Demonstration in support of the military in Bamako, Mali after the military coup 2020. Photo: VOA Bambara. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


The reasons behind the coups in West Africa

Military calmly announce on state television that they have now taken power. The people on the streets of the capital rejoice. The coup, which is sharply disapproved of outside their country, succeeded.

This scene has recently, on most occasions, taken place in West Africa. In Mali 2020 and again in August 2021, in Guinea in September 2021 and in Burkina Faso at the end of January this year. The most recent coup attempt in Guinea was Bissau on 1 February, which was stopped.

In Burkina Faso, dissatisfaction with the government was high before the coup, especially over the scale of mass killings perpetrated by jihadist groups over the past year. The jihadist conflict has led to 1,5 million people fleeing the country.

Ibrahima Maiga, activist and co-founder of the protest group Movement to Save Burkina Faso, believes that many people in Burkina Faso feel confident in the military. In relation to the lack of security, issues of democracy will not be as important.

- We love freedom, democracy, yes. But we are at the level where we are trying to survive. The most important thing is to get safety and security, he says Ibrahima Magic.

Democracy in West Africa, with its small progress, is far from over rooted in society. Elections are held at regular intervals, but liberal institutions and democratic cornerstones such as active participation in elections, trust in the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and civil liberties are lacking in the West African countries.

Idayat Hassan, head of the think tank Center for Democracy and Development in the Nigerian capital Abuja, believes that too much emphasis is placed on elections being free and fair, which takes focus from how democracy in West Africa is being eroded.

"West Africans can not see what democracy has brought, and opportunistic soldiers come in who see this government vacuum and try to fill it," he said. Idayat Hassan.

Foreign presence has contributed to the coups

Coups however, is seldom the solution to an unsatisfactory state of affairs and the trend in West Africa risks undermining the existing, yet relatively superficial, democracy in the countries. This negative spiral needs to be broken, but at the same time the conditions that have caused the coups remain.

The coups depend on both internal and external factors. Among the internal ones are a lack of national governance, the lack of a citizenship that satisfies the rights of the citizens and a widespread frustration among young people, where many feel that they have no future opportunities.

External factors include global events that affect security on the continent and not least the foreign influence in African countries. Foreign presence and strategic competition increase the likelihood of a coup occurs. Traces of this can be found in the recent coups in West Africa, where, for example, references to Russia were made both in 2020 and 2021 in Mali, as well as in the recent coup in Burkina Faso.

In order to avoid future coups the West African countries, with the help of regional and global support, need to address the lack of civil rights. The countries need to eliminate the poor socio-economic and political conditions, as well as increase security for the population. Foreign interference in African countries leading to political instability should cease and, finally, democratization in Africa needs to be adapted to local conditions.

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