After two decades during which coups d’état were relatively rare, they are making an unwelcome return.
In 2021, there were six coups or attempted coups documented on the continent. The next year saw two coups in Burkina Faso and several others attempted.
Citizens fear a return to an era in which power was taken at the point of a gun instead of earned at the ballot box.
Each coup has its own story, but certain patterns have emerged. Insecurity causes fear and anger to spread among the public. Democratic institutions fail or an autocratic leader clings to power. Discipline and professionalism erode within the armed forces.
When a military coup happens, those taking power promise a return to stability and prosperity.
The events that follow are equally predictable. Instability continues, citizens suffer and the prospect of another coup becomes more likely.
As security professionals try to reverse this trend, it’s important to begin by looking inward.
Coups are far less likely when institutions maintain high standards of professionalism. Professional military education provides the foundation for coup prevention. A merit-based promotion system ensures that the most-qualified military leaders rise to the top. Ethics training across all branches and ranks gives Soldiers the tools they need to make the right decisions.
Learning from history also is important. When Soldiers are taught the value of their country’s constitution and shown the harmful history of coups on the continent, they might be less likely to follow that path.
Some countries are investing in education. Uganda and Kenya recently opened national defense colleges or universities. Another is planned in Malawi. These higher education institutions provide the intellectual backing for adherence to the rule of law.
Recent history confirms what has long been established: Coups and other nondemocratic transfers of power are national disasters. They leave countries poorer, more isolated and unstable. It is vital that the men and women who serve their countries do so by rejecting coups and embracing constitutional order.