Coups don’t solve a thing - neither do corrupt regimes

Sunday September 03 2023

A video grab shows Gabonese soldiers carrying General Brice Oligui Nguema (C), head of the presidential guard of ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba on August 30, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


Ali Bongo’s overthrow by his military brings the total number of coups or attempted coups in West and Central Africa to 10 in the past three years. Are we back to the 1960s and 1970s when coups were the order of the day?

In last week’s column, I argued that coups will not solve the fundamental crisis that underpins Africa’s underdevelopment — a crisis of leadership and the attendant crippling evils of corruption and mismanagement. We can even advance a rule of thumb: The more decrepit the leadership, the more corrupt and mismanaged the country.

Conversely, principled and committed leadership leads to less corruption and better management of resources.

Read: NGUGI: There’s no one coming to save us but ourselves

Countries like Mauritius, Botswana and Rwanda perform better because the leadership in those countries is more concerned with transforming lives than lining their pockets and those of their cronies. In order to line their pockets, presidents deliberately mismanage their economies through henchmen in key positions and by exploiting loopholes in weak systems and institutions.

You cannot convince me that presidents in these poorly governed countries do not know where the weaknesses are and where money is being lost.


They could rectify the situation if they wanted to. Instead, they look the other way.

To hoodwink us, they warn of dire consequences for the corrupt in their government. The egregiously corrupt Kanu regime which misruled Kenya for decades was still threatening dire consequences for corrupt officials by the time it was defeated in 2002.

Most coups happen when change of regime by peaceful means becomes impossible. Elections in most African countries are badly mismanaged. For example, in Zimbabwe’s recent elections, there have been widespread complaints about their management. One hopes that the Emmerson Mnangagwa regime has not borrowed a leaf from Robert Mugabe who kept “winning” elections until he was removed by his army.

So here is our conundrum: Coups are necessitated by corrupt regimes that mismanage elections to their advantage, and yet coups, if history is any guide, will not resolve our crisis of governance.

Read: NGUGI: Failure to end graft is Africa’s leadership curse

The solution involves many factors coming into play.

First, the African electorate must unambiguously understand the direct relationship between elections and their welfare. Elections are not a game. They are, quite literally, a matter of life and death. Therefore, elect people of integrity with proven high performance standards, and not because they are from your tribe. If the vote is overwhelming, as it was in favor of Mwai Kibaki in 2002, stealing elections is much harder.

Secondly, the African Union and the international community should not entertain corrupt presidents who manipulate weak institutions to remain in power. When African and foreign governments roll out the red carpet for people, they know are looting their own countries, they legitimise them.

When countries like Kenya and France welcomed Ali Bongo, as they did at various times, did they really believe he was leading an economic revolution that would transform Gabon into the next Singapore?