The African continent has witnessed a surge in coup attempts since 2020, raising questions about the stability and governance of several nations.
This article delves into ten failed coup attempts across various African countries, exploring the underlying causes and how these coups were avoided.
Mali: August 18, 2020
In August 2020, Mali found itself in a political crisis that culminated in a military coup.
President Ibrahim Keïta, already under fire for allegations of electoral fraud and ineffective governance, faced mass protests led by the June 5 movement-Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP).
The opposition accused him of constitutional violations, corruption, and failing to address a deteriorating security situation. Amidst this backdrop, a mutiny broke out at the Kati military camp near the capital, Bamako. Led by Col. Malick Diaw and Col. Sadio Camara, the mutineers arrested senior officials, including President Keïta and Prime Minister Boubou Cissé.
By midnight, Keïta announced his resignation on state television, leading to the dissolution of the national assembly by the coup leaders, who identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of People (CNSP). Despite international condemnation, the coup leaders promised a political transition back to civilian rule but did not restore Keïta to office.
Niger: March 31, 2021
Just two days before Mohamed Bazoum’s inauguration as president, an armed air force unit attempted a coup by attacking the presidential palace in Niamey.
The attack was thwarted after 30 minutes of heavy gunfire, and authorities arrested at least 15 soldiers, including the alleged coup leader, Captain Sani Saley Gouroza.
The government condemned the act as a threat to democracy, and Bazoum’s inauguration proceeded as scheduled.
Chad: April 20, 2021
Following the death of long-time dictator Idriss Déby in battle, the military quickly installed his son, Mahamat Déby, as interim president.
The military dissolved the government, suspended the constitution, and promised new elections in 18 months.
Domestic opposition and rebel groups denounced the move as a dynastic coup. Despite international concerns, Chad faced no sanctions from the African Union, largely due to its role in combating Boko Haram.
Mali: May 24, 2021
Nine months after the 2020 coup, tensions between the military junta and the transitional government led to another coup.
Interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were arrested after a cabinet reshuffle that sidelined key military figures.
Vice President Assimi Goïta took over, justifying the coup as a response to violations of the transition agreement. Despite international sanctions and pressure, Goïta was sworn in as interim president and delayed elections, initially planned for 2022, to as late as 2024.
Guinea: September 5, 2021
After President Alpha Condé manipulated the constitution to extend his rule, Col. Mamady Doumbouya led a coup, detaining Condé and dissolving government institutions.
Doumbouya, who had received U.S. military training, established the National Committee of Reconciliation and Development (CNRD) and became the interim president.
The international community, including ECOWAS and the AU, condemned the coup and imposed sanctions. Despite initial public support, dissatisfaction grew over the junta’s unclear transition plans. Under threat of further sanctions, Doumbouya announced a 39-month transition period but later agreed to a shortened 2-year timeline.
Sudan: September 21, 2021
Sudan’s transitional government, led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, thwarted a coup attempt aimed at seizing military headquarters and state institutions.
The coup was allegedly orchestrated by supporters of ousted dictator Omar Bashir, with Major General Abdalbagi Alhassan Othman Bakrawi identified as the leader.
Over 30 troops, including high-ranking officers, were arrested, and Omar Bashir was also detained. The coup attempt occurred amidst public frustration over the delayed transition to civilian leadership.
The fate of the alleged coup-makers remains unknown, but the incident escalated tensions between the military and civilians, leading to another coup the following month.
Sudan: October 25, 2021
Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan led a successful coup, dissolving the government and arresting Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The coup was met with widespread protests and international condemnation, including the suspension of aid and Sudan’s African Union membership.
Despite a 14-point deal restoring Hamdok as prime minister, public dissatisfaction persisted. Hamdok eventually resigned, and Burhan installed a caretaker government.
Burkina Faso: January 24, 2022
Amid mounting grievances within the armed forces and a deteriorating security situation, soldiers led by Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Damiba detained President Roch Kaboré and dissolved the government.
The coup was largely welcomed by a public frustrated with the government’s inability to handle the security crisis.
Damiba became the head of the new junta, the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration (MPSR). ECOWAS suspended Burkina Faso’s membership but later accepted a “two-year” transition timeline proposed by the junta.
Despite agreeing to a 36-month transition period back to civilian rule, Damiba was ousted a few months later.
Guinea Bissau: February 1, 2022
On February 1, 2022, gunfire erupted around government buildings where President Umaro Sissoco Embaló and Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam were holding a cabinet meeting.
The armed assailants were repelled after a five-hour firefight, resulting in the deaths of eleven people, mostly loyal government forces. ECOWAS and the AU condemned the attack and ECOWAS later deployed troops to stabilize the country.
President Embaló linked the failed coup attempt to drug traffickers opposing his anti-drug and anti-corruption efforts. Three men previously arrested in a DEA sting operation were implicated as masterminds and were among those arrested.
Burkina Faso: September 30, 2022
Burkina Faso experienced a “coup within a coup” on September 30, 2022, just eight months after Lt. Col. Damiba seized power.
Damiba had initially justified his coup as a necessary step to defeat Islamic extremists. However, public support waned as violence escalated under his rule, culminating in hundreds of terrorist attacks and a significant loss of territorial control.
On the morning of September 30, gunfire erupted in the capital, Ouagadougou. Mutinous soldiers led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré announced Damiba’s ouster, citing the worsening security situation.
The coup was not revolutionary but aimed to reshuffle the junta’s leadership. Fears now abound that Burkina Faso may empower the Wagner Group, a private military company, as negotiations for a return to democratic rule continue.
What to Expect
The recent surge in coups across Africa highlights unresolved grievances, security concerns, and political instability as key triggers.
Public dissatisfaction and weak institutions further elevate the risk. Until these root causes are addressed, the continent remains susceptible to future coups.
Furthermore, National governments and international bodies must work together to promote stability and democratic governance. The hope is for a future where democratic values prevail, making coups a relic of the past.
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