DOUALA, Cameroon 

Mali’s president announced his resignation and dissolved the parliament after military officers seized power on Aug. 18.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, first elected in 2013, was criticized for a failing law and order, and mismanagement of the economy.

The Rally of Patriotic Forces, known as the M5-RPF, the group that spearheaded protests against the head of state, and demanded him to step down, has welcomed the coup, saying the army intervention culminated their struggle.

Although the forced ouster has been condemned by the international community, and the African Union has suspended Mali’s membership, was it totally unexpected? Why do militaries in Africa topple civilian governments?

Bad governance

The Keita regime’s decline is not exclusive and should not come as a surprise, according to Zimbabwean political analyst Justice Simango.

He said that a legitimacy crisis, and lack of a social contract between the governors and the governed is a major threat to African nations marred by political crises.

“They seize power through shenanigans and govern through electoral authoritarianism,” he told Anadolu Agency.

He highlighted the dominance of one-party regimes in Zambia and Tanzania, among other countries, saying some have been shortened by successful coups but others failed in Morocco, Kenya and Cameroon.

Simago said poor economic performance, electoral fraud, corruption, injustice, weakening of institutions, and social and economic inequalities are some of the reasons behind coups he world’s second-largest and second-most populous continent.

For Matthias Hounkpe, a Beninese researcher and political scientist, the malfunctioning and hostage-taking of the democratic system by incumbent rulers forces military to intervene.

“When the institutions are no longer able to resolve crises, and citizens lose confidence, militaries always intervene. They don’t come to take power but act to rework the rules and unblock the democratic system, which is the case in Mali,” he said.

Nevertheless, he added, military interventions in Africa have decreased compared to the era of 60s and 70s.

“It is thanks to the liberalization of political systems, the overall support for democracy, human rights and freedom. At the time, Africa had authoritarian powers that had to be overthrown by military force. But military intervention has greatly diminished,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Mamamdou Diarra, a Malian journalist and editor, agrees that bad governance is at the root of the Malian coup.

According to him, awareness, and the use of new information and communication technologies has allowed citizens not to be fooled anymore.

An impossible democracy?

Even though Africa has taken democracy as a panacea, Simango believes it is a luxury that states cannot afford.

“When a country experiences a coup, it often becomes a springboard for other coups. Mali is a good example of a ‘state in permanent crisis.’ It is likely that Mali will experience five to 10 years of nominal stability before an explosion occurs,” he warned.

He doubted whether Africa would be able to avoid military interventions.

Only about a dozen countries, including Senegal, Mauritius and Botswana, manage to observe elections in a peaceful and rather fair manner. According to him, their economic and sustainable development is precisely linked to this type of election.

However, better management of cultural diversity and crisis would require democratic processes, respect for human rights and power evolution.

“It is not just a question of giving the population the opportunity to vote. The current African constitution should incorporate decentralization ideas and inclusion. As long as we have exclusion and a system that leaves a certain sector of the population out of key decision-making processes as innocent bystanders, we risk more military coups,” the analyst argued.

“Former colonial powers also have the power to discourage African leaders from running for a third term. Africa should demilitarize politics and ensure that soldiers remain in the barracks. At the same time, it will be noble to increase funding for military institutions.”

Hounkpe advocates fighting for good democracy functioning to avoid reliving such situations.

“It is necessary that our rulers understand that it is in everyone’s interest that they manage the country and its resources as well as possible,” he said. “This is so that citizens do not feel so frustrated that they go looking for unconstitutional ways to manage situations. They must also manage political power with moderation, respect and justice. In general when this kind of effort is made, the military will not cease power.”

For this to happen, Diara said, respect for social contract and reconciliation is foremost.

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