The recent coup attempt in Sudan, and the successful one in Guinea last month is a worrying indication that the age of soldiers or rebels forcibly taking power in Africa is still with us. Every time this happens, the African Union (AU), regional blocks, individual African countries, the UN and the international community go into frenzied diplomacy.
Statements of concern or condemnation are issued with appropriate histrionics. Especially energised, are the AU and regional blocks like Ecowas. The AU threatens to expel the new government from its membership. Regional blocks threaten sanctions and even military action. The flurry of statements and threats convey shock and disbelief that such constitutional abominations could occur.
This hypocrisy of the international community and, especially of the AU, regional blocks and African countries, must now be exposed. Surely, what did they expect to happen in countries where national riches are owned by a few individuals in government in conjunction with cartels, a situation former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga called “bandit economies”? What do they expect when those in power circumvent or ignore the constitution in order to perpetuate themselves in power? What do they expect when citizens lose faith in the ability of institutions of government to safeguard their welfare? What do they expect when avenues for redress of group grievances do not exist? What do they expect when resources and power circulate within a particular tribe or an alliance of tribes? What do they expect when elections do not mean change of policies and real transformation but replacement of one set of thieves with another? What do they expect when millions see a rickety boat across the Mediterranean to Europe as a risk worth taking?
In Guinea, Alpha Conde came to power from the academy. He promised he would strengthen democracy and eliminate thievery. But after assuming power, he began to undermine democracy and allegedly dip his hands in the treasury. He then went on to win an extra-constitutional third term in 2020. Those who protested theft of finances and murder of democracy were brutally suppressed. In Sudan, the long dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir bequeathed the transitional government a bankrupt and institutionally weak state.
In Zimbabwe, the army stepped in to prevent a complete collapse of the economy and Mugabe’s illegal scheme to transfer power to his wife. The kleptocracies in Equatorial Guinea and other countries are ripe candidates for such breakdown of constitutional order. Show me a corrupt and dictatorial regime, and I will show you a country that is at risk of a military coup or armed rebellion.
The AU and the world know this. Still, they roll out the red carpet for these corrupt autocrats and listen to their fine speeches about democracy and fighting thievery. If we had African and international diplomacy that addresses the root causes of coups — autocracy and “bandit economies” — these kinds of catastrophes could be averted. But hypocrisy is the new diplomacy.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator