These seizures of power threaten a reversal of the democratization process that Africa has undergone in the last two decades and a return to the era of coups as the norm.
In the first post-colonial decades when coups were rampant, coup leaders in Africa almost always offered the same reasons for overthrowing governments: corruption, mismanagement, poverty.
Although well-dressed, these excuses still resonate with many Africans today for the simple reason that they continue to accurately describe the reality of their countries. Moreover, in many countries, people think that these problems are getting worse.
Moreover, 72% believe that ordinary citizens “risk retaliation or other negative consequences” if they report corruption to the authorities, an African sign that they believe their public institutions are not only participants but active defenders of corrupt systems.
When it comes to poverty, an already tragic situation has been exacerbated by the blow to Africa’s fragile economies taken by the coronavirus pandemic.
These conditions create fertile conditions for coups and for increasingly desperate young Africans who have lost patience with their corrupt leaders to welcome the puppets, promising radical change, as evidenced in the streets of Guinea after the takeover. control, with some cheerful Guineans even kissing soldiers.
But as with the coups of the 1970s, these scenes of joy are likely to be short-lived, says Joseph Sany, vice president of the African Center at the Peace Institute in the United States. “The initial reaction to what you see on the street will be joyful, but very soon, people will demand action … and I’m not sure the military will be able to meet the expectations, the provision of basic service, more freedoms, “he says.
Threat to democratic gains
What is clear is that these coups pose a serious threat to the democratic gains that African countries have made in recent decades. Worryingly, research shows that many Africans are increasingly reluctant to believe that elections can give the leaders they want.
In other words, less than half believe that elections guarantee representation and accountability, key components of functioning democracies.
In 11 countries polled regularly since 2008, confidence that elections enable voters to remove troubled leaders has fallen by 11% points among citizens, according to the poll. It is not that Africans do not want to elect their leaders through elections, it is just that many people now believe that their political systems are at stake.
The African Union rightly condemns the coup in Guinea, but its response to such constitutional abuses is silent.
These double standards and perceived elite plots create the perfect environment for young sliding strike officers like 41-year-old Doumbouya to step in and promise to save the day.
It is perhaps no coincidence that Doumbouya quoted the harsh Rawlings, who was very effective in expressing the anger that the Ghanaians felt towards their political elites when he led the military junta in the 1980s. Desperate citizens living in political systems for whom they with him right often believe they are obsessed, can be easily seduced by anti-elite, anti-corruption rhetoric accompanied by the promise of the new.
Unfortunately, we have to prepare for the eventuality of more punches in Africa in the coming years. They are not expected in the richest countries with strong institutions such as South Africa, Ghana or Botswana, but in the poorest and most fragile states. Like Mali, Nigeria, Chad and now Guinea where coups and coup attempts have taken place recently.
This increasing probability of coups will make Africa generally less predictable and sustainable, a negative for investors that could end up worsening the economic situation.
Can this undesirable trend be reversed? Yes, but while international condemnations of coups in Guinea and elsewhere are crucial as deterrents to other potential snatchers of power, the only actors who really have the power to reverse this disturbing trend are African leaders themselves.
They are the ones responsible on the ground and their response to these recent events will be the deciding factor. They need to revive the trust that democracy can give to Africans. But if the problems still cited to justify coups continue to worsen in today’s African democracies, then the temptation to try something else will continue to be tempting, for both coup plotters and citizens.
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