Magazine article New African

How Injustice and Greed Create Coups: Africa's Military Often Enact Coups and Seize Political Power. Why Does This Happen? Describing the Reasons as Usually Being an Explosive Cocktail of Conditions, Often Allied to Resource Control, William Gumede Examines the Issues

Magazine article New African

How Injustice and Greed Create Coups: Africa's Military Often Enact Coups and Seize Political Power. Why Does This Happen? Describing the Reasons as Usually Being an Explosive Cocktail of Conditions, Often Allied to Resource Control, William Gumede Examines the Issues

Article excerpt

Since African independence after World War II, many of the bloodiest coups in individual African countries were directly or indirectly orchestrated by Western powers, arming or financing coup leaders to acquire mineral resources, or get rid of leaders they were ideologically opposed to, or just seeking to create instability in countries that are seen as a threat to Western interests.

However, coups in Africa take place and still do, because African leaders and governments create the conditions for them.

Coups take place in African countries because ordinary citizens have little say in the political and economic decisions and receive few benefits, except for voting every few years for invariably unrepresentative, limited and flawed political parties and leaders.

An explosive cocktail of conditions often sparks military coups in Africa. These include a persistent lack of genuine democracy, the continued monopoly of politics and money in the hands of small elites, while the living conditions of ordinary people stagnate. This is usually accompanied by either a sudden increase in national income, sometimes through the discovery of new oil fields or minerals, without the new income being spread to the poor too, or a sudden drop in national income, lately because of the global and Eurozone crises.

In some cases, the phenomenon of sudden wealth may be absent. However, grinding poverty is worsened by sudden economic shocks. Recently the global and Eurozone financial crises, which decrease the traditional markets for the products of many African countries, have led to cuts in development aid, and new immigration restrictions on citizens from Africa looking for jobs in developed countries.

Where these elites can be outvoted easily, coups appear not to be common. In Africa, parties who win elections take all: dominating all appointments in the public sector, the granting of business licences, and so on. Many of Africa's political parties are dominated by one or a few ethnic/regional group/s, or faction/s.

Ethnic, regional or factional supporters of the party that won often expect patronage to be dished out to them exclusively.

Winners often, for the period that they are in power, curb the opposition, making it very difficult to dislodge a sitting governing party or leader. The only groupings in African society that can unseat these elites are often the military.

Not surprisingly, the military is often the last institution to have its budget cut. When economic conditions deteriorate to such an extent this become inevitable, the military revolts, more particularly if there is general dissatisfaction across society over poor governance and increasing economic hardships.

Two recent coups in Africa illustrate these points. Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony, is an impoverished country, whose main official exports are cashews. The average income is less than $2 a day. Following the global and Eurozone financial crises, development aid has dropped dramatically. But new oil fields have recently been discovered in Guinea-Bissau promising fabulous wealth.

On 12 April 2012, the military launched the latest coup, in the middle of a two-round presidential election in which outgoing prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior was the frontrunner. The opposition had claimed fraud.

The Guinea-Bissau army has claimed it staged its coup because of an alleged secret deal by the government with Angola to destroy the armed forces. The budgets of the Guinea-Bissau armed forces had been cut--as part of government-wide budget cuts. Army leaders believed that the military would be further downscaled to save costs. There appeared to be a popular perception that there is an oil bonanza, which is not being shared with the impoverished and long-suffering ordinary people--including the military. …

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