The rise of military coups in West and Central Africa: A threat to democracy and stability

In recent years, West and Central Africa have experienced a surge in military coups, raising concerns about the future of democracy and stability in the region. The most recent coup in Gabon, where President Ali Bongo was detained in his own residence, is just one example of this concerning trend. This article explores the factors behind the rise of coups in the region and the potential impact they may have on the political landscape.

One of the underlying causes of the rise of military coups in West and Central Africa is the disillusionment of younger citizens with the traditional political class. High levels of unemployment and corruption, combined with a persistent influence of former colonial powers like France, have created a climate of frustration among the urban population, particularly the youth. This disenchantment with the political elite has made soldiers feel emboldened to step in and offer what they claim as a “fresh start”.

Furthermore, many civilian rulers in the region have been accused of manipulating electoral processes and constitutional rules to prolong their hold on power. The scrapping of presidential term limits, often through controversial amendments to constitutions, has generated resentment and created a sense of injustice among the population. These abuses erode the trust and moral authority of bodies such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which are tasked with restoring elected civilian rule.

However, each coup in the region is also driven by specific national or local motivations, as seen in the case of Gabon. President Ali Bongo’s decision to run for a third term caused skepticism among the Gabonese people, alongside doubts about his ability to provide effective leadership due to a previous stroke. While his rule saw efforts to modernize the government and address social inequality, there was a gradual fading of reform momentum and a reluctance to expose the regime to genuine electoral competition. The opaque conduct of previous elections further undermined Bongo’s legitimacy and political standing.

The military’s intervention in the Gabonese coup was justified by claiming that the election did not meet the conditions for a transparent and credible ballot. While many Gabonese have shown support for the coup, it raises concerns about the future of democracy in the region. The frequent occurrence of coups undermines the progress made towards multi-party constitutional rule and threatens stability.

The rise of military coups in West and Central Africa highlights the need for addressing the underlying factors that fuel discontent and frustration among the population. Efforts should be made to tackle youth unemployment, reduce corruption, and promote genuine political competition. Additionally, regional organizations such as the African Union and Ecowas need to assert their moral authority and take stronger actions to ensure the restoration of elected civilian rule in countries affected by coups.

In conclusion, the surge in military coups in West and Central Africa poses a significant threat to democracy and stability in the region. The disillusionment with the political elite, manipulation of electoral processes, and specific national or local motivations all contribute to the rise of coups. It is crucial for both national governments and regional organizations to address the root causes of discontent and take proactive measures to protect democratic processes and maintain stability in the region.