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Bad governance or external influence to blame for coups in Africa?

By Sunday Ani

In the last two and a half years, the continent of Africa has witnessed a resurgence of military coups cutting across the west and central African sub-regions. At the last count, no fewer than seven African countries, including Chad, Sudan, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and most recently Gabon, had fallen into the hands of the military juntas through bloodless coups.

The development has sent jitters down the spine of other African leaders, where democracy or civil rule are still operational, as they fear that the ill wind of coups that seems to be fast engulfing the whole continent of Africa might soon blow towards their countries.

Starting from Chad in April 2021 to Sudan in October 2021 and Guinea in September 2021, it continued to Mali in May 2021, Burkina Faso in January 2022, Niger in July 2023 and now in Gabon on August 30, 2023.

The one that jolted both the regional, continental and international community was the coup in Niger, where President Mohamed Bazoum was removed and put under house arrest by the leader of the military junta, Adbourahamane Tchiani.

Reactions to the coup in Niger by France, the United States of America and the United Kingdom were spontaneous as they all condemned and rejected the development. Also, the regional body, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and the continental body, the African Union (AU), equally rejected the coup and suspended Niger as a member state from the two organisations.

However, just as the ECOWAS was deploying every arsenal within its disposal, including threat of war in the event that diplomacy failed to restore constitutional democracy in Niger, another disruption of the democratic set up happened in Gabon. The Gabonese army officers, under the aegis of the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI) on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, sacked President Ali Bongo, placed him under house arrest and took over power in the oil rich central African country. Incidentally, the coup took place on the same day Bongo was announced as the winner of the country’s presidential election for a third term. Gabon’s electoral authority had announced that Bongo, believed to be a French ally, whose family has ruled Gabon for 55 years, had won a third term with 64.27 percent of the votes; a development many believe, was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

It is said that each of Bongo’s three election victories has been deeply disputed, sometimes sparking violent nationwide protests. Last week’s election has been decried by the opposition as fraudulent, but Bongo’s team has rejected the allegation of electoral irregularities.

The military officers noted that a serious institutional, political, economic, and social crisis in the country, as well as a flawed presidential poll of August 26, 2023, were some of the factors responsible for the coup, which they stressed was necessary for the progress of Gabon. “Our beautiful country, Gabon, has always been a haven of peace. Today, the country is going through a serious institutional, political, economic and social crisis. We are, therefore, forced to admit that the organisation of the general elections of August 26, 2023, did not meet the conditions for a transparent, credible and inclusive ballot so much hoped for by the people of Gabon.

“Added to this is irresponsible and unpredictable governance, resulting in a continuing deterioration in social cohesion, with the risk of leading the country into chaos.

‘Today, August 30, 2023, we the defence and security forces, gathered as the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI), on behalf of the people of Gabon and as guarantors of the institutions’ protection, have decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime. To this end, the general elections of August 26, 2023, and the truncated results are cancelled.”

Expectedly, the international community has reacted to express their concerns as Gabon became the seventh African country to fall to a military coup. They have equally deplored the upwelling wave of military coups in Africa. The United Nations, the European Union, the Commonwealth of Nations, the United States of America, Russia and France, as well as Nigeria’s president, Bola Tinubu, have all reacted condemning the military putsch in Gabon.

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has condemned the coup, saying, “It was not the best way to resolve the post electoral crisis in Gabon.” His counterpart in the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, also expressed concern over the situation, saying, “The Commonwealth charter is clear that member states must uphold the rule of law and the principles of democracy at all times.”

Also, the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, said the EU defence ministers would discuss the situation in Gabon as it would heap more instability in the region. “The whole area starting with Central African Republic, then Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and now Gabon is a very difficult situation, and certainly, the ministers need to have a deep thought on what is going on there and how we can improve our policy in respect to these countries. This is a big issue for Europe.”

The US, through the White House national security spokesman, John Kirb, said it was closely watching the development in Gabon. “We are going to watch this closely and we are going to continue to do everything we can to support the idea of democratic ideals that are expressed by the African people.”

Russia and France were not left out, as the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said: “We are deeply concerned about the situation in Gabon. We are closely following what is going on there”, while France said it was equally following with a lot of attention, and reiterated its desire to see the results of the election respected.

The Head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, also condemned the coup, describing it as a flagrant violation of the legal and political instrument of the AU.

However, even as the international community, regional and continental bodies condemn the military putsch that is fast engulfing the African continent, there are others who have commended the development and even warned that more African countries would suffer the same fate sooner or later.

There is a growing opinion in some quarters that the inspiration for the latest coup in Gabon likely came from the Sahel where the spate of coups has been witnessed over the last three years.

Apart from such inspiration or what some people may call the bandwagon effect, analysts have adduced at least three different reasons that are responsible for the growing incidence of coups in Africa.

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There is a school of thought that blamed the development on the sit-tight posture of some African leaders. They argued that a situation where some leaders would hold on to power for over 30 years was no longer fashionable and soldiers are prepared to correct such injustice through the barrel of the gun. For instance, in the case of Gabon, the president’s family has been ruling for over 55 years against the popular will of the people.

Again, those who are conversant with international politics would also argue that foreign interference is another major factor that is responsible for the growing coups in Africa. Those holding on to this view believe that some African leaders have become puppets in the hands of the western capitalist nations, and would do anything, including subjecting their citizens to a life of misery, to serve the interest of their foreign masters. The leaders have been accused of neglecting the people that elected them into power but instead are prepared to serve as slaves to some foreign countries for their own greed and selfish interests. Proponents of this position appear to have a strong point when the utterances of the western countries are properly scrutinized. France and the United States of America have described the coups in Africa as unacceptable, and warned the various juntas to vacate office and restore democratically elected governments. The EU was more direct, when it described the coup in African countries as a big issue for Europe.

Throwing his weight behind this argument is a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, who equally agreed that one of the remote causes of the recent coups in Africa is the ruthless exploitation of the mineral resources of the African countries by foreign governments.

Yet, there are others who believe that corruption and rigging of elections by African leaders are the major reasons for the resurgence of coups in Africa. For instance, the remote and immediate cause of the coups in Niger and Gabon could be traced to manipulation of the electoral process as well as corruption in the system. It is public knowledge that the military in Gabon drew legitimacy from the electoral process, which was practically conducted behind closed doors.

For the African Director, International Association of World Peace Advocate, Dr. John Metchie, it is becoming clear by the day that there seems to be a deliberate plan by some military and political forces from within and outside the continent to trigger a realignment of governance order in Africa. He warned that the gladiators must be made to avoid causing social upheavals that would inflame the continent and consume the population especially children, women and the vulnerable.

Metchie, therefore, called on the AU, the ECOWAS and other regional blocs in the continent, to as a matter of urgency, schedule meetings where the burning issues could be tabled with a view to finding peaceful and lasting solutions that would avert destruction.

He identified bad governance, injustice, corruption and refusal of sit-tight leaders to vacate office when due, as some of the reasons for the political instability rocking the continent, saying that Africa must return to the part of true democracy where leaders are elected through credible processes, accountability, justice, transparency and selfless service to the people.

“It has become obvious, or so it seems, that this whole chess game is a deliberate plan by some military and political forces from within and outside the continent to trigger a realignment of governance order in Africa. But, even if we can’t help with immediate solution, the gladiators on either sides of the divide must be made to avoid triggering social crises and upheavals that would inflame the continent, worsen the terrible fate, as well as consume the people of Africa, especially children, women and the vulnerable.

“Political chess players bidding for the soul of Africa should appreciate the fact that people of the continent are already worn out with the heavy burden and yoke they bear as they struggle through all forms of deprivations, including but not limited to poverty, diseases, lack of water, toiletries, shelter and decent clothing.

“If the west, Europe, Asia and others cannot help to alleviate the sufferings of the African people, they should also not compound or add to their misery through political adventures, or instigate crises in order to sell or test new weapons of war as that would only worsen the already miserable condition of Africans.

“It is on this note that I call on well-meaning Africans, especially the committee of elders, African Union, ECOWAS and other regional blocs, to as a matter of urgency, call for meetings in order to address the issues leading to these coups.

“In addition, African leaders should begin to purge themselves of leadership of impunity, selfishness, indifference to the feelings of the people, corruption and injustice, among such other adult delinquencies, as ways of earning confidence of the people they  govern,” Metchie said.

Former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose also expressed joy over the development in Gabon, saying a situation where one person would hold on to power for so long was unacceptable. He also reiterated that what the military should do in Gabon is to pave way for a democratic system of government.

He said: “I am very happy with what happened in Gabon. I don’t like military incursions in politics but I want to say that Nigeria is different. We have a reasonably stabilized democracy.

“We have our flaws but you can see the uninterrupted democratic process. After four years, there will be an election. Nigeria has gone from one party to another party and from one person to another person within a space of time. But, in a country where one man is spending 30 to 40 years, you have to boot him out of the place in whatever way. The military incursion should pave way for a democratic system in Gabon.”

However, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar argued that as bad as coups are, Africans might have to focus on dealing with the disease instead of the symptoms that give birth to coups.

“The coup in Gabon stands condemned. Democracy and democratic governance have come to stay as a preferred norm of government and everything should be done to enthrone, nurture and sustain it.

“As I suggested in the case of the Niger Republic, the ECOWAS and AU authorities should open a window of diplomatic engagement that will pave the way for the soldiers to return to the barracks.

“The latest coup brings the number of military takeovers in Central and West Africa to eight since 2020. This is worrisome and calls for introspection. We may have to focus on dealing with the disease and not the symptoms that birth coups,” he said.

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