Abdulai Mansaray: 18 August 2023:
As controversial as the question in the title might sound, Africa and especially its generations need to wrap their heads round this question. In the face of democracy as a concept, it is difficult to justify military/junta governments. It is doubly difficult to justify governments that come to power by the barrel of the gun. The best military government is tantamount to the worst civilian government.
Since independence, Africa had monopoly on and patent rights to coups. In the strictest sense of the word, not many countries have experienced the whole nine yards of democracy as we know it.
However, in the past two decades, there was an appetite for democracy that saw many countries on the continent turn coats of governance. This gave many Africans the hope that Africa was about to enter an epoch of “arrested dictatorship”.
While some democracies are still in their embryonic state of democracy, others had perfected the art of adulterating theirs, to fit their own interpretations.
Data shows that there have been 486 attempted or successful coups carried out around the world since 1950. It goes without saying that Africa as a continent, as a people and as a race- defining phenomenon is no stranger to military coups. The continent has seen 214 coups, with 106 completed as successful.
You would be forgiven to think that Africa had monopoly on, and patent rights to military coups. No wonder Donald Trump wanted a piece of the pie. Unlike previous coups that were usually matters of domestic concern, the recent rise in the overthrow of governments on the African continent and especially the Sahel region prompts a closer look at the phenomenon.
A cursory look at countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Chad, Mali, and Guinea, where military coups have been successfully carried out would reveal common factors that lead to coups in the first place. Guinea have had 3 coups, Niger 4, Mali 5 and Burkina Faso 8. For starters, these countries are blessed with natural affluence in minerals. Ironically, despite the riches in resources, these countries are chronically poor.
This leaves one to wonder whether these countries are “richly poor” or “poorly rich”. Thanks to their natural affluence, they have had the unenviable misfortune to play host to chaos and interregna, the great power competition, and become the theatre of dreams for war merchants. It is this question, among many others that makes the recent spate of military coups different from the usual.
While Africa was breathing a sigh of relief from the most barbaric events that ever took place in human history, Europe’s idea of repentance was to take the butcher’s knife and carve up the continent into colonies for the second wave, IMPERIALISM. The Berlin Conference in 1884 marked the beginning of The Scramble for Africa, a way for Europeans to eliminate the threat of a Europe -wide war over Africa. Africa became the theatre of power play and the great power competition, as individual countries were christened and categorised by ideologies of socialism, capitalism, and communism. Caught in the vortex of political gymnastics, the continent was reduced to diplomatic playground for foreign interests that were euphemistically labelled as foreign policies.
Fast forward to the 50s which marked the dawn of African enlightenment, resistance, and renaissance. Led by freedom fighters like Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkruma, Steve Biko, Amical Cabral, Leopold Senghor, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Samora Machel, Sir Milton Margai, etc, a wave of black consciousness and the empowerment of the black man swept across the continent as many African countries gained “Independence”.
Freedom fighters and many other black heroes lost their lives for having the audacity to break the shackles from the vestiges of slavery. France and Britain became the two main architects of colonialism and independence.
The British colonial administration was much more centralised and based upon cooperation with local chiefs. Every British territory was allowed to operate individually, and the governors had room to act based on what the situation demanded at the time. The French federal system was very centralised and based on assimilation of colonial territories, where all the territories in West Africa were administered from the centre, Dakar. The British knew that they would leave one day, that thought never crossed French minds. Comparatively, the French never left, but instead gave their colonies tethered independence. I remember my father giving me goats and sheep to rear and telling me that they were mine. But I was never consulted when they were sold or slaughtered. But they were mine.
So, why are the recent coups taking place in the franco phone countries?
In the last two decades, Africa witnessed the Scramble for Africa, part 2. This time, China, and Russia became payers and threatened the status quo. Is it possible that China’s “Angola-Model”, a resource-backed loan model; an infrastructure -for -minerals concession could have played a part in the reawakening of the African mind. Was this the beginning of an eye opener for the continent? Was the “Angola model” a better value for resources, that saw infrastructural developments across countries that shared a dining table with China? This was met with serious criticism from the West as African countries queued up to do business with China while the former was busy with its Arab Spring.
So, what is different with the recent coups?
Firstly, they are taking place in Franco-phone countries, and many would wonder why and why now? Mali reportedly ended its dependence on France by cancelling the agreements imposed on Franco-phone countries as conditions for independence. It declared that the French language, which was imposed as the official language no longer carried that status. Among the numerous agreements signed, Franco-phone countries had debts inherited from colonial as payment for being colonised by France. The French policy of assimilation meant that colonies were built to replicate France and French culture. As such, these colonies were forced to pay for the infrastructures that were built during the colonial era.
It was imperative that franco-phone countries deposited their financial reserves with Banque de France, which meant that the local currencies were directly linked to and unilaterally valued by France respectively. This gave France the power to confiscate national assets and reserves. Franco-phone countries were forced to use the CFA as the currency and continues even though France uses the Euro these days. Now you know how France cultivated nations led by puppet leaders.
In addition, France has “first refusal” on any natural or raw materials, and French interests and companies were prioritised in public and procurement tenders.
France had monopoly on military equipment, training, and the right to deploy troops and intervene to defend its interests in the country if those interests are threatened. The countries were forbidden to form any military alliances with any other country. This meant that they could not even buy a butcher’s knife from another country.
France has a standard standby agreement with its former colonies to ally with France in the event of war or global crisis. This means that these Franco -phone countries never have or had a say in the affairs of global events. These were just some of the political guardrails that France had in place, to ensure that its umbilical cord with its former colonies remained intact even after “independence”.
So, where Franco-phone countries ever free and independent, post-colonial rule?
It is worth looking at some of the ideas around the concept of freedom. Freedom is not only a question of escape from external constraints but also about self-mastery. Although the concept of freedom can be a slippery one, it can be categorized into “freedom from what” and “freedom to do what”.
The above shows that colonial countries were and are never free from, nor free to do. It is interesting that ECOWAS and its surrogates are masquerading as High Priests of democracy now. If democracy is a type of governance by the people, for the people and of the people, whatever has been going on in the guise of imperialism has proved democracy to be an empty platitude.
The concept of independence for African countries has withered to stacks of meaningless words or reams of paper in dusty vaults of colonial relics. Was that why Sankara was assassinated, for having the audacity to strive for his country’s self-sufficiency? Sankara once said that “you can assassinate an individual, but you can’t kill an ideology”.
These were some of the fundamental ideologies that shaped black heroes like Thomas Sankara to kick against the so-called independence of African countries. So, is it time for the African continent restore and reset itself to factory settings. What is happening in the Sahel is the combined repetition of history.
The Scramble for Africa (part 2) has coincided with Africa’s clamour for independence, just like the old days. Whatever is happening in the Sahel should be a collective watershed, a reawakening and renaissance for Africa. With leaders like presidents William Ruto (Kenya) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda), there is a chink of hope that the mindset needs a reset.
In the meantime, psychics, theorists, and spiritualists see the current situation in the Sahel as the reincarnation of Thomas Sankara’s spirit. Similarities have been drawn between Sankara and Ibrahim Traore, the leader of Burkina Faso. The same has been made for ideological similarities between Muamar Gaddafi and William Ruto. It might sound preposterous but are these reincarnations?
The ongoing saga in the Sahel requires the continent to wake up and smell the coffee. Africa needs a second wave of the empowerment of its people. The principles of freedom show that “It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most who will conquer.” (Terence Macswiney,).
Unlike many other coups on the continent, these recent ones are not only for the domestic consumption of individual countries but a collective responsibility for Africa to say in one voice: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. LET’S BE EQUALS. You don’t need to carry a gun to be a freedom fighter. But you can keep the dream alive by changing the mindset and spread the message.
Should the African continent support the coups in the Sahel? No one is free until everyone is free. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter” (MLK). Don’t forget to turn the lights on when you leave the room.