Coup d’etat in Africa: Megalomania or nationalism?
It is time for sociologists and other researchers in human and societal interactions worldwide to fill the lacuna in the understanding of contemporary politics and power amongst the people of Africa. This is necessary because for a continent whose monarchical systems of government had thrived for centuries on democratic tenets with no direct threat from their militaries (irrespective of the quantum and quality of arms and ammunitions), it is indeed strange that today, its soldiers are wallowing in delusion of grandeur with tendencies to coarse and subdue the wishes of the larger society using the shots of the gun bought with tax payers monies and for which they are hired to defend the people.
Coup d’état is as old as the establishment of government. In the Bible, around 876 BC in Israel, a military commander named Zimri killed King Elah the son of Baasha in a bloody coup and installed himself as the king of Israel (1 King 16). Zimri, according to the Bible was the captain of half of Ellah’s chariots. He ruled for seven days before committing self-immolation to avoid the counter coup staged by his commander named Omri.
Students of literature in Africa who read Williams Shakespeare’s title “Macbeth” will remember how Julius Caesar was assassinated by the members of the Roman Senate on the Ides of March, although the coup plotters could not be in charge of government because power got into the hands of the magistracy called the second triumvirate. The recent happenings of retinue of coups d’état in the occident of Africa, though outdated and unfashionable is therefore not novel.
The first coup in Africa was staged on January 13, 1963, in Lome Togo in which the plotters assassinated Sylvanus Olympio who was succeeded by Emmanuel Bodjolle. Like a greyhound that is forced to taste fresh blood, the thirst for coup in Africa had since then recurred more frequently and at a frighteningly alarming dimension. Globally in the last seventy-three years (1950 to date), the World has witnessed 494 Coup attempts, 250 of them successful while 244 failed. Africa alone is responsible for 222 attempts, 114 of which were successful.
Since 2020, there had been eight military coups in some African countries such as Niger, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Guinea, Mali and Gabon with two of the countries recording two coups each in a spate of one year. During the period, Mali had two Coup d’etat. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was deposed on August 18, 2020 while another coup was staged on May 24, 2021 in that country.
Military Coup by General Abdel-Fattah-al-Burhane deposed the 30-year dictatorship of Omar-Al-Bashir in Sudan on October 25, 2021. Unfortunately, power tussle between General Burhane and his former deputy have since plunged the country into crisis which has led to the death of over five thousand sudanese till today.
Akin to the situation in Mali, Burkina Faso recorded two coup d’etat in a spate of eight months. On January 24, 2022, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba removed President Roch Marc Christian Kabore from office. Interestingly, Damiba was himself dismissed from office by Captain Ibrahim Traore on September 30, 2022.
In Niger, General Abdourahamane Tiani ousted President Mohamed Bazoum from office. The coup which took place on July 26, 2023 has since generated a lot of diplomatic row between the government of that country and the Economic Commission of West Africa with the support of France and other western countries.
The relative peace in Gabon was shattered on August 30, 2023 when soldiers led by the president cousin, General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema seized power from the 64 year old Ali Bongo Ondimba immediately after the announcement of the outcome of the general election which the incumbent won.
One common factor is that most of the countries with repeated coups have not faired well, economically, politically and socially despite the intervention of the soldiers when compared with those countries without coups.
Since 1959 when dissident soldiers attempted a government take over that killed almost one thousand people Sudan has had only four successful, 10 attempted, seven plotted and five alleged coups. The last successful coup in Sudan before the 2021 coup by General Abel-Fattah-Al-Burhane which ousted the government of General Omar Hassan Ahmad-al- Bashir was the one staged by Omar on June 30, 1989.
Niger has recorded four successful, one attempted, three plotted and two alleged coups since the Lieutenant Colonel Seymi Kountche led coup of 1974. Burkina Faso on the other hand recorded six successful, and one alleged coup since Lieutenant Colonel Sangoule Lamizana led military insurgence of 1966. The last successful coup before the recent coup was by Captain Blaise Campaore on October 15, 1987.
Mali’s coup history is not too different as the country had three successful, one attempted, and three plotted coups since the first coup in the country led by Lieutenant Moussa Traore in 1968. The last successful coup before the present one was staged on March 26, 1991, and it was led by Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Toure. Gabon on the other hand has had only one successful coup since February 18th, 1964 when Jean-Hilaire Aubame attempted unsuccessfully to overthrow the government. The August 30,2023 coup d’état is the first successful one ever carried out in Gabon.
Other countries where there were unsuccessful coup attempts include: Angola, Cameroon, Djibouti, Kenya, Madagascar. Nigeria has been no exception to this malaise of subversion of constitutional authorities and procedures. From the accusation of coup plotting levelled against some civilians on October 1st, 1962 to the first successful coup of 1966 up to the last coup staged by General Sanni Abacha in 1993, there had been six successful coups in Nigeria and the country has not fared better as it has been left worse that its self-acclaimed “ saviors” met it.
The question is “Are these coups justifiable?”. The answer is “No” because the reasons adduced for staging the coup which is usually primarily hinged on corruption and non-performance is usually the reason the colleagues of those who staged the coup would subsequently give for removing them from power.
The recent spate of military coups in Africa and particularly around the immediate precinct of the Nigeria nation may be giving some people ‘goose pimples’ as they are seeing the resurgence of these rebellions as bad omen for democracy in our country but what people are not taking into consideration is that it will be too demeaning for the Nigerian Military who ordinarily should play a mentoring role to those countries being turned into the laughing stock of the world by copying from these lowly states that are not only poorly administered but whose combined economy is not up to that of Lagos State.
It is not as if Nigeria has not had its own taste of coup d’état but her Military is too professional to be drawn into the ridicule of copying smaller countries whose agenda for taking over government is indistinct. Are these harbingers of coups to be regarded as nationalists or megalomaniacs? The truth is that despite several years of military intervention most of these countries still grapple with developmental issues for which Nigeria is not exempted.
Certainly, like many of the countries in Africa that had been forcefully ruled by the military, Nigeria started well in 1960 with good and potentially credible and sustainable institutions until her military topple its government. This led to a civil war that has left the country worse than its pre- war period.
Obviously, the sudden incursion of military rule jeopardized the chances and opportunities of Nigeria for progress and growth as the scramble to seize power left the country with the developmental deficits it has today. Indeed, distrust, hatred and suspicion amongst the various ethnic nationalities replaced its buoyant and nationalistic spirit, leaving in its trail those who do are naturally averse to defined national objectives and goals.
There is hardly anyone to blame but the megalomaniacs who believe that only barrels of the guns and cudgels can straighten the psyche of a nation. When it comes to governance, it is from the same population of Nigerians that the civilians and the military are drawn. The only difference is in the professional orientation.
The Military are trained to defend the nation with the gun, the civil authorities are trained to cajole and dialogue with the people to achieve the optimum. A people cowered and harassed with can never partake effectively in national development.
We can take a cue from our various homes where a child that is continuously harassed will repeatedly make mistakes and end with lack of confidence and hopelessness. The military should allow the civilians to learn from its mistakes.
It has shown clearly from the military incursions in many nations that at the end of the day, the live of the nation is neither better nor improved after these arm interventions and that is the reason that men and women who seize power are regarded as those who want power to fulfil their psychological gap of megalomanic tendencies rather than for nationalistic reasons.
Ojikutu is a retired Professor, University of Lagos.
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