Military Coups in Africa: The Re-Emergence of Opportunist Putschists

Rasheed Akinkuolie

The taking over of governments by force of arms / coup d’état is gradually becoming the norm in Africa, especially in West Africa, where the Armed Forces of Mali, Guinea-Conakry and Burkina Faso have taken over the reins of government, thereby, bringing back the dark era of military governments, which took away the joy of independence from Africa.
Colonel Assimi Goita of Mali, Colonel Mammady Doumbouya of the Armed Forces of Guinea-Conakry and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri Damiba, an officer in the Armed Forces of Burkina Faso have overthrown their respective governments. There was an attempted coup in Guinea Bissau, which luckily failed, but took several lives with it.
These coups were staged for selfish and personal reasons. The putsch in Mali was a preemptive action to cover up high level corruption in the country, which a BBC Service documentary titled ‘FALLEN AND FORGOTTEN IN MALI’ exposed. It revealed how unserviceable weapons were purchased from Asia, bulletproof vests were stuffed with paper cardboards, entitlements of fallen soldiers were stolen etc. The proceeds of such corrupt practices were used by senior military officers to fund opulent lifestyles in the country and abroad. The taking over of the government was to block the probe of these corrupt practices .
The Junta in Mali is illegitimate and corrupt. And it cannot be allowed to hold the people of the country to ransom. The Junta’s two coups and plan to stay in power for 5 years is absolutely unacceptable.
ECOWAS must, therefore, be firm and resolute in taking further strong measures against the Malian Junta, which at this stage, should be military action to restore peace and stability in the country. Colonel Assimi Goita will bear personal responsibility for the collateral damages, that may occur from such a conflict.
On the other hand, if there is a peaceful resolution of this crisis, based on ECOWAS transition plans, Colonel Goita and his colleagues will be granted amnesty to retire honorably from the Malian army, with full benefits.
In Burkina Faso, the military coup in the country was staged by military officers loyal to former President Blaise Campaore, who is standing trial in absentia for the 1987 assassination of former President Thomas Sankara. The coup was masterminded by Blaise Campaore, who is a fugitive in Abidjan to facilitate his return and close the criminal charges against him. Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri Damiba, the self proclaimed President of Burkina Faso and Head of the Junta, was one of the closest allies of the former President.
The Junta should be served an ultimatum to restore the dissolved democratic institutions in the country and reinstate President Marc Roch Kabore to his office, as Head of State of the country, or alternatively hand over to an ECOWAS approved transition government, which will conduct an election within 90 days.
The proposal by the Junta for a 36 months transition period is a ridiculous ruse to hoodwink the community, before it unleashes another long reign of terror on the people of Burkina Faso.
The investiture of Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri Damiba in a stage managed ceremony, on 2nd March, 2022 , if allowed to stand, may become the norm in Africa, where thugs with guns will take over governments and impose themselves on the people.
ECOWAS must, therefore, not waiver nor be afraid to take decisive action against the Junta in Burkina Faso. The Junta will be removed by force, if the directives of ECOWAS is ignored beyond the end of March, 2022
In Guinea Conakry, Colonel Doumbouya staged the coup that ousted his boss; former President Alpha Conde, who wanted to use him to suppress any opposition to his regime. But, Colonel Doumbouya cannot take over the government for himself by replacing one wrong with a greater wrong.
He must conduct a credible election; present a timetable by the end of March 2022, and hand over to an elected government within 12 months.
Colonel Doumbouya cannot be a candidate at the election, nor any serving military officer.
Colonel Doumbouya’s true colours is gradually unfolding in Guinea. He has started cracking down on civilians, along ethnic lines, intimidating Judges, Civil Servants and Soldiers , who may not share his views on governance or handing over to an elected government. ECOWAS should keep a close watch on his activities , so that appropriate charges will be brought against him at the appropriate court, after he must have left office.
Colonel Doumbouya should hand over peacefully, as suggested, to earn respect and life, like his predecessor, General Sekouba Konate, who in 2010 handed over to Alpha Conde within a year. The alternative to this appeal for a peaceful resolution will be military action to oust him.
The ECOWAS summit of Heads of State, which took place in Accra-Ghana, on 3rd February, 2022 did not report any progress in the negotiations with the Juntas; an indication that the Juntas are not interested in bringing the crisis to an end, through peaceful means.
In this regard, ECOMOG, Land, Air and Naval Forces must prepare for military action in the three countries, within the shortest possible time.
ECOMOG soldiers and military hardwares should be deployed along Malian borders with Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire in the weeks ahead. Thereafter, pre-emptive military attack against Mali will commence without any warning. And the operation will not stop, until Bamako is liberated, and Colonel Assimi Goita is arrested .
The military operation will proceed from Mali to Burkina Faso and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri Damiba will also, in likewise, be arrested.
The coastal territory of Guinea-Conakry will be blockaded by the Naval Forces of ECOWAS countries; led by the Nigerian Navy, such that entry and exit of merchant and war vessels from the Port of Conakry or any port in the country will be prevented. Thereafter, Conakry will be liberated by the community’s Naval Forces with the support of ECOWAS, Air Force assets in Freetown and Monrovia. And Colonel Mammady Doumbouya will be arrested to face the full force of martial law.
The determination of ECOWAS to restore constitutional rule in these countries should not be put in doubt. In similar circumstances, Nigeria was forced in 1998 to reinstate the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. This was after, all negotiations and efforts to restore constitutional order in the country was rebuffed. The leader of the military Junta was captured and publicly executed in Freetown, along with the Chief of Staff of the Army, Brigadier Samuel Koroma and Colonel Sesay. The same extreme measure will be taken now, and at all times, if circumstances warranted it.
The young officers involved in this confrontation should not allow greed, foolhardiness and inordinate ambition to overwhelm their sense of reasoning. The odds against them are too great to be ignored.
The Armed Forces of ECOWAS countries, must learn to accept the supremacy of civilian administrations in their respective countries. A Military government is not an alternative or a standby government, even where there is bad governance. The worst civilian government is better than the best military government, and this fact cannot be disputed with the catastrophic records of the military regimes in Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Myanmar, Pakistan, Ethiopia etc.
The issue of bad governance by civilian administrations, nevertheless, cannot be ignored. It is a real problem, which must be addressed holistically.
It is true that some democratically elected governments become oppressive, despotic and corrupt. These Presidents, sooner or later end up in exile or in prison. But, it is not the business of soldiers to determine, what constitutes good or bad governance. Their interventions always worsen, an already bad situation.
However, elected governments must act responsibly; fight corruption, poverty unemployment and other causes of instability by serving the people selflessly like the founding fathers of Africa’s independence.
The war in Mali has spread to other countries in sub Saharan Africa; and it can only be resolved through dialogue.
Malian governments, past and present have not appropriately managed the cultural, religious and social differences of the various ethnic groups in the country. The marginalization of the Touaregs and other aggrieved tribes in Mali should be resolved by granting autonomy to them within a Malian federation.
Secondly, the military option currently adopted is a sheer waste of resources and human lives. The foreign powers involved in the war are not acting out of altruism or in good faith. The core objective is to set up military bases in West Africa, in furtherance of the plans to have permanent foot hold in Africa, their dream ‘place in the sun’ The Malian war can be resolved in-house by the people of Mali, with the support of ECOWAS. And this will be after getting rid of the soldiers .
The tenure elongation by some Heads of State is not in their interest, nor in the interest of the community. A tenure of 8 years in office is enough to make a meaningful impact, by a government with vision and purpose. The leaders involved in this game should leave, when the ovation is loudest, rather than face the humiliation of being driven out of office by an angry crowd or opportunist soldiers.
The open market, privatisation, devaluation of currency policies, which became the norm in Africa in the past four decades, created a small group of rich oligarchs and a very poor population. This factor, which cannot be ignored is responsible for the kidnappings and such heinous crimes in the continent.
A made in Africa economic policy, which will place emphasis on education, health care, agricultural production, raw materials transformation, direct welfare programs for the needy, protection and support for small and middle scale businesses will create jobs, social harmony and peaceful coexistence between the rich and the poor.
When all of these issues are resolved holistically, there will be no room for opportunist soldiers to disrupt the democratic system, nor for the people to seek redress by violence.
Finally, let it be reiterated, once again, that military coup in the community is anathema, which will not be tolerated. Military officers should aspire to become Generals and not Heads of State.

*Ambassador Akinkuolie Rasheed, was Director of Trade and of Foreign Affairs, Abuja Nigeria