LAST Tuesday evening, February 1, a BBC commentator whose name I have not caught described the current situation as a “coup season in Africa”. The person went on to note that the frequent coups of the 1970s and 1980s gave way to democratic elections, but they seem to be making a comeback.
The comments came during a confused evening in Bissau, the capital of Guinea Bissau where the government appears to have foiled a coup attempt. If the soldiers, who are believed to have captured the president, had succeeded, it would be the 44th coup or coup attempt in Africa since 2010, with more than half of them having taken place in the past six years.
For some reason I can’t explain, the phrase “coup season” immediately brought to mind the title of Wole Soyinka’s critical novel, The Season of Anomy, but on reflection, there are echoes of our current situation and the central theme of this book in which idealism clashes fiercely with realism in a love affair amidst rampant rot and corruption.
A coup is essentially the ultimate capture of the state by a group of people using the tools provided by the state for their own defense. There can be no better (or worse) example of anomie, also spelled anomie, than the situation in which a group of soldiers often depose and humiliate their own commander-in-chief, as anomie is defined by Britannica as ” a condition of instability resulting from a breakdown of norms and values or a lack of purpose and ideals.
The series of coups in recent times has, of course, created many conversations in the media and social media with many shades of opinion at play. A popular idea that almost turns into some kind of theory is that coups signal a failure of politicians or the “political class”, as the collective noun has evolved rather pejoratively. Some go so far as to use this hypothesis as a justification for coups d’etat, and even those who do not use it in this way see it as an explanation for attacking the much maligned political class.
Their case is easy to make. The promise of democracy in providing a platform for all of us to pursue happiness and prosperity has not been realized. At the start of this century, there was considerable optimism that Africa had turned the corner or was about to. One of the reasons for this sunny outlook was that coups seemed to be on the wane, either soldiers losing their appetite to seize power or civilian politicians pulling themselves together.
The number of coups d’etat in recent times would tend to show that this is not the case. There are soldiers whose appetite for power is stronger than ever, and of course, as we have noted, the civilian politicians have failed to deliver on their promises. Today, the word anomie probably describes the situation in Africa better than at any time.
Of course, statistically, the continent is better off than ever. Take this fact: there are 120,000 millionaires in Africa, including 22 billionaires. Now that you ask, here is your answer: According to Graphic online, Accra has 2,300 dollar millionaires. If, like me, you live in Accra, you might be wondering where these 2,300 millionaires are hiding since you haven’t come across them lately. Like
Americans say, neither do I! The reason for this is that the number of poor so far outnumbers the rich that looking for the latter is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Africa is not only home to most people, but also the absence of social justice.
Earlier on Tuesday, before the news of the attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau broke, I heard a comment from Bernard Avle of Citi FM who read a letter from a Ghanaian abroad that had just finished his studies and was wondering if he should return to the motherland. To put it bluntly, Bernard and his panelists in the studio thought that was the most hilarious proposition since the person might not even get a job “in NABCO.” It is a grave indictment of Africa’s current leadership that African youth are willing to risk everything to cross the oceans in dangerous boats to do the most menial jobs abroad.
According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), a third of the 420 young Africans (aged 15 to 35) were unemployed in 2015. Another third had precarious employment; only one in six is in salaried employment. Of course, these averages mask the disastrous situation of a country like Guinea Bissau, which is ranked among the poorest and most fragile countries in the world.
Different reasons are given for coups and instability on our continent, but the main one is the lack of resolute leadership to deal with the problems. There are countries in Africa with rulers who have monopolized power for decades; others routinely rig elections to cling to power while even countries that hold elections don’t seem to hold the key to unlocking prosperity for the masses.
It’s easy to blame leadership as a general proposition, but Africa’s problems have long persisted and its unease runs deep. The neocolonial structure of our economy has not changed, so how can we hope for change when we continue to do the same thing over and over again? The answer to this question will be the key to the problem.
However, we must all agree on one thing: military coups are never the solution. They never have been and never will be. They aggravate the situation by creating divisions and undermining the command structures in the defense apparatus, further disrupt the economy and create a new elite whose main goal, as we have seen, is to seize the power and wealth.