Over the last decades, the coup d’états have been a recurrent feature in the political landscape of sub-Saharan African countries. Often due to a rise of corruption and poverty, the coup d’états in Africa are even more complicated with the Cold War rivalry between the West and Russia (Cheeseman 2016). The superpower countries tend to influence African politics by backing some leaders, often irrespective of their country’s catastrophic economy, soaring living costs, and widespread population grievances. This complex interplay of internal socio-economic challenges and external geopolitical interests has created a volatile environment wherein military intervention has emerged to consolidate power. Over time, Africa’s political landscape has evolved, witnessing transitions towards multiparty democracy and efforts to address the root causes of coups through peacekeeping and conflict resolution initiatives. Despite progress in many areas, the historical legacy of coup d’états continues to shape the trajectory of many African countries, mainly West Africa. Within the African geopolitical context, where coup d’états have intermittently punctuated the political realm with diverse frequencies, a pertinent query arises: are leaders aware of the unforeseen outcomes? Moreover, is there a recognition that the acknowledged precipitants of coup d’états, namely corruption, have become ingrained within the foundation of societies and institutional frameworks? This article delves into the multifaceted repercussions of coup d’états in Africa, shedding light on the unforeseen outcomes that permeate through the fabric of societies and institutions. Through careful analysis, I aim to glean insights into the enduring impact of these tumultuous events on the continent’s political, economic, and social landscape.
A coup d’état in countries often triggers a belief that holds the potential to reshape the entire nation in various sectors, mainly economic and political. Many of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa gained independence from colonial powers in the 1950s and 1960s. The period of independence ascension was marked by high hopes for self-determination but also by political uncertainty and fragility. However, new nations experienced a rapid turnover of leaders and governments, as political institutions were still nascent. Although the institutions are in their nascent stages, the competition between Western powers and their counterparts in Russia, as well as the growing influence of allies such as China, has led to a state of stagnation for governments and leaders, mainly in West Africa. The rivalry of the superpowers seeking to gain influence in Africa often supports various governments and leaders, sometimes exacerbating instability. This geopolitical competition, rooted in ideological and strategic interests, has led to instances where external actors prioritize their own influence over the stability and development of African nations. Such interference can inadvertently fuel political tensions, as leaders may become more inclined to align themselves with external powers rather than focusing on their citizens’ pressing needs and concerns. Consequently, this dynamic has the potential to hinder progress towards sustainable governance and socioeconomic development in the region.
There is no denying that several African countries saw a rise in authoritarian regimes with leaders maintaining power and often suppressing opposition over centralized authority. This trend, borne out of a variety of historical, political, and socio-cultural factors, has had significant ramifications for the democratic aspirations of many African nations. The rise of authoritarian regimes in several African countries, characterized by leaders consolidating power and suppressing opposition in favor of centralized authority, is well-documented (Cheeseman, 2016; Diamond, 2002). This trend is underpinned by a complex interplay of historical, political, and socio-cultural factors, reflecting both the legacy of colonialism and indigenous political traditions (Englebert, 2009; Tull, 2015). The implications of such authoritarian governance for the democratic aspirations of African nations have been profound. While proponents argue that these regimes provide stability and order in contexts of political fragility (van de Walle, 2001), the concomitant stifling of dissent and concentration of power can obstruct the development of a pluralistic political discourse and impede the growth of inclusive, accountable governance (Bratton, 2015; Magaloni & Kricheli, 2010). Consequently, the persistence of authoritarian rule exacerbates societal divisions and begets enduring political and social consequences that pose formidable challenges to the overall progress and development of the affected nations (Smith, 2017; Ndulo, 2009).
The unforeseen outcomes that permeate through the fabric of societies and institutions in Africa in the aftermath of a coup d’état can have far-reaching and multifaceted consequences. Although the outcomes of a coup d’état can vary widely depending on factors such as the nature of the coup, the response of the international community, and the actions of the new leadership, the coup d’état can undermine the democratic processes. The erosion of democratic governance can lead to a deterioration of civil liberties, suppression of political opposition, and weakening of democratic institutions. In most countries, the coup d’état led to an abrupt change of leadership, and the abrupt change following a coup d’état can have detrimental effects on economic stability. This upheaval often leads to a decline in foreign investment, decreased economic growth, and heightened uncertainty for businesses (Collier & Hoeffler, 2002). The sudden shift in political power can create an environment where investors are hesitant to commit capital, and businesses may delay or scale back operations due to the unpredictable nature of the new regime.
The ethnic, religious, and regional divisions in the country following a coup d’état are often unforeseen. One prominent example of a prolonged conflict in West Africa with ethnic divisions exacerbated by a coup d’état is the Sierra Leone Civil War (1991-2002). The conflict was ignited by a coup d’état in 1991 led by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which sought to overthrow the government. The war was characterized by extreme brutality, including widespread atrocities, amputations, and the use of child soldiers. The RUF, primarily composed of fighters from the Mende ethnic group, targeted the Temne and other groups, exacerbating pre-existing divisions. In Mali, the military coup in 2012 led the citizens to experience a complex conflict involving various armed groups, including Islamist extremist factions. This coup d’état further destabilized the country and contributed to a multifaceted conflict with religious and ethnic dimensions (International Crisis Group, 2018).
The coup d’états are generally considered illegal and undemocratic means of seizing power. They often lead to political instability, and human rights abuses, and can have negative long-term consequences for a country. However, under some circumstances, the removal of corrupt and/or ineffective leadership sounds legitimate to consolidate power and break the cycle of mismanagement. While some individuals may perceive these as benefits, some significant risks and costs include potential violence, loss of life, political instability, the erosion of democratic norms, and mainly a cycle of coup d’état with fragile institutions. History shows that coups d’états are not a reliable or sustainable way to bring about positive change, as they can often lead to further instability and long-term negative consequences for a country. Indeed, building states with strong democratic institutions can perpetuate peace and well-being. In the United States, the system of checks and balances plays a crucial role in preventing the occurrence of a coup d’état. African leaders must understand the true meaning of separations of power, the authority of the legislative and judicial branches to oversee and monitor the actions of the executive branch, the free press and public oversight, and overall, the authority to impeach and remove a president. Indeed, the combination of these checks and balances mechanisms creates a robust system that makes it exceedingly difficult for any one individual or group to seize power. None of these African countries has evolved after coup d’état since their independence. They have been struggling to progress and always find themselves trapped in a recurring cycle of coup d’états, resulting in persistent economic impediments.