The Backslide Of Democracy In West Africa


Africa, the world’s poorest and least developed continent, stands on the brink of another conflict. The deadline from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the coup leaders in Niger to step down and restore the government of Mohamed Boazoumhas come and gone. Reports indicate that ECOWAS is already preparing for a military intervention in Niger, with Nigeria and Senegal having pledged troops. The coup follows on the heels of similar military takeovers in ECOWAS member nations Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali, and an attempted coup in Guinea Bissau, all within the last three years.

Africa is almost preternaturally prone to coups, having witnessed 214 coup d'├ętat attempts since 1950, the most out of any region in the world. Over 90% of African nations have faced putsches, successful or otherwise. Thus, historically, they are the norm rather than an aberration in Africa’s political environment. However, even after taking this into account, Western Africa’s preponderance for coups is unique. Most West African nations, with some exceptions, lie within the Sahel region. The Sahel stretching from Mauritania and Senegal to the west, to Sudan, and Eretria to the east has been the heart of violence and humanitarian disasters for the past few decades.

The Sahel has been the stomping grounds for various jihadist groups since the failure of the Libyan state in 2011, after the NATO-led intervention in the state. This led to the proliferation of weapons and armed fighters in the region which ultimately culminated in various extremist organisations including but not limited to Boko Haram, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). Consequently, according to the Global Terrorism Index, there were 6,701 terrorism-related deaths globally in 2022, with the Sahel accounting for 43% of the global total. Government failure to curtail these terrorist groups is often the reason cited for military takeovers, as was the case with the 2012 Mali coup and the current situation in Niger.