Emma Smith
Sat, Sep 2, 2023 7:50 PM

The Rise of Military Coups in Africa: A Reflection of Popular Discontent

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The Rise of Military Coups in Africa: A Reflection of Popular Discontent
Africa is experiencing a surge in military coups, with eight taking place since 2020. This rise is driven by popular discontent towards governments that fail to improve the lives of their citizens. Many African countries are among the least developed in the world, despite abundant natural resources. The frustration with long-standing rulers and flawed democratic processes has eroded trust in democracy. While military regimes may seem appealing to some, they often lead to worsening socioeconomic conditions and human rights abuses. The solution lies in strengthening democracies through meaningful reforms.

ABUYA, Nigeria (AP) -- After mutinous soldiers in Gabon announced the overthrow of President Ali Bongo Ondimba, many residents took to the streets to celebrate and declared themselves free from the 55-year rule of the presidential family. This scene is becoming all too common in West and Central Africa, where there have been eight military coups since 2020.

"It's an expression of popular discontent," said Hermann Ngoulou in the Gabonese capital of Libreville. "The country is facing a deep crisis at all levels due to misgovernance, rising food costs, and the high cost of living."

Since the 1950s, there have been around 100 documented military coups in various African countries. According to analysts, this resurgence of military coups is often motivated by the decreasing dividends of democracy.

In Gabon, the coup took place shortly after the president was declared the winner of an election from which international observers had been banned for the first time.

This is not unusual in a region where elections are often alleged to be tainted, long-standing rulers seek to extend or eliminate term limits, and civic space is eroded by poor governance, said Tiseke Kasambala, Director of Africa Programs at the Washington-based monitoring organization Freedom House.

The result is widespread "resentment and frustration among citizens," she added.

At least 27, or half, of Africa's 54 countries are among the 30 least developed countries in the world, according to the latest United Nations Human Development Index. Most are located in West and Central Africa, often endowed with natural resources that generate enormous revenues but are barely felt by ordinary citizens.

The failure of leaders to significantly improve the lives of their people has left them frustrated and desperate, said Remi Adekoya, a lecturer in politics at the University of York.

"Africans do not believe that the idea of military rule is good; it is the disappointment with what is supposed to be democratic rule that is causing people, while not openly supporting military dictatorship, to not oppose it," Adekoya said. "Rulers who are supposed to be democratic do not adhere to the rules of democracy... and people wonder: what's in this system for me?"

The 2023 surveys conducted by the research network Afrobarometer found a decline in the number of people who support democracy and elections in Africa. Only 68% of respondents in 34 countries prefer democracy over any other form of government, down from 73% a decade ago.

There was a "significant correlation" between the number of Africans who report substantial corruption in the presidential office and dissatisfaction with democracy.

Most respondents believe that elections are "an imperfect but essential tool for choosing their leaders," the study noted.

On August 26, while Gabonese people were voting at the polls, internet service was suspended. When the service was restored hours after the coup, the president used it as a megaphone to the world, posting a video urging friends of Gabon to "make some noise" to have him reinstated in power.

International sanctions imposed to reverse coups in Africa often fail and instead compound the hardships faced by populations that are already experiencing high levels of poverty and hunger.

Niger was the third least developed country in the world before a coup took place in July and has 4.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN. Sanctions aimed at reversing the military coup resulted in "serious socio-economic crises" for the country's residents, recently commented Omar Alieu Touray, Director of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to reporters in Nigeria.

Even as frustration grows against what some describe as "electoral coups" that keep long-standing rulers in power, analysts warn that military regimes are never the answer, and efforts to intervene should be directed towards consolidating democracies.

"If a country requires reforms before elections, then serious consideration needs to be given to the best way to support these reforms, even if among the actors are coup-making military personnel," wrote Ornella Moderan, Head of the Sahel Program at the Institute for Security Studies.

The mutinous soldiers in Gabon claim to have taken power in the interest of the people, a common phrase in previous military coups elsewhere.

At times, the military has been encouraged by what appears to be popular support, said Adekoya. "The most encouraging thing for any potential coup-maker these days is the crowd's reaction to coups, the fact that in many streets of these countries, people come out to celebrate them," he noted.

However, military regimes have not proven to be a better alternative for good governance.

In Mali, where soldiers have been in power since 2020, the extremist group Islamic State nearly doubled the territory it controls in less than a year, according to UN experts. And in Burkina Faso, a country that experienced two coups in 2020, economic growth declined to 2.5% in 2022, down from a robust 6.9% the previous year.

Elsewhere, such as in Chad, military regimes have been accused of repressing dissent, sometimes leading to extrajudicial executions.

African countries governed by military regimes have experienced "a breakdown of the rule of law, an increase in arbitrary arrests and detentions, prohibitions on peaceful protests, and impunity for human rights violations committed by the military forces," said Kasambala of Freedom House.

However, some of these regimes receive support due to the existence of "intrusive" external forces, she said, citing cases in former French colonies like Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, where "the perception of French interference in governance affairs and what is seen as support for authoritarian rulers has generated widespread anti-French sentiment."

Ultimately, Africans tired of decades of poor governance are not asking for much, said Adekoya.

"People are simply asking for a slight improvement in their fortunes, a slight sense of security, and free and fair elections," he commented. "When the majority of people feel 'the system is not working for me,' then that system is in trouble."

Source of content: OOO News 2023-09-02 News

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