“Unrest in West and Central Africa: Exploring the Surge in Military Takeovers”

“Unrest in West and Central Africa: Exploring the Surge in Military Takeovers”

In a surprising turn of events, Gabon, just five weeks after Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum was taken hostage by his own presidential guard, now finds itself witnessing another coup. The country’s President, Ali Bongo, has been detained in his own residence following a sudden statement on national television, declaring him the winner of last Sunday’s election, and a subsequent announcement by soldiers seizing power in the former French colony.

As the world watches footage of celebrating crowds and the deposed head of state appearing bewildered in an online video, it raises questions about the ongoing “coup-epidemic” in West and Central Africa. This recent development comes on the heels of a series of coups and military takeovers in the region, including Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, and Chad, within the past three years.

This surge in military takeovers can be attributed to several common factors. Younger citizens in West and Central Africa have grown disillusioned with the traditional political class, frustrated by issues such as a lack of job opportunities, perceived corruption among the elite, and resentment towards former colonial powers like France, which still hold influence in many of these countries. Additionally, civilian rulers manipulating electoral processes to prolong their hold on power, often by scrapping presidential term limits through controversial constitutional amendments, have contributed to this unrest.

“Unrest in West and Central Africa: Exploring the Surge in Military Takeovers”

These abuses of power not only erode trust in African institutions like the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) but also create an environment in which soldiers feel emboldened to seize power, promising a “fresh start.” However, each coup is also driven by specific national or local motivations, as seen in the case of Gabon.

In Gabon, skepticism surrounded Ali Bongo’s decision to stand for a third term after first coming to power 14 years ago following the death of his father, who had ruled for over 40 years. Questions about his ability to provide effective leadership arose after he suffered a stroke in 2018. While his rule saw efforts to modernize the government and address social inequality, it gradually lost momentum, and the regime resisted meaningful electoral competition.

“Unrest in West and Central Africa: Exploring the Surge in Military Takeovers”

Moreover, doubts persisted about the legitimacy of Bongo’s initial election victory in 2009, with many believing his main rival had won. In the 2016 election, Bongo narrowly secured victory amid controversy surrounding the vote tally in his family’s political stronghold. In the recent election, he declared victory with 64% of the vote, without allowing international observers to monitor the poll, leading to opposition rejection and the military’s intervention, citing a lack of transparency and credibility.

While some in Gabon welcomed the coup, it raises concerns about the future of democracy in West and Central Africa. The region’s political landscape remains fragile, with a disillusioned younger population and a deepening sense of discontent with entrenched power structures.

Paul Melly is a consulting fellow with the Africa Programme at Chatham House in London.

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