Africa, especially Francophone Africa, has a serious problem with political stability. Once again, the virus of thirst for political power has struck again. And this time, Niger, a Sahelian country in West Africa, is the latest victim of this virus.
The fundamental reason why Africa is lagging socioeconomically is due to political instability. The majority of the conflicts which break out on the continent are rather political than anything else. And the problems of political nature are based on nothing but the struggle for power to serve their own interests.
We thought that coups d’état were a phenomenon of the twentieth century, a bygone political phenomenon, which no longer had its place in the new pattern of African political systems. Niger has just shown us that we were wrong to think that political stability through the peaceful transition of power was a real thing. But we realize once again that the so-called peaceful transition of power is nothing but an illusion; a myth.
There is an ongoing coup attempt in Niger as of July 26, 2023. The president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, has been detained by members of the Presidential Guard. The army has been deployed to the capital, Niamey, and there are reports of gunfire. The coup attempt is the latest in a series of political instability in Niger. In March 2021, there was a failed coup attempt just days before Bazoum was sworn in as president. In 2020, there were also coup attempts in Mali and Burkina Faso.
According to AP News, the soldiers said all institutions had been suspended and security forces were managing the situation as they urged external partners not to interfere. Colonel Goukoye Karimou, in the video announcing the overthrow, said: “This is as a result of the continuing degradation of the security situation, the bad economic and social governance.” The leader of the military junta further claimed that the coup was done to “preserve democracy.”
How can democracy be preserved when the incumbent president is overthrown in a coup rather than being defeated at the ballot box? At the end of the day, whether we liked or not the policies of President Bazoum, he was democratically elected. A political leader who has been democratically elected must be then democratically removed from power, meaning, being defeated in the ballot box. If the Nigeriens people were unpleased with President Bazoum’s policies, then they could have voted him out of office. How does a coup solve the problem of bad economic and social governance?
The truth is that it does not. Coups do not solve political problems. On the contrary, they are a major setback to a country’s political and socioeconomic progress. When a coup d’état happens, political instability and economic hardship follow because political institutions are suspended and foreign investors pull out their investments from the country, which decreases the wealth of the country.
Now that these soldiers have taken power, what’s next for Niger? Will Niger suddenly perform better economically? Of course not! Because these men are soldiers. They do not have any professional background or expertise in political and economic matters. They do not understand the theoretical and practical implications of policymaking.
These soldiers did not take power to “improve” the living conditions of Nigeriens, they took it for themselves. They want to taste what it is like to have political power and exerting that power. They took that power to enrich themselves. Niger is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and this coup will not miraculously make Niger a wealthy country. On the contrary, the country is now in the hands of individuals who have no idea how policymaking works and have no understanding of its impact and implications.
Can we expect these men who took power by force to return it peacefully, knowing full well the powers, honors, and privileges that the body politic contains? Political power in Africa is a drug from which those who consume it find it extremely difficult to relinquish it. These soldiers who have seized power will start enjoying that power, and they will not want to hand it back to civilians.