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A Rise in Coups in Africa? Malian soldiers stand in formation | Credit: Staff Sergeant Samuel Bendet

A Rise in Coups in Africa?

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Over the past 18 months, a concerning trend has emerged in Africa known as “Coup Contagion.” As a rise in coups in Africa sweeps the region, some have painted affected countries with a broad stroke, assuming that the prerequisites for conflict are the same and that citizens across borders share universal opinions. This list of the recent coups in Africa, from the oldest to the most current, seeks to provide clarity by providing historical context, a brief description of what took place, domestic and international reactions, and the aftermath.

Mali (August 18, 2020)

  • Context: Simmering public anger over the government’s inability to stem terrorist attacks bubbled over on April 30, 2020. The constitutional court’s ruling overturned results for 31 parliamentary seats—effectively increasing President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s Rally for Mali party (RPM) by ten seats. Protests demanding the removal of President Keïta resulted in the deaths of 11 protesters killed by counterterrorism forces.
  • What Happened: On August 18, 2020, Colonel Assimi Goïta arrested President Keïta, forcing him to resign and dissolve parliament and the government on state television. Borders were closed, and a curfew was implemented.
  • Reactions: While images flooded the media of jubilant crowds welcoming and cheering the military, such photos are misleading. According to Afrobarometer, 75% of Malians prefer democracy to other forms of government. The international community disapproved of the military junta’s seizure of power. The African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) placed sanctions against the military.
  • Aftermath: In 2021, nine months later, Mali experienced another coup.

Niger

  • Context: 41% of Niger’s population lives in poverty as Jihadi attacks and the War in the Sahel compound ethnic divisions. Tensions rose following a 2021 presidential election labeled “fraudulent” by outgoing President Mahamane Ousmane. The results declared Ousmane’s opponent, Mohamed Bazoum, the winner. Protests broke out, resulting in clashes between police and Ousmane’s supporters.
  • What Happened: On March 31, 2021, gunfire erupted in the streets of Niger’s capital Niamey. An Air Force unit led by Captain Sani Saley Gourouza attempted to stage a coup but was arrested after the failed attempt.
  • Reactions: The coup attempt was met with concern and fear by both citizens and the international community, given it occurred 48 hours before the country’s first peaceful transfer of power between two democratically elected presidents.
  • Aftermath: Two days after the attempted coup, President-elect Bazoum was sworn in as acting President of Niger. On February 18, 2022, President Bazoum announced plans for France’s departing troops from Mali to enter Niger to secure its border against Jihadi forces.

Chad

  • Context: On April 20, 2021, President Idriss Déby Itno, who ruled for three decades and had secured a sixth consecutive term, was killed by rebels of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) while on the front lines.
  • What Happened: On April 20, 2021, the military announced Déby’s son, Mahamat ibn Idriss Déby Itno, would head a transitional military council to oversee new elections in 18 months. Déby dissolved the constitution, government, and parliament, and the commission has issued a new charter to replace the constitution.
  • Reactions: Domestic and international communities condemned the announcement because it violates Chad’s Constitution, which specifies that power passes to the Parliament Speaker. While threatened with sanctions initially by the AU and ECOWAS, Chad ultimately escaped them through regional support by Ghana and Nigeria. Déby has vowed both countries to honor current regional security commitments in exchange.
  • Aftermath: Since then, FACT rebels have threatened to form a transitional government and depose Déby. Protests have met brutal suppression. Most recently, on February 27, 2022, peace talks between the government and rebels to form a national dialogue have been delayed due to postponements in planning and preparations.

Mali (May 24, 2021)

  • Context: Following the 2020 coup, a military council appointed Bah N’ Daou as President of the transitional government and Colonel Assimi Goïta as Vice President. Over the next nine months, tensions mounted between civilian officials and the military.
  • What Happened: On May 24, 2021, following the removal of two military-appointed cabinet ministers during a cabinet reshuffle, Colonel Assimi Goïta seized power from transitional President Bah N’ Daou, stripping him of his powers.
  • Reactions: The international response was swift as both the AU and ECOWAS suspended Mali as a member. Like the 2020 coup, while some continue to support the military as a viable governing alternative to corrupt and inadequate officials, three in four Malians prefer democracy.
  • Aftermath: The military regime expelled its French ambassador and called for France and Denmark to withdraw their troops immediately. Since then, President Macron has announced the removal of French troops from Mali. Additionally, on January 9, 2022, ECOWAS will enforce sanctions and close its borders with Mali following an announcement that the military junta will delay elections for an additional three years.

Guinea

  • Context: In 2010, President Alpha Condé was the first democratically elected leader in Guinea’s post-independence history. However, in 2020, Condé altered the constitution, giving himself a third term, which sparked the Guinean protests of 2019-2020. Protests resulted in dozens of deaths in clashes between government supporters and detractors.
  • What Happened: On September 5, 2021, Guinea Armed Forces, led by special forces commander Mamady Doumbouya, encircled the Presidential Palace and took Condé hostage. Doumbouya announced on state-run television that he was dissolving the constitution, government, and institutions and subsequently sealed off the borders.
  • Reactions: While local politicians have remained neutral on the military coup, foreign countries met the takeover with almost universal disapproval. The AU and ECOWAS have suspended Guinea’s membership and placed sanctions on the military junta.
  • Aftermath: On October 1, 2021, Doumbouya was sworn in as interim President. Guineans took to the streets in celebration, as more than 57% of Guineans are not satisfied with democracy in the country. However, some hold reservations given the country’s experience with coups.

Sudan

  • Context: Since signing a power-sharing accord on July 17, 2019, a tense relationship has existed between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC). Both sides agreed to create a transitional government to oversee free elections after 39 months. Both sides had seats on the Sovereign Council led by General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan, who led the 2019 coup, and a civilian cabinet led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok Al-Kinani.
  • What Happened: On October 25, 2021, General al-Burhan seized power, dissolved the sovereign council, pushed out the Prime Minister, shut down the internet, and arrested civilian leaders. Many believe that the general took control to prevent further investigations into charges of corruption, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in the Darfur region.
  • Reactions: Following news of the coup, people streamed into the capital’s streets, Khartoum. Soldiers opened fire, wounding nearly 140 people, killing seven. The international community responded with calls for stability and restraint, and the AU has suspended Sudan’s membership until it returns to civilian rule.
  • Aftermath: On November 21, 2021, the military reinstated Sudan’s ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok Al-Kinani, who signed a joint agreement with the military junta to end the current violence in an attempt to salvage Sudan’s democratic transition.

Burkina Faso

  • Context: Since 2015, as part of a broader campaign in the Sahel, Burkina Faso has seen militant groups launch violent attacks that have displaced 1.4 million people and caused thousands of deaths. Facing mounting denunciations, democratically elected President Roche Marc Christian Kaboré faced waves of public protests.
  • What Happened: On January 23, 2022, the military, led by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, seized power, taking over military bases and ousting President Kaboré.
  • Reactions: While some citizens have expressed support for the military and have welcomed change because of the daily hardships of living under President Kaboré and the division of Christians and Muslims over Islamist violence, according to Afrobarometer, 62% of Burkinabés reject military rule as a form of government. The International community has condemned the coup. The AU suspended Burkina Faso’s membership, and ECOWAS has withheld sanctions calling for the release of President Kaboré and a return to the rule of law.
  • Aftermath: Lieutenant Colonel Damiba was sworn in as Burkina Faso’s new Transitional President on February 16, 2022, and has approved a three-year transition to free elections. The new charter prevents the Transitional President and the 25 transitional government members from running for President or the legislature. 

Guinea-Bissau

  • Context: In 1974, following the end of the country’s war for independence, came the difficult task of creating a unifying identity amongst extreme diversity. The lack of success in this effort and endemic corruption among influential military members who hold connections to the cocaine trade have contributed to four military coups and political instability.
  • What Happened: President Umaro Mokhtar Sissoco Embaló, a former army general who came to power in a 2020 disputed election, had finished a cabinet meeting on February 1, 2022, when gunfire erupted. A few hours later, President Embaló declared the coup over, citing that “many” members of the security forces were killed in a “failed attack against democracy.”
  • Reactions: The prospect of another coup has unsettled residents who are apprehensive of the country’s fragility. Some residents questioned the President’s account of events given the lack of information released to the public and that the perpetrators’ motives remain unknown. The international community has watched with concern at the rise of coups in Africa, and the AU has condemned the attempted coup.
  • Aftermath: On February 2, 2022, the government launched a probe into the failed coup attempt.

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