Africa is undoubtedly enjoying some sort of renaissance- economically and politically. Democracy is gaining foothold in most regions of the continent, while shoot of economic prosperity is taking root. The last thing the continent need is a coup with its attendant consequences. Unfortunately that is exactly what happened this week when a rag tag band of soldiers executed a coup in Mali. The soldiers – self styled ‘The National Committee for the Establishment of Democracy’ claimed it had acted due to government’s “inability” to put down the Tuareg-led insurrection in the north. This development is particularly worrisome given that Mali had enjoyed democracy for about two decades. Is there cause for alarm? Yes.
Since 2000, there have been successful coups in Central Africa Republic and Togo, and failed coups in Sao Tome, Principe and Equatorial Guinea. In fact, the successful coup in Cote d’ Ivoire in 1998 began a cycle of political instability that has ruined a country with so much promise. The negative political and economic impacts are still being felt today.
Our concern is three folds.
First is that the coup can trigger a vicious cycle of political upheavals in Africa. It could embolden military adventurism in the continent and may very well cut short the period of relative peace and prosperity. Just recently, the World Bank projected that African countries would grow their economy by 5-7 % in 2012. While in 2010, the world economy as a whole remained stuck in crisis, Africa experienced an average growth rate of 4.5 per cent against 2.3 per cent in 2009. In the January edition of The Economist magazine, it was discovered that six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the coup happening now during Africa’s most prosperous spell is highly regrettable.
Secondly, history has shown that almost every coup produces a strong man-a leader of the pack. This strong men never know how and when to quit power. Africa, still grappling with this specie of leaders can ill afford more. While in Ghana a few years ago, the US president Barrack Obama correctly pointed out that ‘’Africa needs strong institution and not strong men’. Sadly, most of these ‘strong men’ have plundered their country’s resources without mercy.
Thirdly, the coup may easily dovetail into a full blown civil war, which may in return trigger famine, usage of children as soldiers, creation of refugee crisis for neighbouring countries and cause a humanitarian catastrophe.
The international community and ECOWAS have already condemned the coup, but obviously this is not enough. Already, the World Bank, France and Africa Development Bank have suspended all aid to Mali until the crisis is resolved. Painfully, these are much needed developmental aids targeted at education, health and other sectors of the country’s economy.
Of course, no one should be fooled by the soldier’s promise to hand over power to an elected government. It is merely pandering to a populist view to gain legitimacy. Africa and the international community should not let the coup stand.
This is principally so because, the purpose of the coup is to get more arms to quash the Tuareg rebellion in the north of Mali. Insurgencies of the kind can go on for many years giving the government a reason to hold on to power with the attendant implication that there is no time line to their handover. By the time they are done; it will be difficult to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
Moreover, previous experiences have shown that handing over power in Africa by ‘strong men’ only means a change from military uniform to civillian garb. Heads of state usually turn themselves to President and contest the elections that are never free and fair, a case of coronation by the barrel of gun.
Furthermore, the intention of the coup leaders to increase government spending on the brewing war has dire implications for the country.
If there is a lesson here, it is that the military can use anything as motive for a coup and that a country’s long term practice of democracy does not translate to immunity to coups.
Things can change in an instant, as there are always some ambitious and trigger happy soldier lurking in the next barrack.
It is paramount that Nigeria, ECOWAS and other African countries rise up to the occasion. ECOWAS has already announced that it is going to support the army, militarily to defeat the rebel- Tuareg. They should immediately send emissaries to convince the coup leaders to reverse their action with above promise of help and aid. An amnesty should also be offered to quell their fears.
Similarly, leaders should put in place measures and policies to fore stall such occurrence happening in their country.