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Niger coup and leadership failure in Africa

Mohamed Bazoum (file photo)

 Unless the rising trend of military adventurism is checked among African countries, it may sound the death knell for democracy in the continent

By Emeka Alex Duru

(08054103327, nwaukpala@yahoo.com)

Again, Africa is in the news. And for the wrong reasons! While other continents are deepening and consolidating on the gains of democracy, Africa is retreating to the days of the military jackboots. In the last 18 months, soldiers have struck and taken over power in Chad, Guinea, Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso and lately, Niger. More could be in the offing. There were unconfirmed reports of botched attempts in Sierra Leone during the week.

They all point to the level of instability in the continent.

As we write, the dimension of the stand-off between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the coup leaders in Niger, can not be readily estimated. The Authority of Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS, the highest body of the Union, has asked the coup leaders in Niger, led by Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, to restore the ousted President, Mohamed Bazoum to power.

The African Union has followed suit by issuing a 15-day ultimatum to the junta to reinstall the country’s democratically elected government.

The junta however remains adamant and rather, digs in.

The ultimatum by AU coincided with a meeting the coup leaders had with senior civil servants to discuss how they would run the country. These were on the heels of the U.S. and the European Union threatening sanctions against the regime. As it looks, things may no longer be same in the country and if not properly managed, West Africa, as a sub-region. That is the lot of many states in the continent.

Africa is an entity of paradoxes. With a population of 1,433,706,775, based on the latest United Nations estimates, Africa is equivalent to 16.72% of the world. The continent is rich in human and material resources. But in the abundance of natural resources, it is the least wealthy continent per capita and second-least wealthy by total wealth, behind Oceania, according to statistics.

The region is still bedeviled by poverty and instability.

Also read: Tinubu’s outburst on Niger Republic

A shocking disclosure by the World Health Organisation (WHO), earlier in the year, indicated that about 672 million Africans, representing 48 per cent of the continent’s population, lack access to the quality health care they needed.

In 2022, the organisation disclosed that 779 million people in Africa lacked basic sanitation services, while 208 million still practiced open defecation. The standard of governance in Africa is still low and rule of law, abysmal in some states.

There is no how the poor story of Africa can be told without blaming it on the failure of its leadership. The continent is dotted with sit-tight leaders who have virtually proscribed democracy and good governance in their states.

These rulers have literally transformed themselves to gods whose words are laws. Some are even richer than their respective states, not by any spectacular dint of hard work but sheer corruption and appropriation of the common wealth. They constitute threats to democracy.

Their actions fit into the remarks by Harvad University political scientists – Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt – in their book; How Democracies Die, that ‘Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders- presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power’.

Some alter the constitutions to remain in office. But perhaps, unknown to them, by abandoning the people who they were supposed to serve and working against the process through which they were elected, they unwittingly invite military adventurists to power.

The soldiers are equally not helping matters. They have no reasons to sack elected governments. They must learn to abide by constitutional order and subordinate themselves to the constituted authorities in their countries.

Their incursion in politics is an aberration, regardless the reason they offer for doing so. Let the soldiers in Niger and elsewhere in Africa, limit themselves to their professional duties of protecting their countries against external invasion.

They are not trained for civil governance. Unless the rising trend of military adventurism is checked among African countries, it may sound the death knell for democracy in the continent.

So, in nudging the coup leaders in Niger to return to the barracks, AU and ECOWAS are in order. 

But there are many issues that needed to be resolved. Niger is a sovereign state. Therefore, there is a limit the two organisations or any other power can go in forcing it do their bidding.

Again, the ECOWAS, AU and even the United Nations (UN) recognise the independence of member states and frown at interference in their essentially domestic affairs, except when such constitute threats to international peace and security.

 The situation in Niger has not deteriorated to that point. There is the need to act with caution in managing what looks like the axiomatic elephant in China shop in the country.

 The ultimate decision on the leadership the country desires falls on its citizens.

There is also the moral question in some of the West African leaders who gained power through election manipulation in their countries, prancing about and dictating to the Nigerien coup leaders on what to do.

Although morality is largely ineffectual in international relations, the manner and circumstances through which some of the leaders came to office or how they have exercised power, will certainly count on the extent they can make pontifications on Niger.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS Commission, that has issued ultimatum to the Nigerien military, is for instance, still battling with issues of legitimacy and credibility over his February 25, 2023 election.

The maxim, according to lawyers, is that he that goes to equity must do so with clean hands. One cannot hide a log in his eye and be dictating to another to remove the speck in his.

In such situation, there is a point Tinubu can push for a return to constitutionalism in the francophone country and risk being reminded where he is coming from.

Many of his counterparts in other African countries have similar challenges. 

The ugly development in Niger indicates a dangerous resurgence of military incursion in African politics, which is not good for the development of the continent.

A return to constitutional democracy in the affected countries remains the only way out. That, however, needs to be handled with utmost care to avoid a backlash that causes more harm to the continent.

It is high time African countries embraced multi-party democracy and play by the rules. Transparency in governance is the panacea to military takeover of power.

Disaffection among the people is often an invitation to coups and military interventions to civil politics.

Coup is never a solution to bad governance. The rising wave of insurrections or coups in the continent is an ill wind that will blow no one any good.

The elected leaders must, on their own, deliver good governance to keep the putschists at bay.

. DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos

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