The Africa continent has witnessed a spike in government overthrow lately, leaving unanswered questions about the safety of the content.
Between 1950 and 2000, Africa has experienced a relatively high frequency of military coups, with 220 attempts and 109 successful coups.
However, after the year 2000, a period of relative democratic stability led to a decline in military interventions across the continent.
In the past three years, however, the Sahel region has witnessed a resurgence of coups, creating a ripple effect of military interventions in countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Guinea, Sudan and Niger. This surge in military coups across Africa is not coincidental. It stems from a complex interplay of factors, including deteriorating domestic conditions, historical French influence, and the passive role of the international community in the region.
Generally, military coups bode ill for democratic processes. In instances where juntas withdraw from power, democracies don’t emerge. When juntas rig post-coup elections, they become entrenched in power in the medium to long-term. This has devastating consequences for the political and civil rights of their populations.
Military coups also have negative economic effects on Africa. They disrupt trade and investment flows, increase public spending on security and repression, reduce tax revenues and foreign aid inflows, and create uncertainty and instability for businesses and consumers. Moreover, wars and coups in Africa have led to an increase in the number of displaced persons, refugees and internally displaced persons from places of conflict to more stable ones.
In Guinea, a young soldier named Col Mamady Doumbouya led a coup against President Alpha Condé on 5 September 2021, claiming that he had no choice but to seize power because of the corruption, human rights violations and economic mismanagement under Condé’s rule.
Doumbouya dissolved the power-sharing government and declared a state of emergency, but also promised to hold elections in July 2023 and hand over to an independent and fair representative government. Although, this promise has not been fulfilled.
The coup was widely welcomed by many Guineans who had been protesting against Condé’s rule for years. However, in September 2023, there was a nationwide protest against the military junta rule in the country.
In Sudan, the military dissolved the power-sharing government and declared a state of emergency on 25 October 2021, after accusing the civilian leaders of failing to resolve political disputes and threatening peace and unity in Sudan.
The military leader, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said that he would hold elections in July 2023 and hand over to an independent and fair representative government then, even, they still hold power in the country.
The coup was condemned by many regional and international actors who had been supporting Sudan’s democratic transition since 2019, when former President Omar al-Bashir was ousted by mass street demonstrations.
Sudan is now the country with the largest number of displaced people and the largest child displacement crisis in the world. ACLED estimates that more than 12,190 people have been killed since the fighting broke out in April, including 1,300 people who were killed between 28 October and 24 November.
In Mali, the military staged a coup on 24 August 2020, after President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta refused to step down despite losing his bid for a third term in a disputed election.
The military junta, led by Colonel Assimi Goïta, suspended the constitution and dissolved the parliament, but also agreed to form a transitional government with civilian representatives within three months. The coup was welcomed by many Malians who had been suffering from insecurity and instability since al-Qaeda-linked militants seized control of large parts of northern Mali in 2012.
The 2021 Malian coup d’état began on the night of 24 May 2021 when the Malian Army led by Vice President Assimi Goïta captured President Bah N’daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Minister of Defence Souleymane Doucouré. Assimi Goïta, the head of the junta that led the 2020 Malian coup d’état, announced that N’daw and Ouane were stripped of their powers and that new elections would be held in 2022. It is the country’s third coup d’état in ten years, following the 2012 and 2020 military takeovers, with the latter having happened only nine months earlier.
In Chad, the military took over power on 20 April 2021, after President Idriss Déby was killed during clashes with rebel fighters near the border with Libya. The military leader, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, said that he would lead an interim government until elections are held within two years. The coup was met with mixed reactions from different segments of Chad’s population. Some people supported it as a way to end decades of authoritarian rule by Déby’s family, while others opposed it as a threat to democracy and stability in Chad.
In Burkina Faso, on January 24, 2022, a group of soldiers led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya staged a coup and detained President Roch Marc Kaboré and Prime Minister Albert Padacke. They accused the president of failing to address the security and economic challenges facing the country, which has been plagued by Islamist militant attacks since 2015. The coup was condemned by the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States and the African Union, which suspended Burkina Faso’s membership and imposed sanctions on the junta. The coup leaders announced that they would form an interim government and hold elections in 18 months.
Niger’s coup was the fifth military coup in the country’s history since independence from France in 1960, and the first since 2010. The coup was led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani, who declared himself the head of a new military junta called the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland. He detained President Mohamed Bazoum, who had won the presidential election in February 2023 with over 55% of the vote amid allegations of fraud and violence by his opponents.
The coup was condemned by ECOWAS, the African Union, France and other international actors, who threatened to impose sanctions and use military force to restore democracy in Niger.
The coup also came amid a surge of violence and instability in the Sahel region, where Islamist militants have been attacking security forces and civilians in neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Guinea. Some analysts have suggested that Russia’s Wagner Group, a private military company that has been accused of involvement in conflicts in Libya, Syria and Central African Republic, may be taking advantage of the chaos and anti-French sentiment to expand its influence and interests in Africa.
Following the overthrow of Niger’s government, ECOWAS announced a raft of sanctions on the country, the strictest the bloc has ever imposed on an errant member state. Members of the fifteen-nation bloc (excluding the four members suspended since falling under military rule – Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Niger), along with the eight-member West African Economic and Monetary Union, agreed to close all borders with Niger, suspend financial transactions and freeze the country’s assets in external banks.
ECOWAS also issued an ultimatum to the junta to restore constitutional order and reinstate the ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, within one week or face other measures, notably including military intervention.
They have created severe hardship in Niger with adverse boomerang effects on Nigeria – crippling a vibrant cross-border economy straddling the long Nigeria-Niger border, disrupting livelihoods, exacerbating humanitarian challenges, and jeopardising big rail and gas projects that could bolster regional trade. On the political front, the sanctions threaten to harm bilateral cooperation on a range of important issues, particularly security.
While the ECOWAS sanctions’ purpose was to pressure Niger’s de facto military authorities to reinstate Bazoum, that has not happened. Meanwhile, much of the impact of the broad-based measures is being felt by civilians.
The ECOWAS sanctions have cut off Niger from many of its traditional trading partners, worsening chronic food insecurity among vulnerable groups. The junta has maintained relations with neighbours Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, whom it sees as allies because all three are under military rule. But the borders with Benin and Nigeria, the two countries from which Niger normally imports food and other key necessities, remain closed. As a result, residents are grappling with shortages of medicine, cereals and imported foodstuffs like sugar, powdered milk and vegetable oil.
In August, the price of rice surged by 21 per cent, according to the World Food Programme. By mid-October, the price of a 25kg (55 pound) bag of rice had jumped over 50 per cent over a two-month period. Before the coup, Niger was already facing its second-highest level of severe food insecurity since 2014, with 3.3 million (or 13.3 percent) of its 25 million people affected; the WFP says that number has probably more than doubled.
At a political level, the ECOWAS sanctions are damaging longstanding relations between Nigeria and Niger.
For the junta, they are making life difficult for humanitarian organisations trying to deliver relief. Although Benin and Togo have made exemptions in their application of sanctions for humanitarian aid destined for Niger, Niger’s authorities have thus far refused entry to trucks from Benin. Alternative routes through Burkina Faso are deemed too dangerous due to the prevalence of militants there. Aid workers in Niger are meanwhile having to negotiate access to areas where vulnerable people live, with the military demanding that international organisations travel outside the capital only with armed escorts.