Military coups were common in Africa in the decades after independence.
The recent events in Guinea that resulted in the ouster of President Conde are the latest example of the military’s interference in national politics.
Neighboring Mali has seen two military interventions in less than a year, the last of which was in May.
In Niger, a coup was thwarted in March just days before the inauguration of the president.
Do military interventions often occur on the continent?
When is a coup a coup?
One definition used is an illegal and public attempt by the military – or other civilian officials – to remove incumbent leaders.
A study by two American researchers, Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thain, identified more than 200 such attempts in Africa since the late 1950s.
About half of these were successful – defined as lasting more than seven days.
Burkina Faso, located in West Africa, was the most successful, with seven failed and only one.
Sometimes the participants in such an intervention deny that it is a coup.
In Zimbabwe in 2017, a military coup ended Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule.
One of the commanders of the operation, Major General Sibusiso Moyo, appeared on television at the time, categorically denying the army’s seizure of power.
In April of this year, following the death of Chadian leader Idriss Deby, the army installed his son as interim president leading a transitional military council. His opponents called it a “dynasty coup”.
“Coup leaders almost always deny that their act was a coup in an attempt to appear legitimate,” says Jonathan Powell.
Are there fewer coups now in Africa?
In the four decades between 1960 and 2000, the total number of coup attempts in Africa remained remarkably constant at an average of about four attempts per year.
Since then, that’s decreased — to about two decades each year in the two decades through to 2019.
This is not surprising, says Jonathan Powell, given the instability African countries experienced in the years after independence.
“African countries have common conditions for coups, such as poverty and poor economic performance. When a country has one coup, this is often a harbinger of more coups.”
Ndubuisi Christian Ani of the University of KwaZulu-Natal says popular uprisings against long-serving autocrats provided an opportunity for a resurgence of coups in Africa.
“While popular uprisings are legitimate and people-led, their success is often determined by the decision of the military,” he says.
What are the African countries that experienced the largest number of coups?
Sudan had more than 15 – five of them had success. The last of which was in 2019 with the removal of Omar al-Bashir from the presidency After months of popular protest.
Al-Bashir himself took power in a military coup in 1989.
Nigeria was notorious for its military coups in the years following independence with eight coups between January 1966 and General Sani Abacha’s seizure of power in 1993.
However, since 1999, power in Africa’s most populous country has been transferred by democratic elections.
Burundi’s history has been marked by eleven separate coups, driven mostly by tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi communities.
Sierra Leone experienced three coups between 1967 and 1968, and another coup in 1971. Between 1992 and 1997, it experienced five more coup attempts.
Ghana has also had its share of military coups, hitting eight in two decades. The first was in 1966, when Kwame Nkrumah was removed from power, and the following year there was an unsuccessful attempt by junior army officers.
Overall, Africa has experienced more reversals than any other continent.