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  • Writer's pictureThe Red Line

Episode 66. Why are Military Coups on the Rise in Africa?

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The higher the temperature, the higher the chance of a fire.

With the current myriad of crises in West Africa, we are witnessing a frightening rise in the geopolitical temperature each and every month. A wave of coups has begun sweeping across much of the region, but whilst all of these coups have individual circumstances something must be permeating the region as a whole to make this possible?



Ebenezer Obadare

  • Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

  • Professor of Sociology at the Univesity of Kansas.

  • Senior Fellow at the New York University School of Professional Studies Center for Global Affairs.

Hennie Strydom

  • Professor of International Law at the University of Johannesburg.

  • Co-author of International Law from Oxford University Press.

  • Expert on the political of the African region.

Michael Rubin

  • Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

  • Former Pentagon official, where he dealt with issues relating to Africa and the Middle East

  • Author of Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes


Part 1: A Collection of Coincidences (3:27)

  • Ebenezer Obadare explains the myriad factors and conditions that must be examined when determining the causes of a coup, which makes predicting a coup so difficult but in retrospect understandable.

  • We discuss the impacts of foreign backing on coups, not just from outside the continent but including intra-African nations, and the limits of foreign influence on domestic situations.

  • Historically, does the ascension of military figures into positions of leadership that are dressed up as a necessary move for domestic security actually change the situation on the ground in the fight against insurgencies? What are the long term effects on the militaries involved in these actions?

  • We evaluate the effectiveness of the African Union to condemn coups and isolate affected nations, including through the use of sanctions, and what the experience of the civilians in those nations changes in the aftermath of a coup.


Part 2: Trouble on the Home Front (24:36)

  • Hennie Strydom examines the commonalities between coups across the continent, how these factors can offer a warning about the potential for a coup to occur, and their destabilising effects upon areas that already lacked stability.

  • The African Union's mechanisms to detect early warning signs for a coup appear to either not be working or not being followed up with sufficient response in time to prevent a situation escalating. Should the AU be more active and severe in responding with sanctions and coercive actions to improve regional stability? Is there a suitable one-size-fits-all approach or do regional factors need to be considered such as in the recent response to the Chad coup?

  • With increasing instability, competition for resources like water and increasing terrorism in the Sahel, Central and East Africa, should we expect an increase in violent conflict and the potential for further coup attempts.

  • We also discuss the duty to provide intelligence to governments threatened with coups and the right way for foreign governments to provide support and intervention activity in Africa.


Part 3: Befriending the Old Enemy (41:28)

  • Michael Rubin identifies that societies that are engaged in military conflicts and that have a history of coups are most susceptible to future coups; the first coups fundamentally erodes the democratic stability of nations. Taking examples from the Middle East, often the circuit breaker has been a severe military dictatorship which paints a bleak picture for the future.

  • We also discuss the involvement of Wagner Group and the impact of foreign security forces and mercenaries on these recent coups, with Rubin warning against ignoring the domestic situation in favour of the foreign influence narrative.

  • Does France and other foreign governments have a role to play in bringing stability to the continent, can they do so collaboratively to avoid stumbling into neo-colonialism and can they afford to wash their hands completely and create a power vacuum?


The Red Line's African Coups Reading List:

We’ve compiled a list of further reading should you be interested in delving deeper into the geopolitics of Africa and the threat of coup d'etats across the continent.


The Fortunes of Africa

Martin Meredith

The States of Africa

Martin Meredith

The Looting Machine

Tom Burgis


For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:

This episode is dedicated to Patreon members Alexander Dewing and Klara Junker


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