By Chris Zumani Zimba
According to Christopher Giles of BBC Africa’s article “Gabon coup: Is Africa seeing fewer military takeover attempts?”, two prominent US political scientists, Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne from the University of Central Florida and the University of Kentucky respectively, have documented that the global world has experienced a total of 475 coups between 1950 and January 2019 with Africa leading the continental ranks as it has experienced 204 (104 failed coups and 100 successful ones) while South America seconding with 135 (95 attempted coups and 40 successful ones). On Monday morning, 7th January, 2019, a small group of junior Gabonese military soldiers unsuccessfully tried to take over the country to “restore democracy” as President Ali Bongo is has been out of country for two months (earlier in Saud Arabia and now in Morocco) receiving medical treatment in after having a stroke. In Gabon coup attempt, two army ‘rebels’ were killed and the government said the situation was now “under control” and normalized. The Bongo family have ruled Gabon since 1967.
Despite Africa leading the global rank of military takeovers, the recent coup in Gabon was a terrible flop just like in many other countries within the region. Why and what could be the core reasons behind increasing unsuccessful military takeovers in modern Africa?
- In the past, leaders feared the soldiers, now they fear the voters-citizens
Generally, the days of Idi Amin of Uganda, Sadam Hussein of Iraq or Gaddafi of Libya are over and buried in the history of African political graves. During these days of autocracy and military dictatorship when political darkness and fear reigned over many citizens, men and women blindly praised powerful army generals as their saviors for running heavy military weaponry and personnel in the capital city one material morning or night with bloodshed and death to forcefully overthrow a sitting government for neglecting or impoverishing their people. Today, many African citizens are not comfortable to support regime change through military weaponry or physical force because electoral democracy seem to be their most preferred choice and means to establish and change a government. Most modern African citizens want to vote for their own political heroes and leaders as opposed to military imposition. The junior soldiers in Gabon failed to appreciate this political reality hence the terrible failure of their coup.
- Direct Military Takeovers can never be praised in modern democratic Africa
The military in Zimbabwe understood the fact that a direct military takeover would have been denounced and criminalized both by national, regional and international laws and stakeholders. Realizing that the ‘popular court’ would reject them, they only held Robert Mugabe at his presidential palace and addressed him as their President, Head of State and Government while his own party members, parliament lawmakers, cabinet officials and the masses peacefully demanded for his resignation-which he did. This shows the extent to which both the soldiers and citizens believe and respect constitutional democracy as opposed direct military takeovers. Powell argues that “coup leaders almost invariably deny their action was a coup in an effort to appear legitimate,” exactly what Maj Gen Sibusiso Moyo, did when he appeared on Zimbabwe television to deny flatly that it was a military takeover. The Gabonese junior soldiers lacked this professional understanding to this unpopular political intervention in modern democratic Africa.
- The end of the cold war between Moscow and Washington strangled coups
The Gabonese soldiers were misled to be inspired by past successful coups that were common and became rampart in many parts of Africa during the cold war era-1960 to 1990. The Gabonese coup leaders failed to realize that many of those past successful military takeovers in Africa had some either technical, material, financial or military backing of either Moscow or Washington for different reasons to the extent that, in this modern unipolar world system especially without the support of any super power, such a venture becomes to both perilous and a huge gamble at your own peril. Powell says the end of Cold War between the US and Soviet Union has a significant bearing on the decline of coups in Latin America, Africa, Middle East or Asia as the Capitalist visas the Community super power geopolitical rivalry and meddling in small states affairs has equally declined.
- The regional and international state actors denounce and sanctions coup leaders
The firm regional and international solidarity for constitutional governments especially in electoral democracies coupled with tough sanctions against military juntas like Haiti in 1994 has also led to the decline of military coups. Talk about the UN, EU, AU, SADC, ECOWAS, IGAD, EAC or COMESA, their respective charters clearly recognize and commit to bilaterally or multilaterally cooperate with constitutional and popular legitimate governments to the effect that they all denounce and even go further to mobilize or impose economic, military or technical sanctions against unconstitutional military governments anywhere. Unless the coup leaders were too drunk, this political truth of modern Africa or global community which is overtly against military takeovers by norms and practices should have guided the Gabonese soldiers to avoid taking such a wasteful, dangerous and unpopular venture.
Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher and Consultant. Besides being the CEO and Managing Consultant at Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia, he analyses African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Radio, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:45hours CAT. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles.