Of coups and democracy in Africa

Baring any last change of decision, the Economic Community of West Africa, ECOWAS, will take military action against the military junta which staged coup that toppled the democratically President of Niger republic, Muhammad Bazoun, on July, 26. Since the coup, all efforts by ECOWAS and other foreign organisations to force the coupists to surrender, release and reinstate the deposed president, who is currently being taken hostage, have failed.

The coups which are sweeping across West African countries, threatening constitutional democracy have become a cause for great concern. Between 2020 and 2023, four countries, namely, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and the Niger Republic, have experienced coups.

Historically, African countries had suffered bloody military coups in the early 1960s and the late 1980s in their march to democratic rule. The military, through unconstitutional or unlawful means, seized power, brutally killed the leaders and truncated democracy. But with Africa embracing and adopting democracy in the 1990s, military coups have since become unpopular and old fashioned.

However, despite the fact that democracy remains the best form of government compared to military rule, the system, which provides an avenue for elections, has been muzzled and its cherished principles or values subverted by some desperate African leaders. Democracy in Africa is synonymous with rigging, violence and sit-tightism.

Political leaders who rose to power through the ballot box quickly turned to despots and exploit our weak institutions to elongate their tenure. Little wonder, over the last decade, military junta have seized power in countries across the African continent, from Guinea on the Atlantic coast to Sudan on the Red Sea. This has further promoted instability, undermined democratic institutions and human rights, and accelerate cycles of violence in countries already wrecked by conflict.

However, there are multiple factors for the rise in coups in the Sahel countries. These include: economic mismanagement, corruption, poverty, violent extremism and the failure of governments to resolve grievances over resources and progress of social justice.

The recent coup in Niger Republic and other countries could be attributed to the failure of democracy to improve the living condition of the majority. While ECOWAS and the African Union have unanimously condemned the coup in Niger and imposed sanctions to force the junta to backtrack, African countries that are practicing democracy should sit up. Democracy entails rule of law, good governance and accountability.

Also, the extent to which coups can be deterred in Africa depends on mutual trust between the government and how it best serves its people. A key step is to establish necessary institutional frameworks and conditions to improve governance to forge stronger social contracts between citizens and their governments to make it difficult for unconstitutional change of government.

To achieve this, African states should promote more participatory democracy and equitable development, including the youth. The AU, African RECs, the UN, and other international partners must demonstrate resolve in condemning coups and support policies and institutions that help uphold democratic governance.

Ibrahim Mustapha,
Pambegua, Kaduna state