Countries around the world are becoming increasingly adept at using coups to change their rulers. The trend has been most visible in the past year in Madagascar, where activists have staged protests to stop President Marc Ravalomanana from extending his political tenure in office. The Malagasy will vote on July 18 in a runoff between Mr. Ravalomanana and former first lady and television host Andry Rajoelina.
Read the rest of the story, including what’s behind the retrenchment of African leadership? Plus, see reactions from strategists on both sides of the counter-coup: is democracy more important than stability in Africa?
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Why are coups making a comeback in Africa?
There is a deep distrust in African leaders of the institutional dynamics of their countries. Many countries in Africa are run by powerful figures, who can delay elections and even disqualify candidates from running for office, all in the name of maintaining their ruling authority.
When public frustrations at the leadership level grow, ordinary citizens often feel compelled to act themselves: By force, if necessary.
We expect coups will continue to be a very viable option for African leaders. However, we do not see that the people in Africa are ready for coups. Sub-Saharan Africa has done the “dry run” on coups and reform. Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea-Bissau and Niger have all gone through this process and it has left a stain on their very democratic foundations.
What happens if a coup fails?
The people who were seizing power often commit crimes against their own people. But these crimes take place once the protests have died down and the country has fallen into a deep state of repression and control.
Nobody wants to live in a country where the populace is routinely beaten and kicked in the streets just because they do not share the perspectives of their leaders. This is exactly the country we see in Zimbabwe.
The media estimates that Robert Mugabe’s days are numbered — Will he be ousted? »
What are the groups behind coups?
Because coups are calculated and primarily political, we should start talking about the organizations behind them. Major pro-democracy groups such as the youth wing of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party or the Rwanda National Congress are often behind coups, which in Africa is interpreted as not as subversive activity but simply a necessary political maneuver.
Coups have their very own masters: neither the people nor the international community are able to penetrate these structures. The president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, defeated by a coup led by the Goodluck Jonathan faction of the People’s Democratic Party after he decided to run for a second term, tried to crack down on some coup gangs and dispatched soldiers to arrest some former key figures. Fortunately for Goodluck Jonathan, the head of the PDP wing, Ali Modu Sheriff, was still in the presidency in Sierra Leone, and the militia leader Edward Sambo went straight to jail.
Are coups in Africa “a last resort”?
If a country goes through a democratic revolution and this happens in Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Brazzaville, Niger or Burundi, that revolution ends and these countries go back to authoritarian rule. After the revolution, local administrations are formed and they are completely under the control of the international community. This is the case in Burundi and, after two years, it is still the case in Congo-Brazzaville. Even Rwanda, which went through a massive democratic revolution and democratization process before the genocide, now has candidates returning to court for election violations.
How is the election campaign unfolding in Madagascar?
Despite the death of the right-wing opposition party — the Ligue pour la Montagne (Lumi) — the presidential election in Madagascar is fundamentally a election with no real opposition. Right-wing media has been harassed since it announced its candidate, Andry Rajoelina, as the new presidential candidate of the majority. All major presidential candidates — Andry Rajoelina, Marc Ravalomanana and family — have expressed support for the contest and called on the people to vote.
Read our first take on whether Madagascar’s presidential contest is rigged »
Emmanuel Levy is the Africa program manager for the Transnational Institute, a research and analysis organization in New York that aims to advance development and human rights through research and analysis.