The Coup Springs: Turbulence in the Niger

Perhaps, the saying is true that the stone (coups) the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. To say Coups in Africa is a new thing would be inconsistent with the history of the continent. Coups became, in the words of UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres, “an epidemic” after colonialism. Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Uganda, to name a few, bore the brunt of military takeovers, the truncation and inception of new republics in the twentieth century. This new phenomenon owed especially to the proxies of the Cold War and the political vacuum created by the sudden departure of colonialists.

There is a sense in which the reign of coups presented two sides of the same coin to citizens. It brought some respite to the indigenes from corrupt leaders who stifled the populace for their personal aggrandizement. On the other hand, however, it was not long before the brutality of the military became a reality which saw to the exodus of many citizens from their own homes, rape, and terrorism becoming rampant with its accompanying poverty, hunger and diseases, becoming the order of the day.

These unpleasant scenes and incidences would lead the citizens to call for democracy to return and for the military to hand over power and return to the barracks. Although some military governments stayed for a while, most of them lost their shine and lustre and would be further crippled after the demise of the Soviet Union and the subsequent collapse of the Iron Curtain in Berlin.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, coups have begun to spring up in pockets of African nations. In particular, the last year and a half has seen the continent record series of coups to the utter dismay and condemnation from the international community. Mention can be made of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and most recently Niger where Juntas have usurped power. 

The Niger Ambivalence and Russia-West- Juxtaposition

The case of Niger seems to have stirred somewhat an uproar following the detention of President Mohammed Bazoum. Russia and the West have been featured in hindsight on the Niger coup. The west, United States, France, Germany and its allies have called the coup in Niger a blatant slap in the face of democracy. According to them, it is a betrayal to the will of the people and the tenets of democracy. Though they have called for an immediate handover of power to the elected government led by President Bazoum, the military is bent on holding on to power. 

Russia on the other hand has called for cool heads to ensure that the matter is properly investigated. Unlike the West, Russia seemed not to communicate a handover of power to the government. Something, other countries and international bodies have expressed concern about. To them, such positions lend some credence to an illegitimate government and a push factor to other governments in the sub-region. 

On the backdrop of the Russian stance is the outlook of its ousted paramilitary group, Wagner. Following its incursion and uprising on the Russian government, the group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin intimated that the group would turn its attention to Africa and other continents. The Wagner Group is a privately held military company (PMC) that receives funding from the Russian government. Evidence suggests that the Russian government has used Wagner as a front company to carry out military operations abroad while concealing the true toll of its military interventions. It must be noted that prior to the uprising that led to the group’s ousting from Russia, Wagner was on the frontlines of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. More importantly is Wagner group’s present role in African countries like Mali and Burkina Faso which gives credibility on Russia’s position on the coup. It is not surprising to see the Malian citizens wave Russian flags to indicate their support for the group’s presence.

With the ECOWAS having declared the possible use of force to depose the Junta and its seven-day deadline inching closer, the dynamics seem to have shifted a level up. Some Western countries have indicated support for ECOWAS’ stance to restore democracy. In the face of this, the Junta in Burkina Faso and Mali have thrown their support for the new Junta in Niger declaring that an attempt to intervene and restore Bazoum to power would be considered “a declaration of war” against the two countries. 

This image presents a grave situation for the West African Sub Region which is only left with eleven countries with democratically elected leaders to work with. It is grave because, with the Sahel region gradually becoming a hub for terrorist activities, the sub-region could be further destabilized which invariably could lead to loss of lives and destruction of properties. Again, there is a sense in which this wind of coups could spread throughout the sub region; a situation that would derail the gains made from practicing democracy for the past two to three decades. 

Forging Ahead

From the foregoing, one would realize that coups have lost their appeal in the current dispensation, and many have abhorred their occurrences as not much gains have been accrued in periods when they usurped power. That notwithstanding, several steps are needed to be taken to curtail the recurrence of such coups in the future.

First, international organizations, the UN, African Union and Ecowas, and other regional bodies must be proactive in how they operate. The UNs, for instance, “toothless bulldog” position when one of the permanent members vetoes must be investigated to ensure that stringent measures are put in place to dissuade coup plotters from attempting a coup especially where impositions of sanctions could serve as deterrence to persons who may want to attempt coups. The Military arm of the African Union and ECOWAS must be proactive. The authorities of the institutions should be apt about the mandate of their agencies and communicate in clear terms what their position is on matters that arise in their sphere of influence.

Again, African governments must ensure that democratic tenets are well respected and corruption tendencies are reduced to the barest minimum or eliminated. There is no gainsaying the fact that most of the coups that have succeeded have been a result of bad governance and lack of political will and absence of patriotism from the ousted leaders. It is, however, sad that this situation lingers and more coups could be attempted in other parts of the continent.

The command structure of the military should be carefully streamlined to ensure that personnel who harbour excesses can be noticed and put in check. Intermittent reshuffling of leaders of the military could alleviate the temptation of alliances and owing of favours to certain individuals to whom allegiances are owed and can be exploited to undertake such ventures. 

In the words of Prof. George Ayittey, ‘dictators cause the world’s worst problems: all the collapsed states, and all the devastated economies. All the vapid cases of corruption, grand theft, and naked plunder of the treasury are caused by dictators, leaving in their wake trails of wanton destruction, horrendous carnage, and human debris’. Citizens should be mindful and watchful in ensuring that juntas do not become crocodile liberators or quack revolutionaries who aim to solve their own poverty and breed kleptocracy at the expense of national development.

Article by

Bismark Asamoah

He is a policy scholar and senior researcher at the Centre for Free Trade & International Relations and the Centre for Public Policy & Constitutional Governance at the YAFO Institute. He was awarded MPhil. International Studies from the Centre for African and International Studies (CAIS) at the University of Cape Coast.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top