Five African countries have recently experienced successful military putsches. In none of them is the return to constitutional order guaranteed, far from it.
Since 2020, an astonishing epidemic of putschs (five in two years) has hit the area between the 10e and the 20e northern parallels, which goes from Sudan to Guinea. From Khartoum to Conakry, soldiers took power between 2020 and 2022 and intend to stay there. Apart from Niger, this band has thus become the "band of juntas".
Analysis of a trend which, despite the putschists' promises, in no way announces the advent – or the restoration – of democracy in the countries concerned.
War putsches, peace putsches and consented putsch
Let's start with a brief recap of the events.
- In Mali, on August 18, 2020, Colonel Assimi Goïta overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, in power since 2013. In May 2021, Colonel Assimi Goïta dismissed and replaced the president of the transition, Bah N'Daw.
- In Chad, on April 21, 2021, General Mahamat Déby succeeded with the support of a Transitional Military Council (CMT) à son père killed in the middle of a military operation.
- In Guinea, on September 5, 2021, the Colonel Doumbouya overthrew President Alpha Condé re-elected since 2010.
- In Sudan, on October 25, 2021, the General Abdel Fatah al-Burhane staged a putsch within the transition initiated by the fall of the al-Bashir regime in 2019 by ending the civil-military government and arresting Prime Minister Hamdok, in office since 2019.
- In Burkina Faso, on January 24, 2022, the Colonel Damiba overthrew President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré elected since 2015. In October 2022, the captain Ibrahim Traoré dismissed and replaced lieutenant-colonel Damiba.
Although all these countries have a long history of military powers, it is necessary to distinguish, in this succession of coups de force, the “war putsches”, the “peace putsches” and the Chadian putsch. The former (Mali and Burkina Faso) are motivated by the gradual defeat by jihadist groups and the consequent discontent of the military vis-à-vis the civilian power.
The names given to the putschists in Burkina Faso (National Committee for the Salvation of the People, CNSP) and in Mali (Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, MPSR) illustrate their motivation: to take the reins of war to save the country against its enemies.
Among these five coups, Chad is a special case because it can be described as consented putsch. Indeed, there was no overthrow of power, but an unconstitutional family succession in which the military oligarchy played a key role.
After the unexpected death of President Déby, the President of the National Assembly Haroun Kabadi renounced to be interim President as provided for in the Constitution, in favor of one of Déby's sons and a group of generals (Conseil militaire de transition, CMT). Insofar as the protests were in the minority and quickly suppressed, the military-dynastic succession was consented to by the majority of the political class, including historical figures of the opposition.
As for the “peace putschists” (Guinea, Sudan), they – as in Chad – seized power to preserve their interests, above all those of the army. In Sudan, the transition was taking a dangerous direction for the military oligarchy, with the committee for dismantling Omar al-Bashir's regime beginning to take a close interest in his economic empire. The putsch therefore put a stop to the “debashirisation” of the country and resulted in the return to business of several faithful of al-Bashir.
In Chad, the half-putsch aimed to retain power by the military-clan group that supported Idriss Déby. In Guinea, while the National Rally Committee for Development (CNRD) justified its putsch by the need to "found a nation and build a state", he also and above all represents special interests within the security forces. In these three countries, salary measures in favor of the security forces were quickly ordered by the new leaders.
Save time, settle in power
These juntas are not uniform. On the other hand, they all have the same strategy to resist a rapid return to constitutional order, which is both an internal (political parties, civil society organizations) and external (ECOWAS, African Union, EU, UN) demand. , etc.).
The juntas make cosmetic concessions and gain time by delaying the application of the usual pattern of return to constitutional order. Developed over the many transitions in Africa (Chad 1993-1997, Democratic Republic of Congo 2003-2006, Central African Republic 2014-2016, etc.), this scheme provides for the ineligibility of the leaders of the transitional governments and three political stages:
- A national dialogue. It generally makes it possible to create a consensus on the principles of the future Constitution and the organization of elections.
- A new Constitution. It is generally validated by a referendum.
- Presidential and legislative elections. The establishment of a government and a parliament elected by universal suffrage completes the transition.
For now, only the Malian, Chadian and Guinean authorities have taken the first step. They still took a year to organize a national dialogue which was partly boycotted and which resulted, in Chad, in a violent repression.
In Sudan, the attempt to organize a dialogue between the military and civilians failed in the spring of 2022 for succeed in december. In all countries, the putschists refused the idea of a short transition (between six and eighteen months depending on the country) wanted by ECOWAS and the AU. There prospect of elections in 2022 has therefore quickly faded and, after long negotiations, the putsch powers ended up accepting a transition in two years.
Theoretically, all these military transitions should therefore end with elections in 2024. If this date is respected, only Burkina Faso will have experienced a two-year transition, and the other putschists will have remained in power three or four years before the election deadline. They will therefore have succeeded in imposing long transitions, winning a few years of power and, for some of them (Chad, Mali, Sudan), refusing the principle of the ineligibility of the leaders of the juntas for the next elections. In these three countries, the installation of putschists in control of the country for several years and the possibility of standing for election leave little doubt about their intention to retain power after the transition.
In addition, some secondary concessions from the juntas make it possible to attenuate internal and external pressures. By abolishing the TMC at the end of 2022, Mahamat Deby gave the false impression of a demilitarization of the transition and, with the agreement of December 2022, General Abdel Fatah al-Burhane makes possible the return to a civil-military government transition in Sudan in 2023.
All Hazard Transitions
Even if the juntas all promise a return to constitutional order, the path to transition is strewn with pitfalls.
Elections are jeopardized in Mali and Burkina Faso by the security situation. As long as a major part of the national territory remains inaccessible to the armed forces and civil servants, organizing elections and carrying out an electoral campaign will be unrealistic. Sudan, where conflicts are growing in a confused political climate, may also be forced to postpone elections for reasons of insecurity.
Moreover, in addition to the onslaught of aggressive rebellions, two threats hang over these military transitions: the putsch within the putsch (such as those which took place in Mali in May 2021 and in Burkina Faso in October 2022), and popular protest.
Other coups between soldiers are possible because the security apparatus of the five juntas under consideration is tormented by rivalries between groups and individuals that the security and economic slump only accentuates. For the putschists, the state of grace was short-lived because their social base is reduced, the socio-economic situation worsens and, in Mali and Burkina Faso, the juntas are unable to deliver on their promise to return safety.
Popular acceptance of juntas being essentially based on the discredit of previous powers and the hope of a security and socio-economic improvement, disenchantment can easily turn into protest mobilizations. While in Guinea the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC) banned in August 2022 expresses the disenchantment with the junta, that in Sudan the resistance committees that brought down the al-Bashir regime remain mobilized against military power and that in Mali the junta is openly criticized, the Chadian transitional government has already been threatened by the street et by disgruntled soldiers.
Finally, if the juntas manage to hold on, they will organize elections in nationally devastated political scenes. In these five countries, civil society is exhausted and weakened, the political class is discredited, the opposition is unable to unite and struggles to renew itself, and the political landscape is extremely fragmented (Chad, Burkina Faso and Guinea each have about 200 parties). The elections scheduled for 2024 will be played between political forces likely to be divided, short of means and ideas and faced with impoverished and disgruntled voters.
For the putschists who are in power and intend to stay there, these elections will be the ideal opportunity to be legitimized by the ballot box – even by resorting to electoral fraud. While in West Africa, the transitions of the 1990s opened the way to democracy, the current military transitions are ushering in a new period of instability and are highly likely to lead to pseudo-civilian regimes where military will retain more or less discreetly most of the power.
Thierry vircoulon, Coordinator of the Observatory for Central and Southern Africa of the French Institute of International Relations, member of the Research Group on Eugenics and Racism, Paris Cité University