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Army personnel outside the military headquarters in Maseru, Lesotho, after the country's prime minister fled to South Africa after what he called an attempted coup, Aug. 31, 2014 (AP photo).

Why the Military Continues to Cast a Long Shadow Over African Politics

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

It was once almost axiomatic that Africa was a continent of coups, with the military coup d’etat the principal mechanism for regime change. The figures told their own story, with over 200 coups and attempted coups between many countries’ independence in the early 1960s and 2012. The post-independence narrative became wearily familiar, with periods of civilian rule punctuated by military takeovers.

There was, however, a perceptible change from the 1990s onward as a result of the democratic wave that swept Africa following the end of the Cold War. Although fragile, incomplete and imperfect, this wave produced a popular intolerance for both coups and existing military regimes. This was reinforced by two more factors: a new international orthodoxy championing liberal democracy as the new governance norm, and the robust opposition of various African inter-governmental organizations to coups. This opposition first became evident under the Organization of African Unity, but it developed more forcefully under its successor, the African Union, since 2002. The AU has adopted the unambiguous position that any regime coming to power through a military coup will be immediately suspended from membership. That has been reinforced by the positions of various sub-regional organizations, led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). ...

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