The Rise of Coups in Africa is a threat to democracy

Africa has become the home of military coups as it has experienced more coups than any other continent, and no wonder it is said that when a country has one coup, then that often a harbinger of more coups.

Coups are notorious in West and Central Africa, and in some parts of Horn of Africa. Sudan has had the highest share of military coups In Africa followed by Burkina Faso and Burundi.

African presidents have the habit of manipulating the constitution to eliminate term limits to extend their stay in power and this is what we call Constitutional Coup that more often give birth to military coups. Weak institution and the absence of a democratic culture have enabled the incumbents to “rape” the constitution in some countries such as Uganda, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea just to name a few. So yes, constitutional coup is the Achilles heel that continue weakens the role of elections as a democratic tool.

As the world commemorates the International Day of Democracy on 15th September 2023, this is the ripe time to reflect and take stock of the state of democracy in Africa. Africans should ask themselves whether elections are mere routine or condition to guarantee and guard liberty? Suffice to say, circumvention of presidential term limits is the root cause of violence and destructive mobilization of the poor and marginalized groups. Poverty, ethnicity and poor economic performance are also a recipe for military takeover.   

Fragile democracy

The continent’s fragile democracy is at the peril of plunging down into the books of history as an unsuccessful form of governance in Africa. Mali, Chad and Guinea, for example, have all witnessed coups since 2020, raising fears of a backslide towards military rule in a region that had made democratic progress over the past decade.

According to ALjazeera, out of the 486 attempted or successful military coups globally since 1950, laughably, Africa accounts for the largest number with 214, of which at least 106 have been successful. More importantly, based on data compiled by American researchers Jonathan M Powell and Clayton L Thyne, at least 45 of the 54 nations across the African continent have experienced at least a single coup since 1950. Africa remains the shame continent in the entire continents of the world that condemn the West as the cause of the fallbacks they have endured. 

Consequences of a Coup

Recently, Gabon joined a list of countries that have experienced military takeovers. But there’s no one-size-fits-all explanation. A group of Gabonese military officers announced a takeover of power and, while thumbing through their cuttings, an annulment of the election results that subverted democracy through universal suffrage that portrays the will of the people in a popular ballot. The coup, however, that ousted Ali Bongo Ondimba materialized in disguise of military intervention. On this trend, democracy will be left a dream of Africans and a preserve of developed democracies.

Military coups pose a threat not only to democracy but also to the democratic institutions that drive democracy among the people of an African country. Although the coups have so far been bloodless, the consequences are, nonetheless, catastrophic for the continent. However, many countries that have suffered military coups in recent years, have held elections that have by no means been perfect, but they were rightfully seen as a significant accomplishment of democracy. That’s why the coups are particularly troublesome. Nevertheless, the military coups represent the rolling back of the progress made in recent years in slowly building functional state functions and democratic processes.

Apparently, most of the institutions will either kowtow to the military regime for undertaking their functions or suffer the irresistible suspension in no time. In almost all countries, suspension and/or violation of their constitution and closure of borders was inevitable during the coup. Notably, the judiciary and the legislature will have to adhere to measures placed upon by the current military regime or have their powers scrapped and thrown for the dead. This alludes that the independence of the judiciary will not only be endangered but also the rule of law will be obliterated.

Coup leaders justifying their actions

Unsurprisingly, beyond a very general claim of “poor governance” and a “degraded security situation” and the recent one in Gabon “credibility of the elections,” there hasn’t been a clear rationale articulated by those who are in charge to justify their actions of the coup or to legitimize themselves as the rightful leaders. This marks a change not only from the coups of Gabon but also with those in Mali in 2021 and Burkina Faso the following year.

In each of the coups that have transpired in Africa, military leaders claimed that ousting deeply unpopular regimes that were immensely corrupt had proven ineffective at combating instability and violence. They presented themselves as leaders who would mark a break with existing political systems by establishing new political alliances. It is very difficult to see a coherent way out of this.

Youths as the custodians of democracy

Young people are at the forefront of supporting military coups in Africa due to their failed dreams and prospects. The youths have a feeling of loathe to governments that have no economic accomplishments in ensuring that their interests are well taken care of. Hence, they root for military rulers whom they pipe-dream will occasion change, even though in a small way, to the many problems they face such as unemployment, which lands many to crime and, drugs and substance abuse. Therefore, the youths should be included in decision making of the major critical discussions in the environment pertaining to democracy. Further, they should be trained on the importance of democracy and the effects of not having democracy in Africa.

Kithinji Nturibi is a law student at Mount Kenya University [email protected]

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