The Platform

Mali's interim President Assimi Goïta in Moscow. (Photo illustration by John Lyman)

Over the past decade, coups in Africa have become the rule, not the exception.

On August 30, a military coup in Gabon ousted President Ali Bongo, a byproduct of undemocratic elections, marking the eighth such power seizure in West and Central Africa within a mere span of three years. This latest shake-up arrived just one month after a similar event in Niger, amplifying a troubling trend. In Africa, coups have become less the exception and more the disquieting rule.

In the last decade, the African landscape has been jolted by nearly 45 coups or coup attempts, averaging about four each year. This incessant churn echoes a tumultuous post-independence history that especially gripped the continent in the 1960s and 1970s. To put it in perspective, Africa has endured more than 200 military coups, affecting 90 percent of its nations and averaging a coup roughly every 55 days. The continent alone accounts for an astounding 36 percent of all global coups, with West Africa serving as the epicenter, responsible for 44 percent of the continent’s coups.

Though the nature of these coups has evolved, many recent examples are striking for their relative lack of bloodshed and their semblance of popular backing—or at least the absence of mass resistance. Unlike coups of bygone eras in places like Ghana (1966), Equatorial Guinea (1979), and Guinea Bissau (1998), the new generation of coup leaders have generally refrained from political assassinations and large-scale killings.

These contemporary coup architects have also cultivated popularity. Consider the 2020 Mali coup that overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, an event that garnered roughly 80 percent support among Malians who had lost faith in their president. International sanctions, ironically, solidified this popular support. Similarly, the coup in Burkina Faso in January 2022 that deposed President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was met with considerable public approval.

In addition to local dynamics, the international scene influences these coups significantly. Anti-Western sentiment, especially against former colonial powers like France, pervades the rhetoric of coup leaders in nations such as Mali and Burkina Faso. This echoes the anti-colonial language of coups during the mid-20th century. Moreover, large-scale demonstrations against France in Niger further underscore the evolving geopolitical stakes.

Russia’s role is particularly noteworthy. Whether through direct political support or the indirect influence of paramilitary groups like the Wagner Group, Russia exerts a considerable impact on African politics. Notably, coup plotters who overthrew Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta were trained in Russia, signaling Moscow’s intricate involvement in the continent’s power dynamics.

The accelerating pattern of coups presents not just a domestic crisis for these African nations, but a broader global challenge. The historical burden of colonialism, which intentionally rendered these countries less capable of self-governance, cannot be ignored. The frequent upheavals, coupled with systemic democratic shortcomings, have resulted in widespread political instability, the proliferation of armed conflict, and the expansion of terrorist networks across the continent. This calls for a reimagined global strategy that not only prevents the exploitation of African resources but also fosters equitable partnerships for the benefit of African nations and their people.

The ripples of Africa’s coups are felt not just on its shores but across a world increasingly knit together by complex interdependencies. It’s a daunting issue that requires immediate and sustained international attention.

Amr Wagdy specializes in human rights and international relations. Amr holds a Master's degree in Human Rights and Democratization from Saint Joseph University of Beirut.