There’s a fire in Ouagadougou. And who’s to say where it’s holding up next?
For the second time in eight months, the military in Burkina Faso conducted a palace coup that ousted military leader Paul-Henri Sandago Damiba.
The leader of the coup, Captain Ibrahim Traore, cited the same excuse Damiba had given to seize power in January as reasons for his removal, namely: the government proved incapable of stopping the spread of the Islamic insurgency. There is increasing loss of life among the military and civilian population.
Things couldn’t be worse for the land-locked country (22m pop), where 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty level – one of Africa’s worst records.
Although things appeared to have calmed down a bit over the weekend, Damiba, who overthrew the elected government of Roch Christian Kabor in January, was still threatening the potential outbreak of a “fraternal war” that could engulf Liberia or Sierra Leone. Could make a children’s play.
How he will achieve this from his Togo base is far-fetched. But if we take into account the current delicate situation in Burkina Faso, which has been the scene of two coups in eight months, out of five coups in the subregion in two years, there may be cause for concern. Africa is playing with fire and doing so when the world has too many problems of its own for the continent to take care of.
Time has changed. But it is also fair to say that the kind of nonsense that happened in Ouagadougou last week or eight months ago may not have been possible when President Olusegun Obasanjo’s class was in power nearly 20 years ago.
Mice can play now because the cats of Africa have lost their dignity. In 2003, when President Frédéric de Menezes was visiting Abuja and a military band in So Tome and Principe announced the overthrow of his government, Obasanjo stepped in. He did not wait for orders to take action.
He simply returned to Sao Tome with de Menezes entangled in a Nigerian plane, told the thugs to stand up and reinstated the elected president. The current President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, also rallied regional leaders to shun Yaha Jammeh in 2017 when he tried to play the game after losing in the Gambian election.
But after Banjul, Buhari, like other regional leaders, almost recovered from the militancy at his door, has softened. Shuttle diplomacy by ECOWAS since Mali fell to troops two years ago, Niger and other countries have also followed suit, producing mass talks and more negotiations. Consequences, only understanding threats of language, have clearly disappeared.
The greatest danger lies not only in what is missing, but also in what is filling the gap. Where there was public outcry over a military coup a decade or more ago, deviance is being accepted as the norm.
The public, tired of the politics of betrayal, corruption, lack of accountability and exclusion by politicians, no longer cares about who is in charge – soldiers or civilians. In fact, there is an alarmingly growing nostalgia for the military regime.
Although successful elections in Kenya have been a bright spot, Africa, as they say, is largely on its own. Global institutions or countries that may have intervened to reduce the growing incidence of unconstitutional changes in government are facing a crisis of comorbidity.
The regional body, the African Union, is gloomy and weak. Member states grappling with the predicament of COVID-19 and fluctuating commodity prices are engulfed by internal political tensions. The US is facing its own domestic problems, while the Russo-Ukraine war has engulfed Europe with already fragile supply chain problems and fears of a third world war.
One of the two European superpowers with strong African ties (France) is rapidly losing face and falling out of favor; While the other (UK) is also wandering in the house.
It is true that the world has enjoyed much greater peace since the end of the Cold War and that war-related deaths have declined significantly over the decades. It is also true that over the past 30 years more countries around the world, including Africa, have adopted democratic forms of government and military coups have gone out of fashion.
Nevertheless, the sub-region is facing a different kind of threat. The war in Syria and the instability of Libya and the Sahel have had negative consequences for efforts by many countries in the sub-region that are struggling to consolidate their democratic gains. Armed jihadists trying to find a new home have infiltrated the sub-region.
They are taking advantage of long-standing poverty, corrupt leadership and local animosity to launch a reign of terror from Mali to Chad and Niger to northern parts of Nigeria. With a fifth of governments currently under military rule in West Africa, minus two in Central Africa, for example, the subregion is, once again, a painful reminder of its harsh past.
And as we saw in Mali, Guinea and now Burkina Faso – all French West African countries – frustration is spreading beyond borders and stigmatizing France, which is considered maliciously complicated.
Still, despair is not a strategy. Neither regret nor despair. Africa cannot afford to roll back decades of significant progress in democratization in a moment of self-justifying madness. It needs to be stopped.
And two things are urgently needed. 1) civil society groups on the continent should take a more active role in condemning the spread of military takeovers; and 2) no matter how dire circumstances may be across the continent, the African Union must take the lead not only in speaking out against the gradual normalization of military rule, but also in demonstrating that unconstitutional changes in government will have dire consequences.
The peer-review mechanism that allowed leaders to compare notes and acted as an early warning system of sorts is broken. It needs to be fixed immediately.
For example, Sierra Leone’s signs ahead of next year’s general elections are not encouraging. That’s how the trouble starts. If his heavy-handed treatment of President Julius Mada Bio’s opposition is not included, that volatile country could be headed for a serious post-election crisis, the end of which no one can determine. Medicine cannot become the norm after death.
Furthermore, if Nigeria wants to be considered anything remotely like the powerhouse of Africa, it must give up its current cat-footedness. How could Buhari be comfortable to step down next year and retire to his ranch in touring with thugs-infested neighbors?
How not to worry the military general, who was physically stopped by President Shehu Shagari from using troops in Nigeria’s 3rd Armored Division to quell Chadian incursions into Borno state in the 1980s, despite the ECOWAS shuttle Nothing’s changed. Diplomacy to rein in regional military grabbers over the past two years? Buhari’s regress from Nigeria’s strict army general to his cattle ranch general in Daura does not bode well for him or the country. And it’s bad for the continent, too.
The slide cannot continue. It is okay to blame outsiders, especially shamelessly colluding France, for what is happening in French West Africa. But the continent’s leaders must be the first to stop crime or deal with it when it appears. They must take the responsibility or risk of exposing their homes to the spreading flame.
, Ishiekwene is the Editor-in-Chief of Leadership.