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Since 2020, West Africa has had to endure, not only the global COVID-19 pandemic, but also a series of coup d’états that have changed the political and military fabric of the region. In the past two years, military leaders have seized power in Guinea, Chad, Sudan and Mali. The latest country, Burkina Faso, saw Lieutenant Conel Paul-Henri Dambia takeover the country on January 24, 2022.
Insecurity the root cause
In recent times, the Sahel region has suffered gruesome terrorist attacks led by insurgent groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Analysts say that the weak governments of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Guinea have failed to protect citizens and have not adequately supported the militaries in this horrifying battle against jihadist terrorism.
This has led to millions of people in the region being displaced and impoverished if they survive the brutality of the insurgents. Soldiers are being deployed with minimal armed support and are often under paid. In Burkina Faso, the terrorist attack on the Inata gendarmerie garrison in November left 53 troops dead. These events have increased fears of insecurity and instability and have paved the way for coups.
The consensus amongst the public and military is that the democratically elected officials are more interested in self interest and consolidating their power than actively working towards creating safer states. In Mali, Boubar Keita was ousted as president on suspicion of gross corruption and the rigging of elections. In Guinea, Alpha Conde was booted for attempting to change the constitution in order to run for a third term.
The waning credibility of ECOWAS and AU
The regional economic bloc, ECOWAS has imposed sanctions on Mali and have promised to do the same with other military-led states. The organisation has repeatedly stated that coups would not be tolerated. The African Union has suspended Mali, Guinea and Sudan.
Although, these diplomatic manoeuvres were meant to display the disapproval of the region’s leaders and wider international community, it has increased citizen support for the respective military juntas. The public holds the common view that the military is better suited to tackle the issues of widespread insecurity and despair. Organisations like ECOWAS and AU have lost credibility as they do not intervene when dictators change constitutions and kill their political opponents which indirectly increases a country’s instability.
This wave of coups has the potential to continuously spread to even stable states like Ghana and Nigeria. Officials must be on high alert. ECOWAS sanctions will surely exacerbate the issue of poverty. Whether the military governments across the Sahel region are better equipped to fight terrorism remains to be seen but it is clear that weak governance, shoddy diplomacy and backsliding democracy cannot ensure the protection of the people.