toppling governments: corruption, mismanagement, poverty,” Remi Adekoya, a political analyst and associate lecturer at York University, said in a note.
“While well-worn, these justifications still resonate with many Africans today because they continue accurately depicting their countries’ reality. Furthermore, in many countries, people feel these problems are worsening,” he added.
A survey by Afrobarometer, a pan-African, nonpartisan survey research network, showed perceptions of increased corruption levels are most widespread in African countries.
The report noted that most citizens say their government is doing too little to fight corruption.
“And in a bad sign for activists working to engage citizens on this issue, most Africans say they risk retaliation should they report corruption cases to the authorities,” Afrobarometer said.
Adekoya said these conditions create fertile conditions for coups and for increasingly desperate young Africans who have lost patience with their corrupt leaders to welcome coupists promising radical change.
On Friday, videos on social media showed some elated Gabonese kissing and hugging soldiers following the military takeover of leadership in the oil-rich central African country.
“The timing of the Gabon coup, following the announcement of the implausible electoral results, and the speed with which the junta is moving suggests this was planned,” Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said. “While there are many legitimate grievances about the vote and Bongo’s rule, that has little to do with the coup attempt in Gabon. Raising those grievances is just a smokescreen.”
How many coups have there been in Africa?
Out of the 486 attempted or successful military coups carried globally since 1950, Africa accounts for the most significant number, with 214, of which at least 106 have been successful, according to a survey compiled by American researchers Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne.
The survey also showed at least 45 of the 54 nations across the African continent have experienced at least a single coup attempt since 1950.
Recent successful coups in Africa
Niger: On July 26, 2023, the military overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum.
Burkina Faso: In January 2022, Burkina Faso’s army removed President Roch Kabore, blaming him for failing to contain violence by Islamist militants. In September of that year, there was a second coup by army Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who forcibly deposed Paul Henri-Damiba.
Guinea: In September 2021, special forces commander Colonel Mamady Doumbouya overthrew President Alpha Conde. A year earlier, Conde had changed the constitution to circumvent limits that would have prevented him from standing for a third term, triggering widespread rioting.
Chad: In April 2021, Chad’s army took power after President Idriss Deby was killed on the battlefield while visiting troops fighting rebels in the north.
Mali: In August 2020, a group of Malian colonels removed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The coup followed anti-government protests over deteriorating security, contested legislative elections and allegations of corruption. Nine months later, a countercoup happened, with Assimi Goita, named vice president after the first one, leading the second and becoming head of state.
Sudan: In October 2021, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan led a military takeover in Khartoum, dissolving a ruling council in which the army and civilians had shared power and throwing the country’s democratic transition into turmoil.