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The resurgence of military rule in Africa has extensively occupied the African political space over the past decade. Coups coupled with unconstitutional subversions of constitutionally elected governments have been the order of the day. From the period 2020-present, coups and coup attempts in Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Sudan and Guinea have been recorded. While most of these coups predominantly occur on the upper limb of the African continent, the wave of military takeover has been significantly felt in the SADC region. One would want to ask themselves questions on why this has been the case.
Military rule is a complex phenomenon that reigned supreme during late 20th century in most of newly independent states especially in Western Africa. Following the impartation of such ideologies as participatory democracy in Africa by the West, the tally of coups had significantly receded. Soon after the cold war, most African States rushed to embrace constitutional and procedural transition of political power. This has significantly twisted however. The recent statistical upsurge in the number of coups in Africa seems to signal otherwise. Is Africa reversing the clock towards the anti-clockwise direction?
The failure of so called democratic processes to curtail economic and social endemics such as corruption, abject poverty and massive inequality is understood to be the key motivation for military rule option. In Africa, liberalism has hardly managed to usher in the much needed development, leading to disillusionment amongst the impoverished masses. The peculiar characteristic of the recent coups, is the level of solidary that the military gets from members of the public. The common thread that runs in all recent coups in Africa is how military generals make use of the backing masses to back up their not so honest ascendancy to power. This created breeding ground for most coups to the extent that, coups have become cancerous. The idea of coups is being adopted even in the SADC region.
Zimbabwe is a locus classicus example of how the concept of overthrows is slowly engulfing the continent. Zimbabwe also underwent what most international political analysts concluded to be a “coup that was not a coup”. This might have been the case given the landlocked country’s reputation of constitutional governments that ensue by way of ballot. Be that as it may and no matter what level of sugar coating advanced, what took place in Zimbabwe bears all the merits of a coup. The failure to boldly expose it as a coup was largely due to the international community’s stance, whose annoyance with the incumbent President Robert Mugabe’s tyranny had reached levels where they needed him to go either by hook or by crook. Thus, military dominance has also been facilitated by a biased international eye which is not really concerned about the detrimental effects of ‘violent depositions’, but only about economic interests.
During the coup in Sudan, America signalled acceptance of the new arrangement and willingness to turn a blind eye to the continued military dominance of the transition government a view that was widely criticised by Sudanese citizens, who vehemently fought off prospects of a military hegemony. Such bias towards violent military control by the Washington portrays the lack of genuineness in finding solutions to the scourge of coups in Africa. Even the top echelons of the African Union leadership seem to be a toothless bulldog when it comes to denouncing military-led takeovers. The test that they apply is that of whether the incoming will serve their comradeship and ‘nationalist’ interests. Equally, super powers such as China and Russia tend to advocate for a non-interference policy, thereby fanning coups and turning a blind eye provided that the incoming continues serving their interest. This political soft stance is the reason why the anti-coup coalition has practically dissolved, opening floodgates for a plethora of coups in the African region.
Elections in Africa have failed to change the nature of governance in most African States. Political disgruntlement and disillusionment seem to be the vehicle with which military coups are being facilitated. Surveys conducted across 19 African countries in 2019/20 showed just 4 in 10 respondents (42%) now believe elections work well to ensure “MPs reflect voters’ views” and to “enable voters remove non-performing leaders”. In other words, less than half believe elections guarantee representativeness and accountability, key ingredients of functional democracies. Thus, generally the ballot is not yielding the much anticipated change. The military has transmogrified into political saviors and the people’s hope. This trump card has been abused by most army generals who have now resorted to a wanton engagement in coups in adventures that do not necessarily serve the people in the long-term.
While coups tend to be generally embraced by most African nations as has been the recent past in Egypt and Zimbabwe, the results have not been in favor of the masses. What changes is the overalls in which the leaders are clad in. The nature, scope and extent of authority remains even more dictatorial given that a soldier remains a soldier. Whenever the gun leads the politics as opposed to the latter leading the former, chaos always breeds. The toxicity of military takeovers lies on their cancerous nature and their repetitive form. Given that a coup begets a coup, should we be bracing up for more coups in Africa in the nearest future?