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Opinion: Africa And Conflict Of Good And Bad Coups

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Can the current raft of coup d’etats in Africa be a signal to the end of imperialism in the continent?
That is the question on the lips of most keen watchers of progress in Africa since the continent got partitioned by thirteen (13) European countries and the United States of America, USA, during the Berlin, Germany partitioning of Africa in 1884/85 under the chairmanship of Otto Von Bismarck, the then leader of Germany.

Before dwelling on what and who triggered the rush to Africa by European adventurers, which is her wealth in natural resources, it is appropriate that we dig a bit into some facts and fictions about Africa.
That is because those factors have remained significant components of the narrative about the continent, which has continued to be the least developed amongst the seven (7) continents in the world, in-spite of the fact that she has the most natural resources.

Since the unfortunate military coup d’etat in Niger Republic on the 26th of July and another coup that was staged in Gabon on the 30th of August, there has been a deluge of commentaries about the unfortunate deceleration of democracy in the continent of Africa.

So, in deviation from the path already well-trodden by the multiplicity of commentators on the matter, l would like to crave the indulgence of readers to allow me discuss the epidemic of coups currently ravaging the continent of Africa from the prism of international relations, which is right down my alley, since it is my core area of academic studies.

To cast our minds beyond the coups which are actually symptoms of the disruption, disorganisation and destruction via fragmentation of the core fabric of Africa by European invaders, who divided up our continent as far back as 1884/85, during the infamous Berlin conference, which is about 130 years ago; we have to go back to the origin of our continent, which was defined by the tongues, tribes and cultures of the people, not the artificial borders drawn up by the colonialists that carved up the continent into multiple countries to suit their whims and caprices.

To do that comprehensively, we have to get down to the brass tacks by looking at both the mythologies and realities that have been prevailing in Africa.

In particular, King Mansa Musa, the 14th century ruler of ancient Mali empire, who travelled to Mecca on religious pilgrimage, in a convoy of horses and Camels loaded with gold, out of which he gifted so much to new friends that he met along the way during his trip, triggered the interest of Europeans adventurers, whom it had dawned on that Africa must be very rich in natural resources, particularly rare and precious gemstones such as gold and other ornaments.

That is what is believed to have triggered the rush by Europeans into Africa in search of the gold that King Mansa Musa had doled out lavishly and which culminated into their colonising the continent after they entered under the guise of religious evangelism, whereas their motives was to strip Africa of her enormous natural resource and wealth.

Staying in the arena of rumour in Africa, the recently deposed president of the natural resources endowed nation, Gabon, was back in 2015 purported to be an lgbo man from the eastern flanks of Nigeria, particularly from Owerri in lmo state.

The rumour emanated from the PM News of November 13, 2015, which reported it as front page news. The same unsubstantiated news was also reported by an online news platform, Sahara Reporters, which claimed that Ali Bongo was an adopted son of late president, Omar Bongo of Gabon.

As the conspiracy theory goes, the Elder Bongo, who didn’t have a male child and had to adopt Ali when he (Ali) along with other war ravaged children were airlifted from Uli airstrip near Owerri, the lmo state capital, during the Nigerian civil war that took place between 1967 and 1970.

While it is true and on record that the Red Cross, a global humanitarian agency, had made efforts to save the innocent children that were the most vulnerable victims of the Biafran war and were suffering from kwashiorkor by airlifting them to Libreville, the Gabonese capital, there is no record of Ali Bongo’s adoption by the late Omar Bongo.

Rumours aside, what is not in doubt is that France took over the rulership of crude oil and manganese-rich Gabon in 1885 and started administering her in 1903.

At this juncture, it is worth taking note of the fact that France took over Gabon right after Africa was partitioned by European invaders in the year 1884/85 during the infamous and ignoble Berlin, Germany conference, which happened without Africa being invited to the meeting that was held in the better part of three (3) months, where she was carved up and shared amongst strangers.

The telltale there is that if you connect the dots, it would be clear that France has been involved in the administration of Gabon since its founding, yet the country has been suffering from arrested development.

In the course of this discourse, we will return to the origin and consequences of the disruption of life in Africa by Europeans by way of their redefining African boundaries, resulting in cousins being separated by the artificial borders created by Europeans.

An active instance can be found in the northern parts of Nigeria, where most of them are reluctant to go to war against Niger Republic junta in compliance with the ECOWAS plan to invade the Nigerian neighbour, following the military coup that toppled a democratically elected president and government.
That is simply because most of those across the border in Niger Republic are cousins to Nigerians from the states contiguous to their common borders.

Were it not for European invasion, most Nigerians in the north and Niger Republic indigenes would remain in same country as kith and kins.

But for now, it is pertinent that we delve into the reason that Europe has continued to be disruptive to the growth and development of Africa pre and post-colonialism and even in current times through nuanced empire building antics.

For instance, after granting Gabon independence in August 1960, France has continued to tele-guide the country by tying her finances to French West African currency, CFA (Communante Financial d’Afrique), translated as Financial Community of Africa, under the auspices of West African Economic And Monetary Union, which is managed from Paris by France.

Records from imf.org indicate that the Financial Community of Africa, also known as CFA, is a financial instrument with which France has been controlling the economies and destinies of fourteen (14) independent African nations, eight (8) of which were formerly her colonies.

Incidentally, the 14 countries under the apron strings of France include Niger republic, where the military had on 26 July, toppled the elected president. It was barely one month after, August 30, that another military coup took place in Gabon, which is another French enclave.

The significant rise in the number of coups in Africa, leading to the take over by the military of seven(7) countries that were under democratic governance since 2020, ranging from Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Chad, Sudan, Niger and Gabon, has prompted the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, to take the hard stance of stemming the tide before it becomes contagious.

That is why the new ECOWAS chairman and President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in concert with the leadership of the regional body, declared that the toppled president, Mohamed Bazoum, must be restored back to office. For existential reasons, the enforcement of the order has proven to be quite difficult to implement.

But while the coupists in Niger Republic got an ultimatum (which they have flouted), to restore the mandate of the ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, or face the wrath of ECOWAS forces that may intervene to enforce the order, the coup plotters in Gabon were not given the same marching order to restore Ali Bongo as president and quit the scene or be forced to do so by military force.

That differentiation in approach to resolving the coups in both Niger Republic and Gabon that occurred within a space of one month (26 July – 30th August), has compelled some political aficionados to define both coups as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ coup.

The answer to how and why two (2) coups d’etats can be defined as ‘bad’ and ‘good’ could be found in Africa’s history of exploitation by Europeans, dating back to 130 years ago since the partitioning of the continent in Berlin, Germany in 1884/85.

Before delving into the nitty gritty, presumably, it would be easily discernible to keen observers why the coup that toppled Bazoum of the nation of Niger that had not completed his term, but was in the nascent stages before he was ousted, can be seen as ‘bad’ coup; but Mr Bongo that had tweaked with the status book of his country to self perpetuate for a third term even after his family has been ruling the country for about 56 years, is being deemed as a ‘good’ coup.

But before attending to the question on whether Military Coups in Africa are becoming death knell for neo-colonialism, which is the kernel of the matter at hand, let us take a critical look at the implications of the most recent two (2) coups in the west African region that have become a huge burden, if not a sort of albatross on the leadership of ECOWAS, which was thrust on Nigeria’s President, Bola Tinubu.

As we may recall, after barely two months of mounting the throne at Aso Rock Villa, seat of presidential power, on May 29, 2023, and a little more or less than three (3) weeks after he accepted the baton of leadership as chairman of ECOWAS, he got swamped by a plethora of foreign policy challenges. These include addressing the fallouts of the two coups which occurred on 26 July and 30 August respectively, and aligning Nigeria with the emerging power blocs, especially the G-20, which is a body of countries that control the levers of power of economic and political affairs of the world.

So, untangling the web of coups in Africa that date back as far as 1963 when the first successful military coup was staged in Togo, wherein President Sylvanus Olympio, was assassinated, has become one of the responsibilities that president Tinubu did not seek.

And it is a burden that he was compelled to bear by virtue of the fact that he had emerged as Nigeria’s president at a time that it was our country’s turn to preside over the ECOWAS.

That burden of managing the epidemic of coups not withstanding, the responsibility of marketing Nigeria to potential investors that President Tinubu was rearing to pursue with utmost zeal, even while he was president-in-waiting, has led to his plugging Nigeria into the new world economic order via aggressive introduction of our country to the world leveraging the shuttle diplomacy that he had made to Paris, France and London, UK, shortly after his election to share with investors out there the new vistas of business opportunities that his bouquet of policy changes has opened for them to take stakes in Nigeria, which is the biggest market in Africa.

That move has been capped by attending the G-20 meeting that has just been concluded in India, where our president made a declaration to the 20 most powerful countries in the world that G-20 without Nigeria is incomplete.

Although only African Union, AU, has been admitted into G-20 during the 63rd meeting, which was held from the 9-10th September in India, the storming of the meeting by President Tinubu and top government apparatchik, plus a powerful delegation of Nigerian businessmen and women, Nigeria has announced her arrival on the international scene.

And by that gesture, he has also signalled to the world that our country is now open for business, driven by the liberalisation of the economy by the largest market in Africa via her Tinubunomics doctrine.

Although President Tinubu, who was already racing against time in navigating through a maze of internal socio-economic and political issues besetting our country that he had inherited from his predecessor; and which he had to deal with squarely before they snowball was threatening to overwhelm him, he still had time to attend to the epidemic of autocracy, which he had aptly tagged contagion of coups sweeping across the continent.

To put things in perspective, a bit of background information about the regional body, ECOWAS would be in order.

It was formed in 1975 and it is currently comprised of 15-member states, with a combined population of 387 million and nominal GDP of $816 billion.

The member states are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

At the last count, there were seven (7) countries in a period of three years, between 2020 to 2023 that have fallen off the cliff of democracy into the abyss of autocracy via toppling of democratically elected presidents in the west African region.
These are Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Chad, Mali. The others are Sudan, Niger and Gabon, which are now under the military jackboot.

The palpable concern and ominous sign that the military is gaining more grounds in more countries in Africa, particularly West Africa, as such more countries that had embraced democracy may toe the path to dictatorship similar to the ones passed through by their contemporaries, if the ogre of coups is not stopped in its tracks before it becomes a trend.

Apparently, it is in attempts to forestall copy cat coups in neighbouring countries, that African nations presidents, such as Paul Kagame of Rwanda, sacked a huge number of top military officers including twelve (12) generals and replaced them with a new crop of officers loyal to him.

It is a strategy, if you like tactics that President Paul Biya of Cameroon, has also replicated in his country by reshuffling the military hierarchy of his country.

Incidentally, the Rwandan and Cameroonian presidents are taking the preemptive measures of checkmating the military generals in their countries because they are sit tight leaders, who have tweaked with the constitutions of their respective countries to enable them perpetuate themselves in office beyond their due term after changing the rules of the game.

Ordinarily and under normal circumstances, the epidemic of autocracy currently sweeping across Africa, would be deemed as ill-wind that would bode no good for the continent.

But the African Continent has been subjected to extraordinarily sordid experiences in the hands of her colonisers that have kept them in perpetual servitude via imperialist practices since 1884/85.

That is because although independence has been granted to all the countries on the African continent, the countries economies and often times political systems are still under the vice grip and overwhelming yoke of their colonisers.

That is particularly so with respect to France, which is the biggest culprit in the exploitation of African countries for their natural resources and often times, even their finances have remained encumbered by way of being tied to the French economy via the France Monetary Zone arrangement, CFA.

In fact, there is a notion that France is mainly the reason that there has been a harvest of coup d’etats in Africa. That is evidenced by the fact that most recent military putsches in the African continent have taken place in Francophone countries.

The European countries that had practically carved up Africa amongst themselves, comprise of English, French, Spanish and German speaking nations including Belgium, which have forced their language, cultural and religious beliefs on hapless Africans, most of whom have lost their original cultures before the invasion of the Europeans.

Research by the pair of M Powell and Clayton Thyne, who are Americans, who have taken interest in researching into the evolution of coups in the world and indeed Africa, indicate that of the 486 coups that were staged since 1950, 214 happened in Africa and 106 were successfully staged.
It is was further revealed that at least 45 of the 54 countries in Africa have experienced coup d’etats.

Although the origin of the word Africa, as the name of the continent, has been disputed by scholars, the Greek word, ‘Aphrike’, which is translated as “without cold” and the Latin word, ‘Aprica’, meaning “Sunny”, are generally believed to be the words common to Europeans, particularly Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, which they used to refer to the continent.

Also, the word AFRU-lKA, which means motherland in Egyptian language, is also a probable source of the name, Africa.

As most of us are well aware, the Europeans quest to conquer Africa commenced with the expeditions embarked upon by the likes of Mungo Park, a Scottish explorer, to whom Western historians ascribe the discovery of the River Niger in 1796, which is totally preposterous.

That is because the River Niger had been existing before the adventurers set foot on African soil, so the Scottish explorer actually should be credited only for putting the majestic river Niger on the European map, no more, no less.

Since then, the nature of the grip of Europeans on Africa and her rich natural resources have been mutating from their first coming as missionaries preaching the gospel of God to being slave traders with Africans as the merchandise, then later as colonialists by ruling over Africans in the quest of exploiting the natural resources that abound and which they have been carting away to develop Europe to their current role as imperialists engaged in unfair trade practices against Africa.

On a wholistic assessment of the situation, one fact that is glaring and indisputable is that they do not intend to let go of obtaining African natural resources for little or nothing, as opposed to engaging in fair trade with Africans in the manner that they do with fellow Europeans, Americans, Arabs and Asians.
It is such incongruities that are at the heart of the instability in Africa.

Historical records indicate that the scramble for Africa was triggered by King Leopold II of Belgium, in the Congo basin. Bearing in mind how the Belgians destroyed the entire landscape of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC in their long exploitation of the vast land in search of precious metals, until the country degenerated into its current status of being a waste land,

Going by the narrative of how Belgium ruined DRC via reckless exploitation of the abundant natural resources such as cobalt, essential for manufacturing Electric Vehicles, EVs in that country, it would be clear that all the fourteen (14) African countries under the French monetary Union, known as CFA, have been suffering the misfortune of being exploited for their highly valuable natural resources, would also be groaning in pains by being French colonies also known as Francophone nations.

That is underscored by the fact that although former French colonies have been granted independence, the reality is that political freedom has been mere facade, as they have remained under the grips of French authorities that have continuously pillaged the continent through neo-colonialism.

Take the situation in Niger Republic, which is home to huge uranium deposits, another highly priced material, critical to the production of nuclear bomb.

Due to the importance of uranium, France has a military contingent stationed there, just as the USA equally has a military base in Niger Republic.

Ostensibly, both countries can be said to be protecting the uranium asset from getting into the hands of terrorists, who could convert it to weapons of mass destruction, WMD. That is fair and justifiable.

But nothing justifies the level of poverty in Niger Republic that is so rich in natural resources, but remains one of the poorest nations on earth, hence it is a hot bed of terrorism in Africa.

It’s beggars belief that the developed world would not allow the country that is rich in uranium enjoy the deserved benefits of their God-given uranium through fair trade.

The socio-economic situation in Niger Republic validates my position in my last piece in my column last week titled, “Are BRICS And G20 Assets Or Liabilities?”, where l argued that capitalism and inequality are major culprits for terrorism in the world as the victims have been lashing out at their presumed oppressors by way of terrorist activities.

As the aphorism goes, extraordinary situations deserve extraordinary decisions and actions.
Such a mindset or attitude, although nihilistic is perhaps a weird justification by coup plotters and even terrorists of their dastardly actions.

That is why on one hand, it is difficult to chide the citizens of the countries who are celebrating on the streets of the countries where a plethora of military coup d’etats has been staged since 2020, which as at the last count, as earlier stated, number up to seven (7).

And on another hand, in line with the conventional wisdom: ‘the worst democracy is better than the best military rule’, most men and women of goodwill in Nigeria and indeed Africa detest military incursion into politics and restrain themselves from endorsing regime change through barrels of the gun and the operation of government through military diktat.

That is what has thrown up the scourge of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ coups that l had earlier illustrated with the coups in Niger Republic and Gabon.

Whereas there are two types of coups which involve military and civilian actors, hitherto, it is mainly the military ones that are notorious and often condemned, while the coups perpetrated by politicians via tenure elongation are accommodated.

But it would appear that such attitude to coups is fast changing, as Africans are now calling out political office holders, who sit tight in office by hook or crook.

The reality is that sit-tight democratically elected presidents in Africa, who tweak with the constitutions of their countries to enable them elongate their tenures, are also guilty of being coup plotters.

As such, they are culpable like the military juntas and they need to be condemned and pressured to relinquish political power as at when due, in order not to give the military the excuse to make incursions into political leadership via coup d’etats.

In particular, the worst culprit amongst former colonisers in buffeting sit-tight leaders is the French that have continued to have military bases in most of her former colonial enclaves, so much so that the French are seen as the alternative government by being the unseen hands behind the throne.

That is the case in Gabon, which is rich in crude oil and manganese, which are major foreign exchange earners, yet the citizens of the country are very poor and the standard of living of the nationals is abysmally low.

Whereas the population of Europe is estimated to be less than 750 million, Africa is about more or less 1.5 billion people. And while there are about 44 sovereign nations in Europe, Africa boasts of 54 independent nations.

But despite the superior numerical strength of Africa, Europe has continued to manipulate her basically because the continent missed the train during the Industrial Revolution that happened when the steam engine was invented in England in 1712 and the Africa continent failed to get into the loop.

The French and other colonists are being accused of buffeting the the sit-tight leaders, who they convert to their stooges. Hence, for instance, the Niger Republic coup plotters are vowing to arraign the ousted president, Mohammed Bazoum, for treason.

The continued impunity of sit-tight political leaders in Africa is clearly evidence of failure of African peer review mechanism embodied in NEPAD, which is acronym for New Partnership For Africa Development.

That is a body that is supposed to keep African leaders with vaulting ambitions in check, by pressuring them to quit the stage as at when they are due to exit political office.

But NEPAD has become complicit in the descent of Africa from being military dictatorship free, to one where democracy is fast dying as described by the pair of Steven Livitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both of whom are professors in government at Harvard University, in their seminal 2018 tome titled: “How Democracies Die”.

As the experts noted: “Democracy no longer ends with a bang-in a revolution or military coup-but with a whimper..”

Flipping the remark from democracy and replacing it with neo-colonialism from which Africa is currently choking, the end of the unbridled exploitation of Africa for her natural resources by Europeans in any guises ranging from slave trade to colonisation to neo-colonialism and imperialism; the current new raft of coups may be signalling the true independence of Africa from neo-colonialism.

Although most of African countries were granted independence in the 1960s, some, especially francophone countries have remained tied to the apron strings of their colonialists, who have continued to be their puppeteers in a sort of master-slave relationship.

Given the current political landscape of Africa, replete with coups and what l would like to term militicracy, which is so complex that it has become as intricate as a maze and as puzzling as cracking the Davinci Code, which is tasking President Tinubu’s intellect; it would appear as if the African countries that are are still under the vice grip of European hegemonic powers are determined to reimagine and enforce their freedom from any act of oppression from strangers in their land that have been tele-guiding their pliable leaders and exploiting them.

It now appears as if the emerging crop of leaders are not amenable to being the pipers that may be dictated to by who pays the pipers as the wise crack: ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’ suggests.

The truth is that Africans appear poised to be the masters of their destiny.

In my reckoning, what is happening via military coups is in the manner that the Abolitionists started the push within the USA for the abolition of slave trade, until the law was passed to that effect and the abolitionists started enforcing the end of slave trade.

By the same token, the current wave of coups in Africa which are against the second wave of enslavement which is neo-colonialism may finally end the reign of sit-tight presidents that are still besetting the continent and the bane of nation-building.

It is instructive to note that before slavery finally ended, Denmark had outlawed slave trading by its citizens in 1803, Great Britain in 1807, the United States in 1808, Sweden in 1813, the Netherlands in 1814, and France (for the second time) in 1818.
What the data above reveals is that France was the last amongst the industrialised countries of the world to give up slavery.

So, it is unsurprising that France has once again been a laggard in letting go of its imperialistic tendencies by remaining a co-sovereign in the countries that it had purportedly granted independence.

She is currently facing-off with the Niger Republic putschists that have given France, her former coloniser, a quit notice to exit her soil without further delay.

That most former French colonies are banding together to support Niger Republic’s rebellion is a telltale sign that full independence of Africa from France may be on the cusp of happening.

One sure antidote for end of coups in Africa, in my considered opinion is eradication or reduction of poverty in Africa via fair trade from the industrialised and advanced society that have been fleecing the continent of her abundant natural resources without allowing them to earn commensurate rewards.

When Africa’s 54 countries form an active common trade or political bloc, like African Union, just like the European Union, EU with 27 countries that speaks with one voice, then they would be enjoying the benefits of collective bargaining, which has been eluding them.

But even though Africa Union (AU) exists, it has been literally so only on paper, which is why they have been getting the wrong end of the stick in terms of pricing their goods and services in the global market place. The truth is that the AU has been too laid back and, therefore, unable to make a good case for Africa, except its recent success of joining the G-20 during the 63rd meeting in India.

Although other countries that were colonised by the UK, such as Canada, Australia, India, which are first world countries today, are no longer under the yoke of unfair trade, why is Africa still under the spell?

Apparently, as lots of keen observers of African political development have pointed out, while the other countries besides Africans that were the colonies of the UK and other colonisers adopted and adapted to the technological skills of their coloniser.

That point is illustrated by the fact that India, whose GDP was less than that of Nigeria in particular at a point in time, apart from the feat of recently landing a spacecraft in the moon, thus becoming the 4th country in the entire world, India currently boasts of producing most of the Chief Technology Officers, CTOs in major Fortune 500 firms.

By comparison, Africans adopted the religion, language and the culture of their colonisers, even as they were impervious to adapting to their coloniser’s technological ingenuity.

That explains why Africans are often more religious than the Pope or the bishop of Canterbury and are blind as a bat when it comes to technical innovations and the reason it continues to rely on other continents to feed her approximately 1.5 billion populace and it is tagged the dark continent.

Indeed, it is incredulous that the African continent, which is very rich in natural resources is still susceptible to divide and rule tactics of their colonisers because it is not speaking with one voice.

Although the Arab world and Asians, amongst others, have found their voices and dictate their terms of trade, Africa is still the weeping child of the world.
Little wonder she has remained the epicentre of poverty and the hot bed for military putsches, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ones, as well as an incubator for terrorism.

Clearly, the new leaders emerging on the scene such as President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria currently holding sway as ECOWAS chairman, must set his eyes on how to give the AU, which is currently punching below its size, a shot in the arm to enable her start punching according to its size, so that Africa would take its deserved strategic position in the comity of nations, globally.

By Magnus Onyibe

Mr. Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, democracy advocate, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from Lagos, Nigeria.*

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