Having looked into my crystal ball, I wrote in this column not so long ago that military coups were on the comeback in Africa and that they were poised to become an all too frequent mode of power transfer, despite the fact that they are now well-nigh unheard of elsewhere in the world.
In that piece, in mid-September, I stated that three military seizures of power had occurred hardly two years into the current decade, noting that this was a major regression, as the frequency of coups across the continent had declined to two a year at the most in the past two decades. My two pennies worth was that this was an ominous augury of what’s in store for the continent.
The ink had hardly dried on my article when, on September 21, news came through that Sudanese army officers sympathetic to former leader Omar Al-Bashir – who ruled the country with an iron fist before being toppled in 2019 – had staged an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to remove that country’s fragile transitional administration, which assumed power following Al-Bashir’s ouster and pledged from the outset it would organise free elections in 2024.
While the first attempt was foiled, another one, staged late last month, did succeed, plunging Sudan into a fresh crisis. The coup plotters arrested political leaders, including the transitional Prime Minister, and declared a state of emergency. At the time of writing, Sudan was burning – literally and figuratively. Civilians were out on the streets, demanding the restoration of civilian rule. In the ensuing confrontation with soldiers, ten protesters were shot dead, while hundreds more were wounded, drawing international condemnation. The World Bank, which has contributed about $3-billion to Sudan to support agriculture, transport, health and education, announced it was terminating all aid to the country. The US followed suit, freezing $700-million in support, while the African Union (AU) suspended the country from its ranks.
Sudan, by the way, is Africa’s most coup-prone country, with the continent’s first successful post-independence military takeover of government having been staged there back in 1958. Including failed and successful ones, Sudan has had 17 coups since those early days.
Now to why I’m convinced we have not seen the last of coups yet. The cocktail of factors that trigger coups – mismanagement of ethnic diversity within countries, human rights violations, manipulation of Constitutions to serve narrow interests, corruption, et cetera – are present in numerous African countries.
The AU is not helping matters by not adopting zero tolerance towards those who shoot their way to State House. The power usurpers in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, must have chuckled to themselves when the continental body put out the statement announcing the suspension of their country’s membership. They know the AU will eventually relent. After all, the continental body and the regional bloc – the Economic Community of West African States – reversed their suspension of Mali only weeks following the military’s August 2020 toppling of the sitting President – because the fellows in uniform had announced a new civilian transitional administration. But the fact remained that a constitutionally elected President had been forced to leave office.
The Mali example shows how cunning the coupists can be if they choose not to be blatant. In our Southern African neck of the woods, we witnessed this cunningness in November 2017, when the late Robert Mugabe was forced to step down as Zimbabwe’s leader, a position he had held for decades. The soldiers framed their move as a “military-assisted transition” whose aims included arresting criminals around the President, who was clearly in his dotage. And the AU and leaders of Southern African Development Community member countries fell for that!