The Age of Coups Continues

Earlier this month, incoming African Union Chairman Bingu wa Mutharik, president of Malawi, said that the organization must take measures to stop coups and wars. He already faces a challenge on that front: in Niger, a military body called the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy has taken power in a coup and arrested President Mamadou Tandja.

Democracy subverted? Not really – given that Tandja disregarded constitutional provisions in order to remain in power past his two-term limit, this coup represents a transition from one less-than-democratic scenario to another. So what does this mean?

Regional, continental, and international bodies are, of course, concerned not only for Niger’s stability but also for the stability of the entire region. With tense transitions underway in Guinea after a coup there in 2008, transitions recently completed in Mauritania after a coup there the same year, and a history of military interventions in West Africa, those concerns are warranted. Perhaps the leaders of neighboring countries hope the CSRD will follow through on its promise to restore democracy in Niger, but are they comfortable having the military as the referee of the democratic process? It has often taken substantial additional violence (as in Guinea) before military leaders relinquish their hold on power after a coup.

Viewed in the context of its neighborhood, the coup in Niger has some worrying implications. To simplify things a lot, crushing poverty and weak democratic institutions seem to concentrate power in the hands of those who control the state, and neither opposition parties nor regional pressure nor other actors (business persons, religious leaders, etc) seem to provide much of a counterweight to any given regime. Only the military has the power to challenge the regime. These conditions exist in a lot of Sahelian countries, meaning that while we should not expect coups in Niger’s neighbors, neither should we rule out the significant possibility of other coups taking place in the years to come. The age of coups is not past in West Africa.

Nor is it past in other parts of the world. The coup in Niger reminds us that militaries in many countries will not hesitate to intervene in politics – in fact, it seems to me that militaries are politicized in more countries than not. From Honduras to Pakistan, coups have been a part of the post Cold-War political landscape, and I see no real indications that coups will cease. Pronouncements of the definitive triumph of democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union continue to ring hollow.

4 thoughts on “The Age of Coups Continues

  1. i think you’re right in pointing out that coups are likely to continue but we also need to understand why that is the case. in a recent article i argued that this is the case because autocratic leaders simply refuse to demilitarize the state which could both reduce the likelihood of coups occurring in the future AND weaken their capacity to control a country where public discontent is on the rise. You can read my article here:
    I welcome any thoughts and criticisms. Coups are quite frequent in Africa – we’ve seen coups and attempted coups every year year since 2000 but not enough people try to analyze the causes of these coups and how they can be prevented in the future.

  2. Coups will persist as long as leaders refuse to professionalize their armies. My hope is that the so called supreme council re-institutes democracy ASAP.

  3. Pingback: Saturday Links: Niger Coup, Yemen and Somalia, Chad and the UN, Sudan Elections « Sahel Blog

  4. Pingback: Niger: A Rapid Post-Coup Transition? « Sahel Blog

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