MILITARY DEFENSE PACTS IN AFRICA (Abridged Version) By Nowamagbe A. Omoigui, MD

A_Belgian_Colony_into_Independ2017-07-16_18-35-39.pngMILITARY DEFENSE PACTS IN AFRICA – Why do coups occur in Africa? Back in the sixties, confronted with the first round of African military putsches, some writers tried to make sense of the trend by postulating different explanations for military intervention in politics. A brief summary of these postulates may provide some insights for our discussions. Some analysts felt that Africa’s economic settings provided the context for understanding coups. In their opinion, most African states were in the unstable transition between “penury and solvency,” with a politically active class driven by the “disease of want.” This viewpoint claimed that African leaders reveled in waste in the midst of poverty and overspent their national budgets on “white elephant projects.” Further, it was opined that the educational system seemed geared toward creating a local elite whose goals were geared at mimicking the former colonial officials rather than create the framework for genuine African development based on agrarian realities. Such leaders, hampered by corruption and/or ineffectiveness, overseeing slow economic progress constrained by the reliance of agricultural and mineral products on foreign markets, low literacy and short life expectancy rates along with poor health facilities, reportedly quickly lost legitimacy in the eyes of their ‘result oriented’ armed forces. However, in disagreement, other writers felt that beyond the usual rhetoric, the vast majority of coups were driven by mundane considerations and lacked social content. One interesting conjecture advanced by Ronald Matthews was that de facto or de jure One-Party States constitute a particularly attractive environment for coups. The thinking was that the single-party system stultifies legal opposition and constructive discourse. On the basis of the presumption that “no-one but a fool plots when he can persuade,” this theory states that when the army represents the only independent organized force that can challenge a government (rightly or wrongly), the situation is ideal for a coup d’état. To support this tendency, it has been pointed out that the African military, not being a closed caste, is often in close proximity with pockets of civilian resentment. And because the armies lack an external threat, they become one additional political party, just to have something to do. In the mid 1980s, Alozie Ogugbuaja, then a Police Public Relations Officer in Nigeria, upset his superiors when he publicly stated that coup plotting was often the outcome of boredom in the barracks. Ogugbuaja argued that idle soldiers who spend much of their time eating pepper-soup and drinking alcohol were responsible for plotting coups. But the harsh reality of this jest hit home in Zambia in October 1997 when Captain Solo, along with some other junior officers, decided on the spur of the moment during a bout of drinking to launch ‘Operation Born Again.’ They seized the radio station and announced a coup before being flushed out a few hours later.\

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