The African continent is no stranger to military coups having been coup laden for the last five decades. Sub-Saharan Africa has faced a dilemma of successful military coups in the last year, with two in Mali, one each in Chad and Guinea, and unsuccessful coups in Niger and Sudan.

Military coups seldom change the socioeconomic trajectory of a country for good. Mostly executed against the backdrop of civil discontent with political leaders or the status quo. Military coups reinforce a saviour complex amidst their plotters.

However, two key issues remain unanswered: why is the Sub-Saharan clime experiencing a resurgence of this wave? and What caused the recent upheaval? This article attempts to provide an answer to this question.

Mali: On the 18th of August 2020, the world was greeted with the news of a coup staged by senior military officers and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The President announced his resignation on the state-owned television network. The coup was a culmination of about three months of protest demanding the resignation of President Keita.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

Given that his resignation came at the instance of the military, Concerns were raised on whether the military was collaborating with the opposition. The protesters were led by a coalition of organisations called the June 5 ( Movement–Rally of Patriotic Force, M5-RFP). Comprising of Keita’s political opposition, a network of civil society organizations, and followers of Imam Mahmoud Dicko- an influential Malian Islamic Scholar and the former head of Mali’s High Islamic Council. Protests were triggered by the Malian constitutional court overturning results of the widely disputed legislative election results.

Public angst also stemmed from the government’s inability to provide basic services and uphold democratic norms, it’s handling of insecurity in North and Central Mali, and economic woes perceived to be worsened by a corrupt political class. Mali has been battling complex insecurity challenges since 2012 when Tuareg rebels launched an insurgency in the Northern region.

The military junta called the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (NCSP), led by Col. Assimi Goita pledged to restore stability. They were emboldened by the months of long nonviolent protests and capitalized on it. Upon execution, opposition supporters stormed Bamako to celebrate the coup. The junta has vowed to organise elections within 9 months.

Following pressure by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for a civilian-led transitional government, the junta on September 21st, 2020 named Mali’s former Defence Minister Col. Bah Ndaw Rtd as president of the country’s new transition government, while Goita was appointed vice president. This diarchy was geared towards a transition to a democratically elected government. President Ndaw appointed former Malian Foreign Minister Moctar Ouane as prime minister, paving way for ECOWAs to lift sanctions imposed on the country on August 19th 2020, in response to the coup. Following the release of the election timetable by the transitional government, a cabinet reshuffle was announced by Ndaw without the knowledge of the Vice President, Col. Goita. This reshuffle led to the replacement of two coup leaders – ex-Defence Minister Sadio Camara and ex-security Minister Colonel Modibo Kone. Hours after the announcement, soldiers detained both Ndaw and Ouane at a military facility in Kati. This marked the advent of a coup within a coup. Col. Goita, leader of the August Coup and the succeeding coup, made a public statement explaining that not intervening would trigger “instability with immeasurable consequences” in the transition. This response was a coy emphasis to the junta not taking it lightly to being side-lined.

Chad: In Chad, upon the killing of President Idris Deby Itno, a military coup d’état was executed by Déby’s son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby. General Mahamat dissolved the executive branch, the National Assembly, and suspended the constitution. This coup was to perpetuate the Deby dynasty, as the constitution’s succession plan declares that in the event of a vacuum in power, the president of the National Assembly or first vice President should be appointed as interim president and lead the country to elections within 90 days. The constitution also makes it known that any candidate for president must be 40 years old and above and a civilian, effectively excluding Mahamat Idriss Déby who is 37 years old and an army general.

His father, Late President Idris Deby was killed on a visit to the battlefield, his death came after he had emerged victorious in an election fraught with violence in its build-up and was about to be sworn in for the sixth time. Deby emerged out of the ashes of the “Toyota Wars”, a war fought between Chadian and Libyan forces from December 1986 – September 1987, lasting for 9 months. Deby’s Chadian troops executed a decisive victory against the Libyan forces despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered. This military spectacle impressed Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi so much so that he wooed Deby with an offer of support to capture power in N’Djamena in exchange for Libyan prisoners of war. Deby attacked the Hissene Habre regime out of Sudan and by December 2nd 1990, he had seized power and strode into Chad’s Presidential Palace.

General Mahamat Idriss Déby

Deby’s rule in Chad was a blend of repression, instability, rebellion, poverty and wars. Just to characterize it, in the election that preceded his death his forces viciously attacked the home of political opposition leader and presidential candidate Yaya Dillo on February 28, killing his mother and wounding five other family members. This politics of repression immediately caused Dillo to withdraw  from the contest. Despite the enormous oil reserves obtainable in Chad, its poverty rate is alarming. Placed 187 out of 189 countries by the United Nations Development Programme in its 2020 human development index the excruciating poverty sharply contracts the opulent lifestyle Deby and his family basked in. Having cornered all the country’s strategic positions in governance as a stepping stone to extreme wealth.

Deby was an acclaimed colossus for regional stability in the Sahel.  The Chadian army has been effective in the fight against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and ISIS-affiliated groups across the Sahel. When Jihadi insurgents were poised to capture Bamako, the Malian capital, it was Chadian troops in collaboration with the French that halted their advancement. Despite being a ramrod for regional security, Deby also ran his country aground exacerbating the terrorists and insurgency threat he died from. Since he took power in the ’90s his country had been engulfed in all sorts of wars and strife. Instability in Chad has simmered for decades, exacerbated by periodic explosions of violence. Corruption, political exclusion, humongous disparity, and repression of dissent have since been features of Déby’s rule.

The Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a Libya-based rebel group made up largely of army dissidents, were responsible for Deby’s death when he visited troops at the battlefield. Deby had a reputation visiting and leading his troops to battle ostensibly out of patriotism and to boost troop morale but more likely a performative gesture to ingratiate himself with the troops who formed the bedrock of his regime. Chad could not have been called a democracy before the death of authoritarian Deby. With the heightened level of state-sanctioned political violence, assassinations, disappearances, sham elections, self-serving, constitutional amendments and suppression of civic rights. It was a parody of democracy.

Guinea: Alpha Conde’s removal by the Guinean Military on 5th September 2021 is a natural outcome of the sit-tight syndrome, economic mismanagement and a total disregard for basic democratic norms. Condé’s decision to modify the constitution to run for a third term and inept handling of the economy set the stage for the military overthrow.

Condé proceeded to hold a controversial referendum and problematic election during the pandemic to secure a third term in office. Which the Guinean populace considered as a slight. According to an Afrobarometer polling, more than 8 out of 10 Guineans favour a two-term limit on presidential mandates. Guinea under Conde also witnessed economic downturns and a decline in political rights and civil liberties.

Condé, formerly an opposition politician clinched power in 2010. He vowed to break a decades-long streak of authoritarian rule and control Guinea’s natural wealth in favour of ordinary people. Then he sought a third term last year, triggering protests across the country. Condé asserted that constitutional changes implemented during his tenure had adjusted his legal number of terms making him eligible for a third term. He refused to step aside, saying he needed more time to materialize his vision for Guinea.

Colonel Mamadou Doumbouy

The leader of the Junta, Colonel Mamadou Doumbouya is a commander of the country’s elite Special Forces Group. Doumbouya in his broadcast said, “Our action is not a coup d’etat, It only reflects the legitimate aspiration of people to want to live in an environment where basic human needs can be met.” Doumboya states his misgivings against the Conde administration which include the “trampling of citizens’ rights, the disrespect for democratic principles, the outrageous politicization of public administration, financial  mismanagement, poverty and endemic corruption.” Doumboya calls his junta the National Committee for Rally and Development (NCRD) and says a new constitution would be written and endorsed by it.

The authoritarian playbook African politicians adopt is intriguing. At first, portray yourself as a hero, then stay in power long enough to become the evil you once performatively despised. Unfortunately, African politicians fight monsters only to become monsters themselves. What a Paradox!

African leaders suffer from a delusion of grandeur, despite their sit tight syndrome, strong-arm tactics, constitutional abracadabra and pilfering of resources they seem to marvel when they are ousted due to their politics of instability. As if their style of governance didn’t ironically offer a fertile ground for coups.

It stands to reason that the absence of good governance, lack of transparency and accountability, politics of repression, insecurity and instability are recipes for widespread civil disaffection with a status quo that the military can uproot with the right pretext.

Thus becoming a necessity for International collaborators and multilateral organisations like ECOWAS to adopt proactive tactics in dealing with rogue leaders. Issuing statements of condemnation and imposing sanctions on countries where coups have taken place while glossing over leaders desecrating the principles of democracy thereby setting the stage for the inevitable is a stale approach.

France and the USA are well established in the Sahel. The former has over 3,000 forces in dual Operation Barkhane and Takuba Taskforce while the latter has a drone base in Agadez, Niger republic and operates a security assistance program “Flintlock” for specialized forces in African countries to engage in elite training geared to tackle violent extremist organisations, defend their borders and provide security for their people. Goita and Doumboya have been trained by the US and French forces and are ex-participants in the Flintlock exercise.

The duo of France and the USA, tend to portray a security and stability centric strategy but this is a half-truth. This heavy security presence is ostensibly to support Sahelian countries in combating the Jihadist threat. However, the less stated intent is to secure strategic, important minerals and resources. There exist enormous deposits of oil, gas, bauxite, gold, uranium and iron ore in this region. These resources haven’t benefited the indigenous populace in the least and their exploitation fuels instability. It’s against this backdrop that analysts posit motivations for these coups as far from nationalistic. Rather, the coups reflect western powers protecting their geopolitical interests in the African continent against the competing influence of China and Russia in a scramble for Africa 2.0.

Also noteworthy are both leaders of the coup d’états in Mali and Guinea being commanders of their countries special forces before leading their respective putsch. This shouldn’t be a basis to conclude that the special forces should be defunded because of their interventionist tendencies. The expertise of this unit is needed to combat complex security challenges, relegating their training and equipment creates a peculiar vacuum in tackling Insecurity while not curbing the possibility of coups.

Only African leaders have what it takes to reverse this trend. A complete U-turn that respects the political process, citizens rights and liberty, delivers good governance and economic prosperity can stem this tide.

Military coups aren’t messianic like their plotters want us to believe. Their “corrective” veneer is earned as a result of misgovernance by politicians. Unbridled because they make it the first order of business to suspend the constitution. It’s noteworthy to assert that Military coups herald absolutism in their deprival of citizens rights and liberties.

From antecedents soldiers are also poor managers of the economy, their ostensible revolutionary intent, apparently doesn’t stop them engaging in wanton corruption. Lastly, they suffer from a legitimacy crisis because though the people might celebrate their intervention, they seldom relinquish power willingly before a return to democracy. As coups succeed coups.

Possible Impact in Nigeria: The inadvertent consequences of this lie in the regional proximity these countries have with Nigeria. These countries belong to the Sahel, which Nigeria neighbours. Instability and an absence of governance can worsen the already formidable Jihadi threat in West Africa. The Nigerian Military is presently overstretched confronting multiple security threats in every geopolitical zone. Further instability in the Sahel can cascade into our area, putting our soldiers under even more strain.

Tackling Insecurity requires enormous funds. A formidable security threat in addition to the pre-existing ones would elicit a catalyst effect in the country’s budget thus depriving other sectors of the economy.

Nigeria has a boisterous population with strong fault-lines, despite seemingly parallel conditions, it’s devoid of the pretext or immediate trigger for a coup. The pervasive ethnoreligious sentiments have the power to affect perception about a coup no matter how ostensibly revolutionary. The history of military rule has cemented a belief in the populace that the armed forces are everything but messiahs.