African Support for ‘Democratic’ Coups Grows Amid Electoral Disputes

Image of soldiers announcing the coup in Gabon that President Bongo has been ousted and put on house arrest.

Amidst Disputed Elections, Some Africans Advocate for ‘Democratic’ Coups to Remove Authoritarian Leaders

A rising wave of support for what some term “democratic” coups is sweeping across Africa, as an increasing number of citizens believe this is the only means to dislodge undemocratic dictators and authoritarian leaders from power. Widespread disputes over elections in various African countries have fueled this sentiment.

In the case of Malawi, the 2019 presidential elections that led to the victory of President Peter Mutharika were marred by mass protests and legal challenges contesting the results. The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), composed of pro-opposition activists, pledged to disrupt the administration through protests while legal battles unfolded. After a series of court proceedings, both the high court and the Supreme Court of Appeal sided with the opposition, nullifying the elections. These legal decisions also deemed the first-past-the-post electoral system unconstitutional, advocating for the adoption of the 50+1 electoral system.

This landmark judgment paved the way for the formation of the Tonse Alliance, an electoral coalition led by Lazarus Chakwera, leader of the Malawi Congress Party, who selected Saulos Chilima as his running mate. The alliance secured victory with more than the required 50+1 majority. However, the current administration’s popularity has waned as the nation approaches the 2025 elections.

Though Malawi did not experience a coup, the protests received protection from the Malawi Army, which prevented the pro-regime police from dispersing the demonstrations by force. Similarly, over the past three years, several other African countries, mostly former French colonies, have undergone what social media users label as “democratic” coups. Notably, these coups transpired in Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Mali and Burkina Faso each witnessed two coups within this timeframe, with the latest coup in Burkina Faso being widely celebrated across the continent for its anti-authoritarian stance and revolutionary principles.

These principles aim to sever the lingering ties of colonial influence that have drained African resources to enrich former colonial powers while leaving resource-rich nations in chronic deprivation. Niger, a major global uranium producer, has faced similar dynamics, as much of its uranium is mined by France. Most former colonies continue to pay what is described as “colonial taxes” to countries like the UK and France, with the latter having a direct control of ex-colonies’ financial reserves. The colonial tax is condemned by international humanitarian organisations like ActionAid as retrogressive and neo-colonialism.

Despite Gabon’s status as an oil-rich nation, it remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Gabon’s recent coup followed the contested election of President Ali Bongo, which the French government endorsed but the opposition deemed illegal. The military placed President Bongo and his family under house arrest and nullified the election results, ending a 50 year old regime.

“The Bongo clan, which took control of Gabon and ruled for 50 years, their career was dedicated to dictatorship, corruption, and the defense of Western imperialism commercial and strategic interests in sub-Saharan Africa”.

Echoes Across the Continent

Following the recent coup in Gabon, discussions also ignited around Cameroon, where nonagenarian President Paul Biya, who has ruled since 1982, continues to hold power. At 90 years old, Biya is “the second-longest-reigning president, the world’s oldest non-royal national leader, the oldest head of state in the world, and the oldest president in Africa”.

Julius Malema, President of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) tweeted French: “Cameroun, s’il vous plaît, ne décevez pas. Nous attendons.” (Cameroon, please don’t disappoint. We are waiting); hinting on which country should the next coup happen to oust a sitting dictator.

Zimbabwe, too, made headlines when it “re-elected” Emmerson Mnangagwa, casting doubt on the credibility of the electoral process. Similar concerns arose in Nigeria with the election of septuagenarian Bola Tinubu and in Senegal. In the absence of truly independent electoral bodies, many argue that “democratic” coups are becoming the new norm in Africa. A tweet from the pan-Africanist Ali-Naka succinctly captured this sentiment, stating, “You can fume and froth speaking your good English or French, but welcome to the African Reality in 2023.”

Efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to intervene militarily in Niger were met with opposition from the African Union. Allegations emerged that Western powers, particularly former colonial rulers like France were reportedly backing ECOWAS’ military intervention.

In a recent election, Ali Bongo secured victory with a commanding 64.27 percent of the vote, highlighting the complexities and controversies surrounding electoral processes on the continent.

African Support for ‘Democratic’ Coups Grows

As the continent grapples with the coups, support for the coup has been growing rapidly among Pan-Africanist and the general public.

Ali Naka, a pan-Africanist, tweeted: “In the absence of Independent Electoral Bodies, Democratic Coups are the new normal. You can fume and froth speaking your good English or French but welcome to the African Reality in 2023. I make NO APOLOGIES for celebrating and embracing Democratic Coups in Africa. If elections are stolen and rigged what must happen? You want people to keep repeating the 5 year useless rituals pretending to vote or you want the entire nation to be engulfed in a Civil war because of One Person? You remove them whilst they are sleeping. No apologies!!”

The African Union (AU), in contrast, “strongly condemned” the coup in Gabon, stating that any coup “constitutes a flagrant violation of the legal and political instruments of the African Union, including the African Charter on Elections, Democracy and Governance.”

In response, Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono inferred that the AU’s inability to guarantee credible elections among member states while cosying up to dictators is what was fuelling current coup; saying the organisation’s “failure to enforce free, fair and credible elections…is what has promoted coups that are celebrated by African youths”.

He tweeted: “You only talk when dictators are removed by militaries, but you keep quiet when elections are brazenly rigged. You have lost credibility in the eyes of many Africans because of your inability to enforce your own election protocols”

“Military coups used to be condemned by African citizens, but today they are celebrated by the youth because they have become the only way to remove ruthless and corrupt dictators. Until you seriously start enforcing your own election protocols, coups will continue to be executed, and there is nothing you will do about it except issuing these useless statements. This statement means nothing to an African youth without a job, or healthcare, or any prospective future because of a dictator whose family has been in charge of a country for 56 years”.

Chin’ono urged the UA to be more concerned by authoritarian regimes that continue to rig elections. “If you don’t want to be concerned by the spectre of coups, be concerned by those that rig and steal elections”, he tweeted.

Ali Bongo has ruled Gabon for 14 years after taking over from his father Omar Bongo who ruled Gabon for 42 years. His family has ruled Gabon for a total of 56 years.

“Gabon has manganese, diamonds, gold, uranium, oil, gas and more, but its people are extremely poor. Crude oil accounts for about 96% of the country’s total exports to the United States. Elections are rigged, public funds are ruthlessly looted, the country’s natural resources are plundered and the constitution is regularly changed to suit the Bongos. Gabon is the leading producer of metal in Africa and it is the sixth biggest world producer of manganese.

“It produces more than 3 million metric tons of manganese a year. It also exports Veneer Sheets, Manganese Ore and Crude Petroleum to France. Corruption is massive in its mining and oil industries. Ali Bongo personally controls over US$1 billion worth of assets which are hidden overseas. He is the richest man in Gabon. The Bongo family has routinely changed the constitution to underpin its corrupt rule. A third of Gabonese citizens live below the poverty line. Unemployment is over 37%. His father was close to 5 French presidents from Charles de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac.

“France has condemned the military removal of the dictator after he rigged the elections over the weekend. The Guardian reported that France, whose companies were happily extracting Gabon’s oil, guaranteed security to the Bongo family by maintaining a military base in Libreville that still exists today.

“Bongo’s regime tortures opponents and treats critics in a very inhuman way. The regime runs horrible jails with harsh and life-threatening conditions. It has political prisoners and the judiciary is captured. Ali Bongo suffered a stroke years ago but he remained in power although he is incapacitated.

He has Europeans working for him in his team including a British man from Manchester who is a Government minister. His name is @LeeWhiteCBE, yesterday he was defending the switching off of the Internet on his Twitter handle. Like all terrible dictators who don’t care about their people, Ali Bongo’s father died in a luxurious hospital in Spain whilst his people were living in poverty and the country had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world.

“In France he lived a super rich life style with 39 luxurious properties, 70 bank accounts and cars worth over US$2 million. He even bank rolled the Presidential campaign for French President Jacques Chirac whilst his people were living in abject proverty. He gave money to different French political parties both from the right and left of French politics. The second wife of his son who has been deposed was featured on VHS television channel trying to buy a home worth US$25 million in Malibu.

“Coups are not a great thing at all, so I hope that the military will restore civilian rule through a free, fair and credible election which puts a final end to the Bongo family grip on this resource rich country after decades of looting, plunder and dictatorship” Chin’ono detailed the situation leading up to the coup.

Like the AU, ANC Secretary General, Fikile Mbalula condemned the coup, tweeting “Africa we cant support coups”.

However, former leader of the DA and the current president of Build One South Africa, Mmusi Maimane, echoed Chinono’s sentiment, in backing the coups, stating: “When elections lose credibility and people are rendered powerless, military coups become the order of the day and we all suffer from increased violence and insecurity. Gabon is a warning to us about how to deal with Zimbabwe.”

Veteran media mogul, Trevor Ncube, also tweeted: “African coups via the ballot box are an invitation for Africans to change governments by any other means. Things need not be that way at all. Bongo shut down the internet during recent elections in Gabon. Now he is using the same internet to appeal for help. I can not think of a more profound irony.”