- Christopher Giles and Peter Moy
- BBC News
Military coups have been a frequent occurrence in Africa in the decades since its countries’ independence.
The recent events in Mali are just another example of the army’s attempt to influence the course of events. It is the second military intervention there in less than a year.
In neighboring Niger, a coup attempt was thwarted in March, just days before the inauguration of the president.
So, are military interventions happening more frequently on the African continent?
When is a coup a coup?
One definition used defines a coup as: an illegal and public attempt by the military (or other civilian officials) to remove leaders in power.
A study by two US researchers, Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thani, identified more than 200 such attempts in Africa since the late 1950s. About half were successful – success defined as lasting more than seven days.
Burkina Faso, located in West Africa, had the most successful coup attempts, with only one out of seven failed coup attempts.
At times, those involved in this type of intervention deny that it is a coup d’etat.
In Zimbabwe, in 2017, a military coup ended the rule of Robert Mugabe, who had ruled the country for 37 years.
At that time, Major General Sibusiso Moyo, one of the leaders of the military operation, appeared on television, categorically denying the army’s seizure of power.
In April of this year, after the death of Chadian leader Idriss Deby, the army installed his son as interim president leading a transitional military council. His opponents called it a “dynasty coup”.
“Coup leaders almost always deny that what they have done is a coup in an attempt to show that their accession to power is legitimate,” says Jonathan Powell.
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In the four decades between 1960 and 2000, the total number of coup attempts in Africa remained remarkably constant at an average of about four a year.
However, this rate has since fallen to about two coup attempts per year during the two decades until 2019.
In the opinion of Jonathan Powell, this is not surprising when considering the instability experienced by African countries in the years following independence.
He says, “African countries have common conditions that lead to coups, such as poverty and poor economic performance. And when there is one coup in a country, it often portends more coups.”
Ndubisi Christian Ane of the University of KwaZulu-Natal says the popular uprisings against long-serving autocrats have provided an opportunity for a resurgence of coups in Africa.
He adds, “Although popular uprisings are legitimate and led by the people, their success is often determined by the military.”
What are the countries?aWhich team experienced the largest number of coups?
Sudan had the largest share in coups, as their number reached more than 15 attempts, five of which succeeded. The most recent was in 2019, which led to the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir after months of popular protests.
Al-Bashir himself seized power in a military coup in 1989.
Nigeria was notorious for the occurrence of military coups in the years after independence, the country faced eight coups in the period between January 1966 and the seizure of power in 1993 by General Sani Abacha.
However, since 1999, power in Africas most populous country has revolved around democratic elections.
The Republic of Burundi also experienced 11 separate coups, most of which were prompted by tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi communities.
As for the Republic of Sierra Leone in West Africa, it witnessed three coups between 1967 and 1968, and another coup in 1971. In the period between 1992 and 1997, the republic faced five other coup attempts.
Ghanas share of military coups was eight attempts in two decades. The first occurred in 1966, when Kwame Nkrumah was removed from power, and the following year, a group of junior army officers staged another failed coup attempt.
Thus, we conclude that the African continent, in general, has witnessed more revolutions than any other continent in the world.