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February 3, 2022

As the world continues to grapple with the effects of unrest and violence across the globe, the West and Central African region has continued to struggle with military coup d’etats. 

Globally, much publicity has been given to the Russia-Ukraine tussle; and deservedly so. After all, no one wants to see a country invade another country in today’s world.

However, very little attention is being paid to the military takeovers that are seemingly becoming a trend in West and Central Africa. 

The latest coup in West Africa happened on the 24th of January 2022, making it the fourth coup in the region in only 18 months. The other previous coups happened in Chad and Mali with Mali having two coups within just two months.

In September 2021, another coup happened with special forces commander Colonel Doumbouya leading a coup that ousted then Guinean president Alpha Conde for what he referred to as “a fight against corruption and poverty”. This trend, if left unchecked will continue to hamper development in the region.

Since 2010, there have been about 57 coup attempts(successful and unsuccessful) in Africa, with a vast majority of those happening in the West and Central African region. True, it is not fair to make generalisations, but with the data available, we can only agree that West and Central Africa has a coup problem.

When Nigeria; the regional powerhouse in West Africa successfully transitioned to democracy in 1999, the popular sentiment across the world was that the days of military coups in West Africa were ending. However, this has simply not been the case.

Nigeria has enjoyed four democratic transitions of power since 1999, but that has not been the case for some of her west and central African neighbours. Niger, one of Nigeria’s closest land neighbours for example has suffered from one coup in 2010 and a coup attempt that happened subsequently in 2011. Mali, another West African country has suffered four coups since 2010; suffering two coups in the same year in 2012 leading many observers to refer to it as a “coup inside a coup”. Chad, DR Congo, The Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, The Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau, and most recently Burkina Faso are some of the countries that have all witnessed a coup or an attempted coup since 2010. This calls for urgent attention by the international community, but what are some of the actions that can reverse the ugly trend?

Stricter Sanctions
There’s always the argument that sanctions typically affect the very people that they are meant to help, but the truth is that it can also be used as a tool to enforce compliance. If utilised properly, sanctions can be used by other African states as well as international bodies to deal with the threat of coup d’etats in the West and Central African region. Currently, the US, the UK and several other countries in the west have made it known that they will invoke heavy sanctions on Russia if it decides to invade Ukraine- maybe one of the key reasons Russia continues to negotiate. If that same urgency can be applied to the coup problem in west and central Africa, it may help deter the region’s military from toppling governments at a whim.

Investment In Strong Democracies
The international community should be very interested in helping nations build strong democracies in order to prevent internal tussles like coups from happening. There are no perfect countries, but countries with strong democracies typically progress faster than those with weak democracies. In fact, one of the recurring themes with most of the coups in west and central Africa is that the ousted leaders hold on to power for too long, trying to weaken democracies so as to remain in power as long as possible. If ECOWAS with the help of the international community spearheads the entrenchment of democracy across the region, chances are this will help ameliorate the recurring coups.

A Human Security Shift Is Needed
On paper, the US claims to cut aid to countries that have experienced a coup- defined as a military overthrow of a democratically elected government, but there are abundant cases where the US have seen their hands forced in a bid to enjoy a good relationship with the military in the coup-affected countries- the same group often responsible for the coup in the first place.
Therefore, the US and its allies must shift their focus from creating a good relationship with the coupists, instead, toeing the line of supporting the citizenry to recover their country through democratic means. Sacrificing the American interest sometimes for the good of humanity is something that the United States and indeed its allies need to start pushing.

The Final Mile
Developing Africa is largely going to be dependent on Africans. No matter how many articles are written to try and persuade the international community to help, the onus still lies with the African people to move their continent forward. Coups are often an impediment to the growth of developing nations. It has never been shown to bring development strides per se because instability breeds instability. Entrenching democratic institutions and processes is the smart way for the African continent to truly reach its potential.

Image Source: Yahoo