Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
The overthrow of Madagascar’s leader may have had nothing to do with events elsewhere in Africa, but after four violent changes of power within eight months the question is bound to arise as to whether the continent is returning to old ways.
Three years without coups between 2005 and last year had appeared to some, including foreign investors, to have indicated a fundamental change from the first turbulent decades after independence. This spate of violent overthrows could now be another reason for investors to tread more warily again, particularly as Africa feels the impact of the global financial crisis.
“Although I don’t think these instances of instability in Africa are related to each other or part of a pattern, I think there’s no doubt external constituents and businesspeople around the world will assume there is a pattern,” said Tom Cargill, Africa Programme Coordinator at London thinktank Chatham House.
The fact that coup makers have succeeded without being forced to step down or even face major censure could also embolden those who might be tempted to take power in bigger countries, where falling growth is encouraging disaffection.
It seems Madagascar’s slow-motion coup has at last come to a head with the removal of President Marc Ravalomanana, announced almost casually in a text message from one of his aides.
The change has been a long time coming — the first outbreaks of violence were in January — and it’s all rather different from what many would regard as the traditional African coup d’etat.
Eton-educated British mercenary Simon Mann has gone on trial in Equatorial Guinea for his role in a 2004 coup plot to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
The state prosecutor is seeking a jail term of nearly 32 years for Mann, who has admitted in a British TV interview this year that he plotted to topple Obiang.
Mann’s defence lawyer has argued that his client was a “mere instrument” in the plot, but not one of the main organisers. The prosecution has named Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as one of the businessmen conspirators who invested in the coup plot. Mark Thatcher denies knowing about the coup and is not on trial in Malabo.
So, with Mann’s trial and the death of notorious French mercenary Bob Denard last year, is the era of the “dogs of war” over in Africa? Or will Equatorial Guinea’s huge oil riches soon tempt others to hire foreign guns for a violent takeover of power?
Is justice being done in the case of Mann, or should others be with him there in the dock?
The rule of President Obiang, who overthrew his dictatorial uncle Francisco Macias Nguema in a 1979 coup, has been sharply criticised by international human rights groups who accuse him of abuses and restricting political freedoms. Some might argue that a “regime change” such as the one plotted by Mann might have been good for Equatorial Guinea. What do you think?