Historical inertia or pandemic, which contributes to coups in Africa this year?


China Military Online
Wang Xinjuan
2021-11-17 16:26:28

By Ma Hanzhi


Coups have taken place in Niger, Mali, Guinea, and Sudan in Central and Western Africa and the characteristics of local political and security turbulence in Africa have further emerged since the beginning of this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has resonated with the inherent historical, religious, regional, and political conflicts in Africa and brought increased political turmoil.


Historically, Central and Western Africa have a high incidence of coups. From 1952 to 2019, there have been 17 coups or failed coups in Sudan, 10 in Ghana and Sierra Leone; eight in Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea-Bissau; seven in Chad and Niger. However, since the beginning of the new century, the number of coups in Africa as a whole has dropped significantly. In the past 20 years, the number of coups in Africa has been reduced to about two times a year. The military coups that occurred this year are mainly concentrated in high-incidence areas in history, highlighting the historical continuity of the political turmoil in the above-mentioned countries.


The occurrence of military coups in the above-mentioned countries has a common mechanism. First, the countries face persistent political and economic difficulties. Since the pandemic, Africa has encountered severe economic and social crises. Countries such as Guinea, Mali, and Sudan, which have a single economic structure, are particularly troubled by crises. The full-scale crisis magnified by the pandemic has completely cost the "performance legitimacy" of the current government and the military then "naturally" seized power.


Second, military forces continue to play an important role in the above-mentioned countries. Military forces have been deeply involved in political life in some West African French-speaking countries. Among them, the middle and senior military officers have become the "main force" involved in politics. In addition, compared with a weak and inefficient government, the military itself has stronger capabilities of organization and mobilization and it can quickly oust the current government through its mastery of the state's machinery of violence.


Third, the loss of autonomy or interests of military organizations is the direct cause of the coups. Officers and soldiers seek to control the supreme power of the country in order to protect their own interests. The direct fuse that triggered the mutiny in Guinea was the government's attempt to cut military and police spending due to the stretched state treasury, which was approved by the National Assembly of Guinea.


In the context of the raging pandemic and the aggravated political and economic crises in Africa, certain coups can meet the expectations of some people to a certain extent. Coups in Africa usually use the excuses of anti-corruption, anti-nepotism, anti-waste of public funds, economic reform, welfare improvement, and the establishment of security. However, after the honeymoon period, the problem of how to overcome the shortcomings of the previous government and re-establish the legitimacy of its own governance becomes prominent. The history of Africa shows that the coup leaders cannot solve the political, economic and social problems left by their predecessors in a short period of time. However, coups have brought devastating effects to the African people in all fields.


Military interventions set a precedent for future military coups. When there is its first coup in a country, this is usually a sign of more coups in the future. The current successive military coups in Central and West African countries have a certain connection with Mali's coup d’état in 2020 and the recognition by the African Union.


Finally, officers and soldiers who come to power through a military coup will generally increase their spending on the troops and national defense, and even push the entire country astray into "militarization". More importantly, compared with the civil government, the military regime's lack of experience in governing the country cannot bring real benefits to the people.


The African Union, Africa's sub-regional organizations and major countries need to truly proceed from the needs of Africa and create conditions for Africa to explore the path of independent development. In response to the ongoing military coups in Africa, some Western media have strongly advocated that international organizations, the US and the West increase external intervention in African politics. This is obviously a wrong solution. To a certain extent, the continuous interference of the US and the West is precisely the cause of the continuing turmoil in Africa.


During the Cold War, the US, the UK, France and other countries disgracefully contributed to coups in African countries and even participated directly. In the past coups in Sudan, Mali, and Guinea, the US and France used their own "democracy" and "human rights" standards to interfere and reform the above-mentioned countries and created continuous political tension and confrontation. The frequent coups indicate the urgency for Africa to explore the path of independent development, rather than the necessity of gross interference from the West.


Since 2001, the African Union has launched clear regulations that governments that come to power in violation of the Constitution will not be accepted to participate in the activities of the union. However, due to the lack of necessary means, such regulations are not well enforced. Next, the international community should increase multi-dimensional cooperation with the African Union, sub-regional organizations and African countries. The international community should increase "creative intervention" in the democratic process of African countries while respecting the sovereignty of African countries, rather than gross interference from the West. In addition, the international community should support the African Union in tapping local "democratic resources" of African countries, enriching the democratic practices of African countries, and making up for the shortcomings of Western-style democracy.


(Ma Hanzhi is an assistant researcher at the Department for Developing Countries Studies, China Institute of International Studies)


Editor's note: This article is originally published on thepaper.cn, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.

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