Incessant coup, sit-tight syndrome and a continent under grip of economic dip

Enyichukwu Enemanna

The African continent has been perennially mired in protracted challenges of corruption, bad leadership, gloomy economic atmosphere, extremism, militancy and a plethora of others. Added to these is the twin problem of changing government through illegal and unconstitutional means as well as the unbridled desire by those in authority to perpetuate themselves in office.

While the culture of criminal perpetuation by power-hungry leaders has remained a dark spot in African history, it is important to note that sit-tight syndrome has a symbiotic relationship with the application of illegality and overt attempts by the military or other civilian officials to unseat sitting leaders through a coup.

The recent removal of President Paul-Henri Damiba of Burkina Faso through a military coup led by Captain Ibrahim Traore again is a disturbing setback in the ongoing campaign to return more African countries to civil rule. Being the second in just one year, Damiba who had himself led a coup in January this year against a civilian government was accused of failure to proffer workable solutions to the problems for which he ousted the former government. On January 24, he led the country’s army and deposed President Roch Kabore after more than six years in power, following several days of unrest in the capital Ouagadougou.

Burkina Faso has become the epicentre of attacks carried out by groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, after violence that began in neighbouring Mali in 2012 spread to other countries south in the Sahara Desert. Thousands have been killed in raids on rural communities and millions have been forced to flee. Despite Damiba’s promise to tackle insecurity, he appeared to have made little effort in addressing the issues. Paradoxically, things assumed a more disturbing dimension in the country of 16 million people. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), attacks by armed groups increased by 23 per cent in the five months after former leader Damiba took over.

It is gratifying though not praiseable that the forceful suspension of constitutional order did not give rise to an uncontrolled violence that would further strain the modicum of civility the drought-hit people enjoy. Damiba has clearly demonstrated that he does not want more blood of his citizens to go into a squabble for leadership in the country in addition to the wreckage being inflicted by the deadly terror groups for which solutions are sought. He has “resigned” on certain conditions agreed to by the new man in town, including returning the country to civil rule at a date not later than 2024.

However, whatever new techniques the 34-year-old Captain Ibrahim Traore is bringing to the table remains to be seen. The vibrant new leader is a relatively low-ranking officer who days earlier was running an artillery regiment in a small northern town. He was in the September 30 coup catapulted to the world stage after he and a group of soldiers overthrew a seemingly non-performing government. Beyond grabbing power, the man of guns and red beret must bear in mind he faces gigantic challenges to alleviate hardship in one of the world’s poorest countries where food shortages and worrisome health and education systems provide daily challenges for millions.

He is also expected to bring his experiences to bear as a career soldier who has fought on the front lines against Islamist militants in the North. Again, the military leader with a boyish face has said he intends not to remain in the scene for a long time. “We did not come to continue, we did not come for a particular purpose,” he told Radio France International, “All that matters when the level of security returns is the fight, it’s development.”

According to Captain Traore, a national conference will appoint a new interim ruler by the end of the year. That leader, who could be civilian or military, will honour an agreement with West Africa’s regional bloc, ECOWAS and oversee a return to civilian rule by 2024.

Analysts in the country have argued the government should seek help from Moscow, mirroring the route neighbouring Mali has taken in allowing the private Russian mercenary firm Wagner group to operate within its borders. If this partnership occurs, it could alter politics in West Africa and change how Burkina Faso fights an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and forced millions to flee. Fresh ties with Russia would put a further strain on relations with former colonial power France, which has provided military support in recent years but has become the target of pro-Russian protests. Its embassy in Ouagadougou was attacked in the aftermath of the latest coup.

Again, Captain Traore must also exercise utmost carefulness so that he will not be swept away by the same flood that consumed his predecessors. Soldiers loyal to Damiba had lost patience on the account of the fact that he was moving at a slow pace in implementing policies that will drive the very last nail into the heart of the blood-thirsty terror groups in the country.

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The perennial backwardness of the African continent in germane issues of development, including defence, economy, infrastructure among others has a direct synergy with inability to inject new vision in the political boardroom where one person exerts rulership for ages despite giving his “best” at prime. Africa has the longest-serving leaders globally yet citizens are not by any measure better for such prolonged stays in office.

While this intervention seeks not to bore you with a long list of leaders who should ordinarily be enjoying a deserving rest at home but have instead remained in power for decades in most fraudulent and sham recruitment systems, adding little value to the business of governance, it is important to prod your memory to some of those individuals who have desperately undermined the sanctity of the electoral system in Africa by circumventing fairness, transparency and openness in embarrassing desperation to perennially recycle themselves as presidents.

In Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema is currently the world’s longest-serving president. He has been in office for 41 years. He came into power in 1979 after he toppled his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema who ruled the country from Independence in 1968 till 1979. Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of president Obiang is the vice president who has a higher chance of succeeding his father if and when he chooses to bow out.

In Cameron, 85-year-old Paul Biya has been in power, governing the French West African country since 1982. He was re-elected in 2018 for another seven-year tenure.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Denis Sassou Nguesso has spent over 36 years in office so far. He first served from 1979 to 1992 and returned in 1997 at the end of a civil war. The story is not different in Uganda where the President, Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986 after he won the war that ousted dictator Idi Amin Dada. He had spent 36 years in office.

The list is endless. Until recently, the President of Chad, Idriss Deby spent 30 years in office, having taken over governance of the country in 1990. When he was killed in 2021 on the battlefield with extremists, his son, Mahamat Déby took over the helm of affairs.

Sadly, poor and authoritarian governance is breeding extremism and transnational criminality, igniting violence and undermining efforts to build democracies. The penchant to remain in office against the collective will of the citizens aggravates the hunger to overthrow governments. In 2017 in Zimbabwe, a military takeover brought Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule to an end. One of the leaders, Maj Gen Sibusiso Moyo, appeared on television at the time, flatly denying a military takeover, typical of most coupists in Africa.

Since 2021, there have been either successful or failed military power grabs in countries such as Chad, Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and more. What that indicates is that leaders must begin to demonstrate a high sense of loyalty to the nation rather than resorting to using the instrumentality of the state to remain even when the ovation is low and pointing to the need for new leadership.

The African continent at the moment is fighting an existential battle, trying to stabilise the post-Covid-19 economy and food insecurity. More recently, the war in Ukraine has further broadened the line of poverty, hunger and disease. It poses hardships for African households in the agricultural sector and food security. Many countries in East, West, Middle, and Southern Africa rely on Russia and Ukraine for a significant percentage of their wheat, fertilizer, or vegetable oils imports, but the war disrupts global commodity markets and trade flows to Africa, increasing already high food prices in the region.

Leaders in the region should begin to broker fresh developmental grounds upon which a new Africa will emerge instead of fixation on grabbing power through the crudest and archaic means and retaining the same forever. Relevant blocs should deploy punitive measures, including trade sanctions against countries crossing the red lines to serve as deterrents to others nursing such incongruous intentions.

Enemanna a journalist writes from Abuja.

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