Military Coups and The Question of Governance in Africa


The recent spate of military coups in Africa has again brought the lingering question of governance into fresh perspectives with a total number of 9 coups recorded in the Sahel, West and Central Africa in just about 3 years. Perhaps, what is more worrisome is the perception that the masses seem to endorse the interventions of the coup plotters as seen in the optics of jubilation across the streets. This is not unconnected with the desire for change from the present socioeconomic   and political predicaments bedevilling their respective nations to more beneficial forms of governance. The impunity, with which political dynasties built by families have made political positions a matter of inheritance, is exemplified across Africa South of the Sahara – with the recent Gabonese experience of military putsch spotlighting a prime example of the deposed President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose family had been in charge of the country for almost 6 decades. Despite this, the ousted president was canvassing for support to regain his seat in a video that went viral, even after he had shut down the internet just after he was announced to have won elections for a third term, having controversially defeated Mr Albert Ossa. As of September 2023, Chad (since April 2021), Mali (since May 2021), Guinea (since September 2021), Sudan (since October 2021), Burkina Faso (since January 2022),[1] Niger (Since July 2023), and Gabon (since August 2023) are under military governance. The trend of a shifting nature of governance on the continent was thus the central focus of the Africanist Scholars Forum, which held on September 22, 2023 in the bid to understand the nuances of the resurgence of military coups and how to preclude further incursions of the military in national governance in Africa.


We observed that the emphases on elections have overshadowed other aspects of governance, and this has enabled failing democracies across the continent where politicians have retained the central focus in the place of the masses who ought to be the drivers and major beneficiaries of democratic practices. Many analysts have captured most African polities as either weak or failed democracies, in which inequality resulting from political and socioeconomic corruption has led to tensions that often degenerate into violent conflicts. It is indeed very difficult to indicate democracies within the continent that are not battling dire economic, political and social conditions, as the desire for good governance across the continent remains utopic.

The perpetuation of paternalistic relations, through new forms of imperialism, has also been identified as a major cause of discontents with the current models of governance on the continent. The raging anti-France sentiments, which accentuated only the negative dynamics of country’s relations with supposed independent nations within what has been tagged Francophone Africa, is indeed a reaction to the continuous plunder of the continent. As it were, quite a number of bilateral and multilateral agreements undermine the attempts at pursuing sustainable growth and development on the continent. This has been worsened by the militarisation of the Sahel, which has witnessed intractable conflicts between Jihadists and national and/or regional forces in battles that are fought in collaboration with foreign mercenaries on either side. Perhaps, the interconnectivity fostering collapsed boundaries via virtual spaces, as enabled by the state of information and communication technology today, has demystified the institution of a unipolar world. In neutralising western paradigms as sole determinants of the ethics of the global moral public, countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe are seeking to assert more influence on world affairs. Countries are thus learning to take more responsibility for the own affairs in countering paternalistic impositions, even though the preferred way to sustainable development is within governance models that practically uphold the protection of equality, fairness and human rights in general.

We also observed that initial jubilations by some nationals in countries where the military took over government have paved way for feelings of disappointment among the populace due to the replication of impunity and disregard for the welfare of the people. The level of insecurity in the continent’s regions has also not abated with continuous attacks by Jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State. This reflects that military regimes are not necessarily the prerequisite for safety, but a return to the barracks to focus on protection for citizens of their nations while also averting the distractions of power tussles within military bodies that undermine national security.


A 2022 poll by Afrobarometer across 34 African countries indicated that Africans are gradually losing trust in the electoral processes that bring politicians to power, especially as regime change appears almost impossible with the perpetuation of certain oligarchs in power. It is thus important that the integrity of electoral processes is restored and protected through legislations that ensure the independence of electoral bodies. There is also the need for the political will to prosecute electoral offenders seeking to upturn the will of the people. This could help build legitimacy for democratically elected administrations, and prevent ambitious military officers from leveraging on the pretext of restoring political stability to invade national politics.

ECOWAS also needs to revise its strategy for engagement with member states to reinstate its relevance within national polities in the subregion. The public opposition to the military invasion of Niger, for instance, indicates that the people are war weary. This is not unconnected with the destruction of lives and properties of citizens, who are then left to manage their losses, as there are often no appropriate exit strategies by intervening external forces. The adoption of diplomatic engagements through religious leaders with referent power in Niger, for instance, created further openings for discussions and negotiations that could result in reinstalling a legitimate government in the country. This approach could help limit the longevity of military juntas, and by implication that of sanctions that ultimately become punitive on the masses.

It is also imperative to review colonial arrangements and heritages through which governance is extricated from the people. Such reviews ought to entail embedding the practice of democracies within cultural templates of governance, where the masses see themselves as integral to the governance architecture of their countries and ultimately become the beneficiaries of the dividends of good governance.

[1] The country has since witnessed another coup in September 2022 and another attempt more recently in September 2023.

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