The military overthrow of the democratic government in Gabon, coming a month after a similar development in Niger, is raising concerns about the future of democracy in Africa, write ADELANI ADEPEGBA and GIFT HABIB
Harvest of coups threatens Africa’s democracy, Gabon military ends Bongos’ 56-year reign
The hail of gunfire which woke the residents of Libreville, the capital of Gabon, on Wednesday, signified the latest military coup in Africa and the 10th on the continent since 2017.
The reverberations from the gunfire jolted not only Gabon but Africa and the world. Coming a month after the presidential guards in Niger ousted the democratically elected government of President Mohamed Bazoum, the development in Gabon is raising red flags and concerns across the globe.
A dozen soldiers had Wednesday morning appeared on Gabonese national television, announcing the cancellation of recent election results and the dissolution of “all the institutions of the republic.”
The announcement came after President Ali Bongo Ondimba, 64, was re-elected for a third term, extending his family’s half-century rule over the oil-rich Central African country of 2.3 million. The Bongo family, one of Africa’s most powerful dynasties, has been in power since 1967. But the opposition described the poll as a ‘fraud orchestrated’ by the ruling party.
The president confirmed he is under house arrest and called for help, urging citizens to ‘make noise.’ However, reports said there have been scenes of celebration in Libreville since the military takeover.
Speaking to the French newspaper Le Monde, coup leader Brice Nguema assured that the president will “enjoy all his rights.” “He is a Gabonese head of state. He is retired. He enjoys all his rights. He is a normal Gabonese, like everyone else,” Nguema said.
The military leader declined to confirm whether he would declare himself the new president of the Central African country.
“I do not declare myself yet. I do not envisage anything for the moment. This is a debate that we are going to have with all the generals. We will meet at 2 pm. It will be about reaching a consensus. Everyone will put forward ideas, and the best ones will be chosen as well as the name of the person who will lead the transition,” he added.
In what appears to be a confirmation of what the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called ‘’an epidemic of coup d’états,” in his condemnation of the military takeover in Sudan in October 2021, the successful overthrow of 10 democratic governments by their respective armies points to a resurgence of rabid antagonism to democracy in Africa.
Out of the 486 attempted or successful military coups carried globally since 1950, Africa accounts for the largest number with 214, of which at least 106 have been successful.
Based on data compiled by American researchers Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne, at least 45 of the 54 nations across the African continent have experienced at least a single coup attempt since 1950.
Africa’s current wave of coups began in 2019 when President Omar al-Bashir was deposed by the Sudanese Armed Forces following mass demonstrations calling for his ouster. The army under the command of Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf overthrew the government and National Legislature and proclaimed a three-month state of emergency in the nation. This was followed by a two-year transitional period before an agreement was eventually reached.
A few months later on August 18, 2020, parts of the Malian Armed Forces initiated a mutiny, which was followed by a coup d’état. Several government officials were detained, including President Ibrahim Keta, who resigned and dissolved the government.
Following in the footsteps of their neighbours, the Malian Army under the command of Vice President Assimi Gota seized President Bah N’daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, and Minister of Defence Souleymane Doucouré on the evening of May 24, 2021. This was the nation’s third coup d’état in 10 years, following the military takeovers in 2012 and 2020, the latter of which occurred just nine months earlier.
Two months later, the coup virus spread northwards and infected the Hichem Mechichi government which ousted Tunisian President Kais Saied and also suspended the Assembly of Representatives of the People on July 25, 2021. Described as a self-coup, the action followed a period of political unrest highlighted by a string of protests and the breakdown of Tunisia’s healthcare system in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the world was trying to make sense of what was happening in Tunisia, Alpha Condé, the president of Guinea, was taken prisoner by the military on September 5, 2021. The leader of the Special Forces announced the dissolution of the government and constitution in a broadcast that was televised on state television by Mamady Doumbouya. Conde’s third term Presidency had earlier sparked violent and mass protests in the country after a disputed election in October and a new constitution in March 2020 which allowed him to sidestep the country’s two-term limit.
Expectedly, the Economic Community of West African States condemned the coup and called for the restoration of constitutional authority in the beleaguered country. The regional bloc was still in the process of arraying granite sanctions against the junta when General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the Sudanese military staged a coup against the country’s government on October 25, 2021. Five top government officials, at least, were initially detained.
In consecutive fashion, the democratic administrations in Burkina Faso and Niger were also dismantled by their respective armed forces. On January 23, 2022, Burkina Faso experienced a coup d’état. The military made a television announcement that President Roch Kaboré had been removed from office.
Nine months later on September 30, Burkina Faso military leader President Paul-Henri Damiba was deposed in the country’s second coup in a year, as army Captain Ibrahim Traore took charge, dissolving the transitional government and suspending the constitution. The junta cited his failure to handle the nation’s Islamist insurgency.
On July 26, 2023, the presidential guard of the Republic of Niger detained President Mohamed Bazoum. Shortly after declaring the coup a success, presidential guard commander General Abdourahamane Tchiani assumed control of a new military junta.
Though the avalanche of military takeovers has been resisted by ECOWAS and the international community, this has not yielded the necessary result or curbed the appetite of African militaries for political power. Beyond the stock excuses for the takeovers, other factors adduced for the military intervention in democracy include foreign support or involvement, lack of discipline as well as the weakness of the regional and continental bodies such as ECOWAS, African Union, and others.
Meanwhile, the coup in Gabon has attracted reactions from the international community with the Commonwealth condemning the situation. Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said the situation was “deeply concerning.”
“The Commonwealth Charter is clear that member states must uphold the rule of law and the principles of democracy at all times,” Scotland said.
French government spokesman Olivier Veran said Paris condemns the coup in Gabon and wants the election result to be respected. Earlier, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said France is following events in Gabon “with the greatest attention.”
Paris maintains a military presence in many of its former colonial territories, including Gabon, where it has 370 soldiers permanently deployed, some in the capital, Libreville, according to the French Ministry of the Armed Forces website.
Also, Russia has expressed concern about the situation in Gabon. “Moscow has received with concern reports of a sharp deterioration in the internal situation in the friendly African country. We continue to closely monitor the development of the situation and hope for its speedy stabilisation,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated.
Retired diplomats attributed the coups to the failure of the political leaders to meet the needs of their people. A former Nigerian ambassador to Mexico, Ogbole Amedu-Ode, said the politicians must learn to deliver their mandates once elected.
Amedu-Ode stated, “Contemporary military interventions in the democratic political processes in the African region appear in Mali (August 2020 and May 2021), Guinea (September 2021), Burkina Faso (January and September 2022), Niger (July 2023), and now Gabon(August 2023). From the above enumeration, West Africa is clearly the epicentre of the resurgence of coup d’etats in the political processes in our part of the world.
“However, this resurgence of military intervention is the phenomenon of the regression of democracy which in itself is a consequence of democracy’s failure to deliver on its dividends to the people. Politicians and others involved in our political process must exert themselves to deliver on their promises.”
Retired diplomat, Amb Rasheed Akinkuolie pointed out that poor governance often leads to coups in Africa, warning, however, that coups do not yield positive results.
“Coups never bring positive results into society. In most cases, it worsens an already bad situation. One family in Gabon has been ruling for the last 55 years which is uncalled for. If they had governed well, that is a different issue. In Saudi Arabia, it is the same family ruling for years but they are happy.
“When you have a government that does not govern the people well enough, it gives room for a military coup. The military coup does not solve any problem and at the end of the day, it will be the people against the military which is worse. The people will take arms against the military. Senegal for 60 years has not had any coup. When there is a crisis, they solve it. That is a sign of civilization,” he submitted.
A former ambassador to Argentina, Chive Kaave maintained that democracy was still the best form of government, insisting that the forceful takeover of power was no longer fashionable.
He also cautioned Nigerian political leaders against complacency in delivering their electoral promises.
“All of these coups are a result of poverty, ignorance, disease, and the large scale of unemployment of young people. It should be a lesson to us here with the high rate of unemployment and ignorance. It is ignorance that is a challenge to democracy,’’ the ex-diplomat concluded.
Credit to: punchng.com