We spoke to five political analysts in four African countries for insight into the future of governance on the continent.
On August 30, 2023, Gabon became the latest African country to suffer a military overthrow of a democratic government, the continuation of a trend that started building again in 2020.
The termination of democracy in the Central African country followed closely after a similar military overthrow in Niger Republic, an event that triggered calls for a military intervention from regional partners.
Similar coups happened in Mali in 2020 and 2021, Chad and Guinea in 2021, and Burkina Faso, twice in 2022.
The spate of coups is starting to raise concerns about the future of democracy in the region. We spoke to five political analysts in four African countries for insight into the future of governance on the continent.
Prof. Ransford Gyampoh — Ghana
Democracy is failing in Africa because it’s unable to protect itself, culminating in its misoperationalisation by greedy leaders, supported for a long time by the very ignorant, docile and excessively partisan citizenry.
Corrupt leaders tend to exploit the challenged citizenry in their countries to loot resources, connive with foreign countries to decimate natural resources and generally, perpetuate bad governance that silences the opposition and flourishes regime sycophants.
These have created a state of praetorianism in many African countries where all segments of society make demands on the state, with the state unwilling to meet such demands because of bad governance, corruption and greed on the part of leaders.
Under such a state of praetorianism, coups would remain rampant and oftentimes receive support and acceptance from the citizenry, many of whom are tired and are now gaining knowledge about the bad governance of their leaders.
The antidote to coups in Africa isn’t about using force to counter-attack coup makers who oftentimes enjoy support from their people. It necessarily is about good governance that tackles corruption, protects the national interest from neocolonial foreign thieves and exploiters as well as improves the physical quality of human life of all the citizenry.
When these are done, soldiers would be kept at bay and confined to where Plato placed them in his discussion of Justice within the State. Soldiers have no business killing the state and taking over its governance but when there is a deepened state of praetorianism, the unexpected may happen in a manner that would keep rolling back the frontiers of democracy in Africa.
Milton Lucheri — Kenya
Democracy is a Western idea, originally from Greek philosophers. It may have worked for them, but unfortunately, it’s not a panacea of leadership model for the world. Different societal setups are led uniquely and differently.
Democracy doesn’t recognise that most African societies are heterogeneous and not homogeneous, as it is in Western societies where it works best.
Democratic ideals have been subtly weaponised by the West to perpetrate precarious governments in Africa, hence a conducive environment for wanton extraction of natural resources. The Chinese have a different model of leadership that works for them. Africa must find its own.
Africa should embrace quasi-democratic models of government as opposed to full democracies. A blend of cultural leadership, for example, kingdomship and chieftainship, in government will go a long way in abating incessant political upheavals on the continent.
Every citizen must feel part of the government, and avoid the us-vs-them mentality. This is achievable by developing a revenue allocation formula that takes into consideration inter alia demographics, marginalised communities, per-capita income, resource-context development, etc.
Ikemesit Effiong — Nigeria
The key challenge facing democracy in Africa is it hasn’t produced the kind of economic development and opportunities that many African leaders, policymakers and their mostly Western supporters and counterparts have insisted is the bedrock and fundamental remit of democracy.
In many of these African countries, there is a clear dichotomy between economic development and democratic outcomes. That frustration is beginning to filter into rising calls in many African countries for regime change and the takeover of governments in some of these African capitals.
What African leaders need to do is first see this as a warning call that merely conducting elections, whether flawed or well-managed, alone will not satiate or address the fundamental developmental needs that Africans grapple with. They have to transcend their current role as election managers to deliver on governance priorities. Not doing so would put them in the bull’s eye of their disaffected populations.
Godwin Toko — Uganda
Democracy — the idea that people choose their leaders who govern them with respect to human rights and the rule of law — has been corrupted on the African continent.
In countries like Uganda, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea, presidential elections are blatantly rigged with voter bribery now a norm, and electoral outcomes known well before the actual voting.
It’s this state of hopelessness that has caused negative sentiments about democracy among the masses which have in turn been exploited by military men to take power.
No coup would succeed if the masses stood against it — we saw that in Turkey years back. Here, coup leaders are welcomed and treated as heroes. Never mind that many of the coup leaders disappoint in the end.
Most African leaders have become puppets of the Western world. As such, they aren’t working to better the lives of their citizens, just their own lives and their immediate families — at the expense of their citizens.
This explains the anti-colonial sentiments against the West — especially America and France — in countries like Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso where coups happened recently. It also explains the praise being heaped on Russia.
Simply put, African leaders have failed to work for the masses, and minerals on this mineral-rich continent barely befit us. As a result, military men exploit the anti-colonial sentiments to carry on coups and to entrench them.
Olu Onemola — Nigeria
I don’t think democracy is failing in Africa, per se. Instead, constitutional and civilian coups are — and prolonged periods of poor governance and neglect of the African people are propagating the shift towards alternatives.
We all need to understand that democracy as a system of government in Africa is relatively young. Compared to our counterparts across the world, many of us are in our fifth or sixth decades of democracy.
However, unlike other countries, while trying to figure out our individual democratic values, we have the overbearing influence of our former colonial masters to contend with, in addition to our internal contradictions.
What this means is that the influence of external powerful actors often decides what goes on in our countries in terms of leadership, political ideology, and resource control. This shows that there is no self-determination.
Another example is the tenure elongation of African strongmen. We have had leaders in Gabon, Togo, Cameroon, Chad, Uganda, and Egypt altering their constitutions to remain in power — to the silence of the regional economic blocs, the African Union and other international powers.
This flawed theory that if a coup doesn’t involve the military it isn’t a coup needs to be dispelled in Africa. From rigged elections to flawed electoral processes, the African elite needs to self-evaluate and monitor each other against civilian coups.