Europe Helped Create West Africa’s Coup-Prone Militaries

Europe Helped Create West Africa’s Coup-Prone Militaries
A Dutch military instructor briefs Ivorian special forces soldiers during the annual U.S.-led Flintlock counterterrorism training exercise, near base camp Loumbila, Jacqueville, Cote d’Ivoire, Feb. 17, 2022 (AP photo by Sylvain Cherkaoui).

On a quiet Sunday morning in early September 2021, diplomats found themselves yanked away from their weekend plans as another military coup stunned West Africa. After reports on social media of shooting in the capital city of Conakry, news filtered out that a young army colonel had seized power in Guinea. Wearing the tactical clothing symbolizing his role as the commander of Guinea’s special operations forces, 42-year-old Col. Mamady Doumbouya declared that he would sweep away the authoritarian behavior and corruption that had marked the rule of the then-83-year-old President Alpha Conde. In the months that followed, it became increasingly clear that Doumbouya intends to keep his grip on power for quite some time, with the most recent schedule for the transition back to democratic rule lasting up to 39 months.

The coup in Guinea was one of several that have shaken West Africa and the Sahel region in the past two years. In Mali, the failures of a counterinsurgency campaign involving a large European force under French leadership led to a build-up of frustration within the Malian army. In August 2020, a faction around Col. Assimi Goita brought down the democratically elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita; nine months later, Goita deposed the country’s appointed transitional president. After bringing in Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group willing to commit war crimes to intimidate communities accused of collusion with jihadist insurgents, the Malians triggered a withdrawal of European troops. A similar dynamic unfolded in Burkina Faso, where the inability of a civilian government to cope with jihadist insurgents was also used to justify a military takeover in January 2022. Though Guinea has not faced the kind of insurgencies that have overwhelmed Mali and Burkina Faso, the anger over elite corruption and foreign meddling that helped propel young officers to the top was a common feature in each of these societies.

The resurgence of military rule represents a disastrous setback for Europe’s strategy to strengthen regional states facing jihadist insurgents that have destabilized the Sahel and are now beginning to operate in the coastal states of West Africa. Ten years after France’s military intervention in Mali triumphantly pushed insurgents out of Timbuktu, the hopes that European Union institutions invested in an expanded European military effort to strengthen the rule of law in the Sahel and West Africa now lie in tatters.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.