Coups: Why African leaders must re-examine their approach to governance

Coups: Why African leaders must re-examine their approach to governance

There have been several coups in West and Central Africa since 2020 with the most recent in Gabon.
Gabon is the latest country to be hit by a coup. Photo: Reuters

By Peter Asare-Nuamah

Coups are not entirely new in Africa. From 1952 to 2022, Africa witnessed a total of 214, of which 106 and 108 were successful and failed coups, respectively.

However, since 1990, many African countries gradually realised the need to embrace the tenets of democracy to advance development on the continent. Consequently, Africa witnessed a seeming reduction in coups, with a pocket of countries experiencing political stability and democratic consolidation.

However, recently, the continent is witnessing a resurgence of coups. Since 2020, seven countries have experienced coups in Africa: Burkina Faso, Sudan, Chad, Guinea, Mali, Niger and now Gabon.

Almost all the coups happened in former French colonies. In the most recent cases, on 26 July 2023, officers from the Presidential Guard led by General Abdourahamane Tiani ousted President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger.

On August 30, 2023, a group of soldiers removed Gabon’s President Ali Bongo from power. Gabon’s case followed the declaration of President Bongo, who, together with his father, ruled Gabon for 53 years as the winner of the country’s elections.

The military cancelled the election results and placed the president under house arrest.

President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger was removed from power in July. Photo: Others


There is a need to relook into what is driving the wave of coups and how African leaders and their citizens can chart a path for inclusive growth and development while sustaining democratic consolidation on the continent.

Without a doubt, the concepts of governance and democracy have been poorly implemented in many African countries without recourse to the contexts and realities of the continent over the years.

The African continent is one of the poorest if not the poorest, in terms of human development in the world.

However, paradoxically, it is one of the richest in terms of regional distribution of the natural resources endowment of the world. These double standards of “being rich but poor” create problems for African leaders and citizens alike.

However, given the local and foreign pressure to strengthen democracy, some leaders tend to assume that democracy is all about holding periodic elections.

Consequently, elections are pegged as the main feature of a democratic state irrespective of how they are conducted, while other crucial aspects of democracy and governance generally receive little attention.

Most of the recent coups in Africa are greeted by jubilations by the masses. Photo: AFP

However, in reality, democracy and governance go beyond mere elections, albeit elections provide the basis for democratic consolidation and governance.

Critical aspects of democracy and rule include inclusive participation of citizens in policies and the advancement of the people's well-being and human capital development. These aspects, if detached from democracy and governance, pose serious challenges for any country.

Problematically, after elections, many African leaders neglect these critical features of democracy and governance.

A woman embraces a soldier in Gabon as she celebrates with people in support of a putschists. Photo: Reuters 

Development needs

Instead of doing more to address critical African challenges such as corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, mass poverty, and widened inequalities, among others, some African leaders allegedly focus on amassing wealth for themselves and their families and cronies, in addition to advancing their political party’s aspirations of winning election after election.

This vicious cycle predominantly deprives the masses of their deserving share of the ‘national cake’ while creating an increasingly prosperous political class. It is not surprising that politics is seen as the surest way to acquire huge wealth in many African countries.

The increasing youth population and widespread unemployment on the continent create political instability in Africa, be it coups, conflicts or terrorism, if not properly managed.

Ali Bongo and his father Omar ruled Gabon for a combined period of 55 years. Photo: Others

The time has come for African elected leaders to go beyond the notion of being ‘democratically elected’ in the performance of discharging their responsibilities. African leaders are expected to serve their people by championing and prioritising the needs and interests of the people ahead of their aspirations and interests.

Mass jubilations on the streets in Niger and Gabon in support of coup leaders should be a wake-up call for African leaders to pay attention to their people’s development.

African leaders must demonstrate a strong commitment and urgency to change their approach to governance and democracy for the continent’s possible growth and development, as envisioned in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Agenda 2063 of the African Union.

The author, Dr. Peter Asare-Nuamah, is a Lecturer at the School of Sustainable Development, University of Environment and Sustainable Development, Ghana, and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, Germany.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.

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