Week of September 05, 2023

Does Gabon Coup Indicate Unrest in Africa?


Sixty years ago, during the early days of post colonialism, unrest was rampant in Africa.  Names like the Congo, Katanga, Uganda, Angola, Biafra, and Rhodesia were common names in the news as armies and mercenary groups roamed the continent.

Finally, a degree of peace came about.  The biggest issue, the apartheid of South Africa was eliminated, and democratic elections were held.  Other nations also held elections that were “sort of” democratic.

Although Africa had problems, it seemed that they were heading in the right direction.  African organizations were formed that would try to solve African problems rather than relying on Western nations.

One of those “sort of” democratic nations was Gabon, an oil rich nation in Central Africa.  Elections were held, but the same family, the Bongo’s, had held power for five decades.  However, that changed last week.  Soldiers ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba in a well-executed coup and put him under house arrest.

This followed the coup a couple of weeks ago in Niger.

Suddenly, African leaders started looking towards their own security.  Hours after the Gabon coup appointed a new leader, the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, shuffled his military leadership lest they overthrow his 40-year regime.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame forced nearly 100 senior military officers out of power.

Meanwhile, America’s National Security Council refused to call events in Gabon and Niger a trend that needed to be addressed.

However, it does appear to be a trend and the US appears to be unprepared for it.  When US Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland travelled to South Africa, one of the host diplomats noted Nuland and her team were completely unprepared to deal with recent events in Africa.

“In over 20 years working with Americans, I have never seen them so desperate,” said an official at the SA meetings.

“She was “totally caught off guard by the winds of change engulfing the region.”  Nuland sought South African help, especially in Niger, which has been an American ally in the war on terror.

It appears that the winds of change are coming, and they shouldn’t have been a surprise.  In 2022, there were two coups in Burkina Faso, one in Guinea Bassau (failed), Gambia, Sao Tome, and Principe.

In 2021, there were six coup attempts in Africa, of which four were successful.  Obviously, there are a historical number of coup attempts as the average since the end of colonialism in the 1950s has only been 3 per year.

Half of them have been successful.

Since 2000, the rate of successful military coups in Africa had remained stable according to studies by Central Florida and Kentucky Universities.  The number of failed coups has dropped as African Senior military officers have attended military schools in the West, China, and Russia, and have become more professional and competent.

Although Africa is the leader in coups, it is Central Africa where most coups have been attempted.

Since the end of colonialism, Sudan has the record of coups and coup attempts at 17.  These have been driven by the tensions between north and South Sudan.  Burundi comes in second with 11, thanks to the tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi communities.

In the last five years, every coup (18) but one has been in Africa.

In 2021, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez said that “military coups are back…a sense of impunity is taking hold.”

Many of the coups have happened in former French colonies.  In fact, the coup in Gabon is the eighth in the past three years.  Since 1990, 78% of the coups in sub-Saharan Africa have taken place in nations that were once part of France’s African empire.

This is a fact that hasn’t been missed and many think French post-colonial practices are partially to blame.

The economies of former French colonies are tied to the CFA (Central African Franc), which is tied to the Euro and guaranteed by France.  This ties their economies and natural resource sales to France and its companies.  On the positive side, the CFA makes imports and export easier since it is tied to the Euro.

The negative is that the African nations can’t manage their own economy.

France has also signed multiple agreements that allow French soldiers to remain in the countries long after independence.  That encouraged national leaders to remain pro-France.  It also allowed corruption as the African leadership remained in power thanks to the threat of French military intervention.

One of the first moves by the Niger junta was to cancel five military agreements with the French.

Earlier, Burkina Faso, signed an agreement with France that calls for the removal of all French Troops.

One problem is that French troops can no longer provide stability.  Despite considerable funding and soldiers, the French have been unable to defeat Islamic rebellions in the Sahel region.

France isn’t the only problem.  Each country that had a coup had some local issue that sparked the coup.  Niger had a coup when it appeared that several senior military officers were to be removed.  Thus, it wasn’t only a coup to “empower the poor masses,” as claimed, but also an attempt to protect elite military leadership.  That isn’t unusual in Africa.

Another fact must be considered is the growing Chinese and Russian influence.

China has been building up Africa infrastructure in the past few years.  In the last two decades, China has invested $155 billion in Sub-Saharan countries.

That offers a challenge to Western nations that they were incapable of facing.

Russia is also seeking African nations that will endorse its war with Ukraine in return for military support.  Mali also has a close relationship with the Wagner Group, who has assisted the government against insurgents.

Africa remains a continent with rich, untapped natural resources.  But the major powers have yet to figure out how to create a stable region that protects its citizens, while letting them benefit from that wealth.

Clearly, the French and Americans haven’t figured it out.