Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Lessons for coup makers?

December 24, 2009

Guinea soldiers.jpgPresident Barack Obama’s decision to end trade benefits for Guinea, Madagascar and Niger shows some stiffening of Washington’s resolve to act against those seen to be moving in the opposite direction to demands for greater democracy in Africa.

But the fact that new benefits were simultaneously extended to Mauritania may also give a lesson in how would-be coup makers should best behave if they want to get away with it.

In the first three countries, there is no clear idea as to how they will return to a form of government more acceptable in the eyes of Western countries or those of their neighbours.

Guinea and Madagascar in particular both look in real danger of much greater turmoil.

In Mauritania, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz overthrew an elected president in 2008 – the country’s first freely elected president – but managed to get elections organised and himself voted into office by July, although the ballot was condemned by his opponents.

Perhaps crucially for the Western support, he also swiftly promised to cooperate in fighting al-Qaeda in the Sahara.

Uncertainty over transitions in both Guinea and Madagascar has stoked internal instability as well as costing foreign assistance.

Obama’s measures will have little direct impact on Guinea’s rulers, but the message on the importance of swift elections may still be heard – if not acted upon – by the soldiers holding the fort since junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara was badly wounded in an assassination attempt on Dec. 3.

Camara’s experience was one no coup maker could want to repeat.

Feted by Guineans when he took power a year ago following the death of the local strongman, questions soon surfaced over the direction and decisions of the government.

The killing of more than 150 pro-democracy marchers in September brought local and international outrage. Camara’s own army was also concerned at where blame would fall. He was shot by a soldier who feared being made a scapegoat for the massacre. Flown to Morocco, it is now uncertain when Camara will return.

Coup makers in Africa seem to be better off in terms of local and international support to ensure a rapid election and transition, ideally with the support of neighbouring states, even if planning to keep hold of power.

But should the international community do anything that might benefit anyone who takes power in a new coup, particularly given that military takeovers have been growing much less frequent in Africa? Should the world be ready to accept, or even encourage, coups that get rid of anyone not clearly moving towards more accountable government?

Picture: Guinean soldiers parade in Conakry this month. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? The Mauritania lesson seems to be that if you are Fighting Terror [Al Qaeda] You can do a Karzai?

I think the President has in fact established a greater granularity in the US Foreign Policy but lets be Frank, Camara and his Cabal are so far beyond the Pale, They are off the charts.

The Problem for the US is that China and Hu’s Dollars has given some recalcitrant Regimes an Option that they did not have before and US Foreign Policy in Africa has to work around but probably with the Chinese Elephant. Sudan is the next Place where the Obama doctrine will face a very stern Test.

Aly-Khan Satchu

Posted by AlyKhanSatchu | Report as abusive

To those contemplating a future in international politics, the golden rule is clear:

“Whatever you do, do it quick”.

Whether you plan a scam election, a coup, a short war, a missile launch or a treaty breach, you always follow that rule. Short and sweet.

The international community may nash their teeth and condemn, but their attention span is short. And within a few weeks, whatever you did will be old news.

Look at the Lebanon and Gaza wars. Russia and Ossetia. China and the satellite. Iran and the missiles. Pakistan and the border provinces.

Short and sweet. And within a month afterwards, nobody cares. Least of all the media.

But keep the event going on for longer then a month and people will notice. Like a bad fish, the stench gets everyone’s attention and will stick to you for years.

Posted by Anon86 | Report as abusive

I hope all Democratic Forces will also look into the affairs in Pakistan as apprehensions has been shown by many of some Un-Democratic Forces now in play against the elected Government. This standard must be for all countries where ever they exist. I personally believe that only Democracy is the best way to rule a country. The best judges are People not other forces who ever they may be.

Posted by Aftab68 | Report as abusive

It shows that if you are “strategic” enough (either because of Al qaeda or oil, other natural resources, competition with China), you may get away with it even with questionable elections. Aziz removed a democratically-elected president, held elections which he won and was quickly recognised as the president of Mauritania by the AU and then the EU, and the USA. Would it have been the case without the threat of Al qaeda? The lesson is that not only you need elections, but for them to be quickly accepted, you need something bigger and Aziz played the right card from the beginning (fight against terrorism).

Posted by lydieboka | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see