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Citizens are continually robbed of their legitimate right to change leaderships that do not address their socio-economic needs.
Dr. Ndubuisi Christian Ani, Regional Advisor, GIZ Support to the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC)
On 5 September 2021, Alpha Conde, the former president of Guinea, became the latest African leader to be deposed. The coup in Guinea, like the case in Mali, is reflective of an emerging trend of mass discontent and resolute action against humbug democratic processes, corruption and economic hardships in countries led by authoritarian regimes.
Prior to the coups in Guinea and Mali, Africa had witnessed seven successful popular uprisings leading to the overthrow of authoritarian regimes since 2010 when the Arab Spring began.
The action – or inaction – of the military is critical to the success of these uprisings thereby raising concerns about categorising them as coups or popular uprisings.
Autocratic regimes and economic hardships
In Libya, mass protests transitioned into rebel action that ousted and claimed the life of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In Egypt (2011), Burkina Faso (2014) and Sudan (2019) however, the military usurped power following mass protests, while President Robert Mugabe was forced to resign by the Zimbabwean military in 2017. In Tunisia (2011) and Algeria (2019), the presidents were forced to resigned during mass protests.
The trend shows glaring correlations between autocratic regimes with ambitions for long-term stay in power, and protracted economic hardships which heightens the probability of uprisings and coups on the continent.
Most importantly, coups and uprisings are not dependent on a leader’s length of stay in power, rather they are significantly motivated by the deterioration of state institutions and public goods – a phenomenon which is prevalent in states run by patronage networks of long-serving regimes.
Sudan’s most recent popular uprising was inspired by a cascade of mass grievances over President Omar Al-Bashir’s 30 years autocratic regime that was marred by rising costs of living and economic hardships.
While elections have become common across Africa, autocratic regimes use fraudulent electoral processes and constitutional amendments to remain in power and legitimise their leadership claims in a world where democratic governance is favoured.
The subtle and seeming democratic nature of the process further makes it difficult for international bodies to respond. Citizens are continually robbed of their legitimate right to change leaderships that do not address their needs which creates room for radical transitions via coup and uprisings.
The negative aftermaths of a coup
It is worth noting that most of the deposed autocratic regimes came to power themselves via military action in response to perceived grievances from the population, yet they turned out to be oppressors.
The challenge with coups and radical transitions is that they provide false and short-lived hope about the future. Countries like Zimbabwe, Sudan and Tunisia continues to face economic hardships and political crises. An extreme scenario is Libya, which experienced worsened economic conditions, governance crises and civil war since the overthrow and death of Gaddafi.
In Guinea, Conde’s seemingly democratic regime came after three military coups that resulted in repressive regimes that failed to solve the country’s challenges. When he came to power, Conde also failed to deliver on the promises of democracy, economic growth and human rights.
It is likely that countries that face radical transitions could face deteriorating conditions on civilian livelihoods.
The 'inadvertent' impact of international sanctions
Additionally, sanctions by the international community on juntas often inadvertently impact vulnerable populations.
The African Union (AU) and subregional organisations like the Economic community of West African States (ECOWAS) have consistently condemned overt coups and expelled the regimes of juntas from its activities. However, those affected more are ordinary citizens especially when the sanctions target economic relationships with neighbouring countries.
Yet, African intergovernmental organisations have been criticised for their inaction to prevent the excesses of ruling regimes who govern at will and change constitutions to remain in power, while failing to provide public goods and resolve socio-economic hardships.
In Guinea for instance, the AU and ECOWAS failed to condemn and act against Conde when he changed the constitution in 2010 to remain in power – an act that violates Article 23(4) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG).
Similar amendments of the constitution have been witnessed in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Chad, Djibouti and Equatorial Guinea thereby paving way for the re-election of incumbent strongmen. This trend has been ongoing without a resolute action by African intergovernmental organisations to prevent them as well as government crackdowns on protesters. Rather, they show reactive measures against uprisings and coups rather than the root causes.
To gain credibility and relevance for ordinary populations, the international community must put in place actionable plans to challenge regimes that seek to elongate its stay in office against the wish of the people.
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