Are military chiefs staging a comeback in Africa?
Since last year, the international community has focused its attention on various elections taking place in Africa this year, with the goal of resuming democratic procedures and constitutional government in Libya, Somalia, Mali, Guinea, Somaliland, and Chad.
Elections are provisionally set to take place after being postponed or disturbed by coups or wars.
The reemergence of military coups on the continent — a common occurrence in Africa in the decades after independence – fueled worldwide anxiety.
Since its nations’ independence, Africa has seen more coups than any other continent.
Through the Ezulwini Framework of 2009, the African Union (AU) and, by extension, the Economic Community of West African States established a “zero-tolerance” stance to military coups.
Following the AU’s first announcement, ECOWAS established a Comprehensive Framework to react to military coups and other types of illegitimate change of authority.
The African Union is guided by the Constitutive Act, the Peace and Security Protocol, the Lome Declaration, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Good Governance.
Following a military coup, these tools allow for the implementation of penalties and the suspension of continental activity.
According to a study conducted by two American scholars, Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne, approximately 200 similar attempts have occurred in Africa since the late 1950s.
Approximately half of them were successful, defined as lasting longer than seven days. Burkina Faso has had the most successful coups, with seven successful takeovers and one unsuccessful coup.
All but one of the 11 coups documented internationally since 2017 — Myanmar in February this year – have occurred in Africa. Mali’s President, Ibrahim Keita, was toppled in a coup in August 2020.
Keita, who governed the West African nation from 2013 until he was deposed in a coup in 2020, died on Sunday in Bamako at the age of 76.
Keita’s death was not assigned a reason. Keita was two years into his second five-year term when his administration was deposed by the military in 2020, after major public unrest.
ECOWAS has nominated former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan as a special envoy to lead its mediation effort in Mali.
Jonathan’s job included promoting communication with all Malian parties, including Keita, opposition leaders, religious groups, and civil society, in order to address the country’s deteriorating socio-political situation.
In September 2021, Guinea’s president, Alpha Conde, was deposed and jailed by military troops headed by Mamady Doumbouya.
Sudan likewise had two similar incidents last year: an attempted coup in September and military strongman Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan dissolving the civilian arm of the country’s transitional government and seizing control. Sudan is becoming a daily theater of demonstrations and deaths. The UN has volunteered to mediate between the crisis’ participants.
Field Marshal Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, a Sudanese former military commander, politician, and suspected war criminal who served as Sudan’s seventh head of state under different titles from 1989 until the coup in 2019.
In Niger, a coup attempt was foiled only days before a presidential inauguration in March.
In reaction to military coups in Mali, Guinea, and Sudan, the AU and ECOWAS condemned the coups and demanded the unconditional release of political leaders held by the military. It also barred the nations from participating in the organization’s operations unless they took tangible measures to return to democratic government.
Burkina Faso did not learn from the AU and ECOWAS’s hammering of the guilty nations. As if to confirm the assumption that Burkina Faso is the nation with the most successful coups, eight soldiers were reportedly detained last week for allegedly planning to topple the government.
The West African nation is the third to face a coup attempt in recent months.
Mohamed Zoungrana, a former Army officer accused of being critical of the administration, is claimed to be among those detained. According to the authorities, an inquiry has been initiated into the situation.
Burkina Faso’s previous coup took place in 2015, when the military proclaimed the collapse of the country’s transitional government a day after presidential guards detained interim President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Yacouba Zida.
In an unprecedented action, ECOWAS declared last week the closing of its borders with Mali, the suspension of commerce with the nation, the freezing of its assets in the Central Bank of West African States, and the recall of ambassadors from member states due to the delay in conducting elections.
Mali retaliated by recalling its diplomats and blocking its borders with ECOWAS countries.
However, in a Monday evening speech to the country, Malian transition President Colonel Assimi Goita appealed for unity and calm, stressing that Mali is open to talks.
It came after Mali’s army-dominated administration proposed staying in power for up to five years before restoring democracy last month, despite international pressure to conduct elections on February 27.
Mali’s relations with its neighbors have increasingly worsened since Goita assumed power in a military coup. The sanctions are already having an impact on travelers in Mali, a huge landlocked country of 19 million people that borders seven other countries.
Thousands of Malians took part in anti-ECOWAS protests in multiple locations on Friday, organized by Mali’s fragile military-dominated interim administration.
The country’s position makes it a significant transit center for the area, with Bamako serving as a crucial stop along the land route connecting Senegal to nations farther east, such as Nigeria.
In response to the issue, Paul Ejime, a global affairs analyst and independent consultant to international organizations on corporate strategic communications, peace and security, and elections, stated that Guinea’s ruling Committee for National Restoration has disassociated the country from the unprecedented financial, economic, and border blockage imposed on Mali by ECOWAS on 9 January.
According to Ejime, there is a reported strong power game in the UN Security Council pitting France/Western allies against Russia/China over Mali.
Apart from Guinea’s avowed sympathy with Mali, Algeria, another Malian neighbor, is reported to have also put its weight behind Mali.
Guinea said that it will not participate in the regional sanctions and that the country’s land, sea, and air borders would remain open to all friendly states in accordance with Pan-African unity.
Algeria, he claims, has a strong interest in Mali’s political stability in order to keep terrorists and armed jihadists out of its land.
In 2015, Malian protagonists signed the Peace Accord in Algiers. It is consequently in Algeria’s best interests to maintain links with Bamako in order to ensure its own national security and to limit the flow of militants and extremists.
Ejime said that Guinea, like Mali, is under military administration after the coup that deposed Conde’s government in September 2021 after amending the national constitution to extend his term.
Algeria has warned of the dangers of the escalating conflict between Mali and the ECOWAS, while also offering its support in resolving the conflict. It remains to be seen if Algeria and Guinea would aid Mali in lifting ECOWAS sanctions.