Eight Coup D’états in Africa Between 2020 and 2023
BY ADEKE CHUKWUKA
Coup d’états in Africa were significantly more frequent post independence. This period coincided with leaders consolidating power through their political parties, which often restricted the possibility of peaceful transitions. The primary method for leadership change became the use of force, leading to newly sovereign nations grappling with political instability, internal power struggles, and difficulties in forming effective governance structures.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of fresh coup d’états, even after over two decades of apparent respite. Since 2020, approximately eight coups, along with failed attempts, have unfolded in countries, particularly in the West African region.
In the contemporary landscape, African leaders now ensure and prolong their authority by manipulating constitutional term limits or age restrictions. Termed “constitutional coup d’état,” this approach enables leaders to extend their tenure and strengthen their control. This pattern has revived the military’s involvement in civilian affairs, exemplified by the occurrences in Niger, Chad, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan, Gabon, and Burkina Faso.
With the exceptions of Guinea-Bissau and Sudan, most of these recent coup instances have taken place in countries formerly colonized by France. Experts attribute this concerning trend to the lasting influence of France even post-independence, resulting in widespread poverty, ineffective governance, and a lack of robust civil society.
While political stability is relatively maintained in Anglophone Africa, full fledged democracy has not firmly established itself in Francophone Africa.
Starting with Gabon, being the country with the most recent coup. A group of senior military officers in Gabon seized power through a coup, canceling election results and interrupting President Ali Bongo’s third-term victory announcement.
Bongo, the son of former president Omar Bongo, succeeded his father, who ruled Gabon for nearly 42 years until his passing in 2009. During his late father’s presidency, Bongo held various positions including Minister of Foreign Affairs (1989 – 1991), representing Bongoville as a Deputy in the National Assembly (1991 – 1999), and Minister of Defense (1999 – 2009). Ali Bongo became Gabon’s President in 2009 and was re-elected in 2016 amidst elections criticized for irregularities, arrests, and human rights violations.
In July 2023, Niger’s presidential guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum, claiming they were seizing power to address security issues and governance problems. The junta later appointed Abdourahamane Tiani, head of the presidential guard, as the new leader. This raised concerns about regional security, as Niger was a Western ally against insurgencies linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Currently, ECOWAS, the West African bloc, aims to negotiate with the coup leaders, but are prepared to deploy troops if diplomatic efforts fail to restore constitutional order. Niger has now given permission for Mali and Burkina Faso’s military forces to intervene within its borders in the possibility of an attack from ECOWAS.
In January 2022, Burkina Faso’s army removed President Roch Kaboré, holding him responsible for not effectively addressing Islamist militant violence. The coup’s leader, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, promised to enhance security, but attacks escalated. This decline contributed to low morale within the military, leading to another coup in September 2022, making it the second coup to have happened that year. The current junta leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore has taken full control of the affairs of the country.
Guinea’s special forces’ commander, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, In September 2021, seized power from President Alpha Conde. The previous year, Conde had altered the constitution to bypass term limits, which led to extensive riots due to his bid for a third term. Doumbouya assumed the role of interim president and committed to organizing democratic elections within three years. However, ECOWAS dismissed this timeline and enforced sanctions on junta members and their families, including freezing their financial assets.
In April 2021, Chad’s military assumed control when President Idriss Deby was fatally injured during a visit to troops engaged in combat against northern rebels.
According to Chadian law, the speaker of parliament was supposed to become president. However, a military council intervened, dissolved the parliament to maintain stability, and appointed General Mahamat Idriss Deby, Deby’s son, as interim president. He was responsible for a year-and-a-half transition period leading to elections. The illegitimate power transfer sparked protests in N’Djamena, which were suppressed by the military.
In August 2020, a coalition of Malian colonels, led by Assimi Goita, seized power from the constitutional President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The coup took place after widespread protests against worsening security, disputed legislative elections, and corruption accusations against the government.
Under pressure from Mali’s West African neighbors, the junta initially agreed to transfer power to a civilian-led interim government, responsible for an 18-month transition to democratic elections in February 2022. However, tensions emerged between the junta and interim president Bah Ndaw, leading to a second coup in May 2021. Assimi Goita, the interim vice-president, became president. Some sanctions were lifted by ECOWAS as the military rulers proposed a two-year transition plan to democracy and introduced a new electoral law. Mali plans to hold a presidential election in February 2024 to reinstate constitutional governance.
Sudan military dissolved the power-sharing government, declared a state of emergency, and shattered prospects for a peaceful transition after the removal of former President Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
Sudan had a fragile military-civilian alliance in power since 2019. However, the military assumed control by dissolving the power-sharing Sovereign Council and transitional government, briefly detaining Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
Sudan’s chief general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, stated that the agreement with civilian members of the transitional sovereign council turned into a two-year conflict, endangering Sudan’s peace and unity. As a result, certain constitution articles were suspended, and state governors were ousted.
Although there was a coup attempt in Guinea-Bissau, it ended up unsuccessful, though it is still regarded as a coup attempt in the history books.
On February 1, 2022, armed individuals encircled the government palace, where President Umaro Sissoco Embaló and Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam were thought to be present for a cabinet meeting. According to the state broadcaster, gunfire harmed the government palace near the airport, and “invaders” were controlling government officials. Portugal’s foreign affairs minister stated that President Embaló was in his official residence, but it remained uncertain whether the attack on the government had concluded.
President Embaló assured AFP news agency over the phone that the situation was “under control” and stated, “All is well.” He announced plans to address the nation from the government palace, inviting reporters to attend. In his address, he revealed that a “failed attack against democracy” had occurred, leading to casualties among security forces. Embaló detailed that assailants attempted to breach the government compound right after the cabinet meeting but were repelled. He described the incident as an assassination attempt rather than a simple coup, emphasizing that the aim was to eliminate the president, prime minister, and the entire cabinet.
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