West Africa’s political system could see a ‘complete overhaul’ as coups mount

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OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (January 25, 2022): Protesters gathering in Ouagadougou to show their support on January 25, 2022 for the army hold a photo of Colonel Aissimi Goita (L), the Malian military officer who served as interim president of Mali since May 24, 2021, and Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba the leader of the mutiny and the Patriotic Movement for Protection and Restoration (MPSR).

Photo by OLYMPIE DE MAISMONT/AFP via Getty Images

A coup attempt was foiled last week in the West African coastal nation of Guinea-Bissau, the latest in a series of attempted, and in many cases successful, overthrows of governments in the region.

At the end of January, soldiers from Burkina Faso deposed President Roch Marc Kaboré, citing the government’s inability to deal with the deterioration of the security situation in a country plagued by a jihadist insurgency.

Guinea’s transitional parliament was formed last week, five months after a successful coup toppled President Alpha Condé, citing allegations of corruption, human rights abuses and mismanagement economic. Mali has experienced two coups in the last 18 months, in August 2020 and August 2021.

Further east, coups also took place in Chad and Sudan last year, while an attempt to seize the presidential palace in Niger failed.

A study of Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne of the University of Kentucky found that there have been more than 200 coup attempts in Africa since the 1950s, averaging about four per year between 1960 and 2000, before dropping off in the first two decades until 2019.

In 2021, six coups or coup attempts have been recorded, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warns ‘military coups are back’ while castigating the absence of a unified international response to military interventions.

BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau, February 1, 2022: A soldier patrols the government palace area in Bissau, capital of Guinea-Bissau, February 1, 2022. Sustained gunfire was heard near the government headquarters in this West African state prone to Guinea-Bissau coups.

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Guinea-Bissau’s President Umaro Sissoco Embalo survived last week’s five-hour gun attack and the government has launched a major investigation into the foiled effort, which Umaro denied was conducted by members of the country’s armed forces.

The former general speculated that the attack was carried out by “underworld” people and linked to his efforts to fight corruption and drug trafficking.

Guinea-Bissau has become a major hub for drug trafficking, particularly cocaine, between Latin America and Europe.

International bodies “laughed”

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met in Accra, Ghana last week to discuss the worsening unrest. The organization’s chairman, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, warned that the August 2020 coup in Mali had had a “contagious” effect.

The 15-nation bloc has suspended Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso and imposed tough economic sanctions on Mali and Guinea in a bid to force transitional governments to meet promised timetables for their respective returns to civilian rule. .

However, despite efforts to impose punitive measures and deter future overthrows, regional leaders, Western allies and international bodies are struggling to stem a wave of support for military rule in West Africa.

“The coup organizers seem too willing to pursue isolationism. We see the authority of regional and international bodies being challenged and sanctions being flouted,” Eric Humphery-Smith, senior analyst for CNBC, told CNBC. Africa with political risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

ACCRA, Ghana – ECOWAS flag with members’ flags during the second extraordinary summit on the political situation in Burkina Faso, in Accra, Ghana, February 3, 2022.

Photo by NIPAH DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

“And the more coups there are, the greater the solidarity between military leaders, which will likely delay the transition to democracy.”

While Verisk Maplecroft doesn’t expect African leaders to “fall like dominoes”, Humphrey-Smith suggested that some of the region’s aging and more autocratic leaders seem more vulnerable, notably those in Ivory Coast, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo or Equatorial Guinea, all of whom have held office for at least three consecutive terms.

“Africans still view many of their leaders as corrupt and the national wealth as unfairly distributed,” Humphrey-Smith added.

“The timing of these events – two years into a Covid-19 pandemic that has been devastating to the informal economy and already cash-strapped Africans – is probably no coincidence.”

A “complete overhaul”

ECOWAS has been criticized for imposing harsh sanctions that will disproportionately affect the poorest people in targeted countries rather than the political elite.

Robert Besseling, CEO of political risk firm Pangea-Risk, also noted in a report on Tuesday that growing anti-French sentiment in postcolonial countries “will uproot Europe’s counter-insurgency interests in the Sahel and create a opportunity for Russia and Turkey to intervene”. the void.”

“A complete overhaul of West Africa’s political system, international relations and counter-insurgency strategy is on the cards, and perhaps even an economic shift away from French influence,” he said. he declared.

Besseling pointed out that ECOWAS and the African Union have failed to condemn elected leaders who seek to change their constitutions to prolong their rule.

The new AU chair and Senegalese president, Macky Sall, has himself spoken of an unconstitutional third term and, like the third term of Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, strongly opposes military transfers of power.

CONAKRY, Guinea – Lt. Col. Mamady Doumbouya, head of the army’s special forces and coup leader, waves to the crowd upon his arrival at the People’s Palace in Conakry on September 6, 2021, ahead of a meeting with ministers of the former President of Guinea, Alpha Condé.

CELLOU BINANI/AFP via Getty Images

“While the coup trend may indicate a shift in counterinsurgency strategy in the Sahel and across West Africa, the warmongering response to coups, including sanctions, freezing assets and military interventions, will further strengthen opposition to ECOWAS, the AU and their Western allies, notably France,” Besseling said.

Pangea-Risk suggested that the risk of sanctions against countries deemed susceptible to coups could discourage foreign investment and slow economic recoveries.

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