Military Coups In Africa--The African "Neo-Colonialism" That Is Self-Inflicted AUTHOR Major Jimmi Wangome, Kenya Army CSC 1985 SUBJECT AREA General EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: MILITARY COUPS IN AFRICA--THE AFRICAN "NEO-COLONIALISM" THAT IS SELF-INFLICTED With the advent of independence in the late 50's and early 60's euphoria and new hopes swept through Africa as nation after nation attained self-govern- ment. There were new dreams and expectations as the colonial masters packed their bags and handed over the instruments of power to the indigenous peoples. To most Africans this was the end of a long freedom struggle in which so many had suffered. It was the end of slavery, human degradation and exploitation. However, these dreams were soon shattered as government after government fell victim to the coup d'etat across the continent. The new military rulers accused the civilian government of everything from corruption and incompetence to mismanagement of the national economy. However, experience in Africa has shown that the military are no better than civilians when it comes to running governments. Rather than solve African contemporary political and socio-econo- mic problems, military coups d'etat in Africa have tended to drive the continent into even further suffering and turmoil. This has been the case in Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Congo and several other African states. The future trend is that coups in Africa will remain a common phenomenon as long as political and economic instability prevails. MILITARY COUPS IN AFRICA--THE AFRICAN "NEO-COLONIALISM" THAT IS SELF-INFLICTED OUTLINE Thesis Statement: Rather than solve African contemporary political and socio- economic problems, military coups d'etat in Africa have tended to drive the continent into even further suffering and turmoil. I. Pre-independence era A. The struggle for independence B. Decolonization process C. Interim governments D. Transition of military set ups II. Post-independence era A. Fledgling governments B. Formation of national military organisations C. National identification by the military D. Impatience and ambition sweeps through the continent III. Coups galore A. Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Congo, Uganda, etc. B. Cause and effect IV. Current and future trends in Africa MILITARY COUPS IN AFRICA--THE AFRICAN "NEO-COLONIALISM" THAT IS SELF-INFLICTED The wind of change, as Mr. Harold McMillan, a British Prime Minister later called it, started sweeping through the colonial Anglophone and Francophone Africa in the early 1950's. Suddenly, there was this realiza- tion that the continent had to be free--free from colonial domination and exploitation. Blowing through Africa was a new fervour for revolt and nationalism. The revolt which was mainly spiritual was meant to drive the colonial masters from the African soil; the nationalism to mobilize the masses to the forefront in a fight for self-determination, liberty and human dignity. The astonishing success of the anti-colonialist crusade in India, led by Mahatna Ghandi was to become a major driving force and a great source of inspiration for African nationalists. India became inde- pendent in 1947. As the spirit of nationalism gained momentum throughout the continent the colonial rulers started accepting realities. Change was inevitable. The various national political parties and their leaders started getting recog- nition from the colonial administration. Political activities, which previously meant jail, detention or banishment, were now being authorised and licensed under the watchful eye of the police. Nationalists and party leaders could organise and address political rallies so long as they did not engage in anti-government subversion or sabotage. The political organ- isers during this period were later to emerge as either Heads of State or major political figures in their own countries. There was the fiery Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, the charismatic Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, the scholarly Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika, the nationalistic Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone, the emotional Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia (Northern Rhodesia), Azikiwe and Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, and the list goes on. All these and others were men who were instrumental in shaping the destinies of their respective countries. In the Anglophone African countries, the British started easing off control and slowly but gradually relinquishing power by the establishment of interim governments. National elections were held with all the regis- tered political parties being represented. The interim government was then formed with ministers from the majority party, with the party leader becoming the Chief Minister. The entire government was overseen by a British Governor and this was the British idea of 'self-government'. On attaining full independence a prime minister was then appointed and the British officially handed over the instruments of government. This was the time that the colonial flag would go down for the last time and a new national flag hoisted--hoisted for the first time. It was an occasion that was received with much excitement, pride and joy. The day of indepen- dence was a day celebrated with much pomp and pageantry and nationwide festivities. This excitement, however, was not to last long as so many African countries were to later find out. The colonial military set up was a different issue. On a nationalis- tic level and from a patriotic standpoint the military was viewed by the indigenous peoples as a bird of a totally different feather. The colonial legacy left military organisations that were not fully accepted in the African society. During the sensitive days of struggle for freedom and independence the general populace and the local politicians had developed an almost allergic fear and mistrust for soldiers. As very well observed by W.F. Gutteridge: Nationalist politicians saw them as agents of imperial rule suppressing political demonstrations and protec- ting European property. Though they had won glory by serving overseas in the two world wars, their imperial activities caused them to be regarded in some quarters as armies of occupation or at best as mercenaries in the service of a foreign power. This impression was assisted by a recruitment policy that preferred sub- jectively defined 'martial races' or those who were 'worthwhile soldiers'. The ensuing tribal imbalance necessarily made more difficult than it would other- wise have been the army's achievement of national sta- tus as an institution.1 To politicians therefore, the military had no positive role in the process of the freedom struggle and soldiers did not therefore need to be rewarded or accorded any special considerations. It is not surprising as a result, that most African leaders preferred to retain expatriate officers to go on commanding predominantly African troops. The Africanisation pro- cess was given priority in the areas of civil administration. Africans took over senior civil servant posts that were previously held by Europeans. This initial failure to Africanize the command hierachy in the Armed Forces was later to become a major area for concern and a source of military grie- vances that were to turn catastrophic in most newly independent African nations. In the entire tropical Africa it was only the Sudan that, as at the time of independence, had a fair number of indigenous commissioned offi- cers. In the Sudan, the British had been training local officers since 1918 1W.F. Gutteridge, Military Regimes in Africa (London: Methven & Co Ltd 1975), p. 6. At the time of independence in March 1957, Ghana had probably the highest standard of education in the entire black Africa. In spite of this im- pressive position, however, only a mere 10% of the commissioned officers were local. The Belgian Congo had a total force well in excess of 24,000 men at the time of independence. Yet there was not a single Congolese officer in the entire force. This state of imbalance or rather inequality was to contribute towards inciting a mutiny after independence. The army mutinies in Tanganyika and Uganda in 1964 were provoked by similar situa- tions, besides the issue of salaries. The post-independence era found many fledgling African governments groping in the dark for stability and direction. Soon, many governments found out that the new state of nationhood meant much more than just the creation of a national flag, the composition of a national anthem and the election of a president. The military, which the nationalist politicians had grown to despise and mistrust during the pre-independence era, had to be moulded and blended into this new national image. There were those pol- iticians at the time, of course, who viewed the military as a force or tool to be utilised in subduing political opponents and in projecting personal power across the country. This tendency by politicians to use the military for personal political gain was viewed negatively in pro- fessional military circles. It was seen as gross interference of the very fibre that holds the military together--professionalism. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana probably contributed to his own downfall by his undue meddling in the professional integrity of his army both at home and abroad. A case in point, was when President Nkrumah made the decision to send Ghanaians to the Congo in 1960 as part of the UN contingent. On several occasions Nkrumah issued his own instructions to the Ghana contingent, and in the process contradicting what had already been issued by the United Nations Command. This practice frustrated the Ghanaian soldiers who saw it as an unnecessary intrusion of their professional responsibilities. The newly independent African nations took over what were essen- tially colonial armies. In the majority of the cases the army was rela- tively small and ill-equipped. One major priority was to eliminate the colonial mentality that existed in the military by giving the armed forces a more national outlook. This obviously called for instituting clearly visible changes. The uniforms had to be redesigned to reflect a more national character. The names of the regiments, the names of the barracks and even the tunes of martial music had all to be modified to identify with the new nation. As pointed out earlier, there existed a noticable tribal imbalance in the national make-up of the military as a result of the colonialists' belief in 'martial tribes' or natural warriors. In order to rectify this situation recruitment had to be conducted on a national scale with every tribe represented, on a pro rata basis, according to the known population figures at the time. Only in this way could tribal tension and rivalry be minimised. It was humanly impracticable, certainly, to totally eradicate tribalism due the ethnic customs and traditions so permanently intra-woven in African society. This inherent African character of tribal- ism that is so much imbedded in local culture is a potentially explosive social phenomenon that was later to cause civil war in Nigeria. As the military was struggling to attain a national character in order to gain national acceptance, the politicians were becoming more self-seeking, power-hungry and ambitious. Some were out seeking instant wealth for themselves, their friends and relatives. Nepotism became rampant, common- place and a norm. Others were out experimenting on new and foreign ideo- logies in the name of African socialism. These were ideologies that had no bearing or relevance to the improvement of the lives of the ordinary man. Some of these governments started openly courting the Eastern bloc for advice and guidance. It did not take the ordinary citizens long to realize that these so-called progressive governments were not delivering the goods fast enough. Corruption had become an accepted way of life. Mismanagement of the economy coupled with sheer incompetence had led to runaway inflation and unaffordable prices. Unemployment and crime rates were on the increase. Yet the greedy get-rich-quick politicians continued getting richer. These were the kind of situations to be found in Ghana, Sudan, Somalia, Uganda and other countries when their governments fell to the military. In the majority of the coups that have occurred, the military has deemed it a national and patriotic obligation to rescue the country from total collapse and thereby restore lost national prestige. Although these coups d'etat have been executed in the guise of national interest and patri- otic duty, more often than not, military regimes have turned out to be more corrupt, oppressive and downright inefficient than the civilian governments they deposed. The period between 1960 and 1970 and slightly beyond has generally been called the decade of coups' in Africa. Once coups started in Africa they became like a wild African bushfire. They swept through the entire conti- nent at an alarmingly high speed. They leapt through national borders as if those boundaries did not exist anymore. During this decade of coups the scoreboard read something like this: 1. Congo-Kinshasa, 1960. General Mobutu seizes power temporarily. 2. Togo, January 1963. Coup deposes President Olympio, who gets killed in the process. 3. Congo-Brazzaville, August 1963. Government of Abbe' Youlou overthrown. 4. Dahomey, December 1963. Colonel Sogho overthrows President Maga. 5. Gabon, February 1964. Coup d'etat occurs but is reverted by French forces. 6. Algeria, June 1965. Colonel Boumedienne overthrows President Ben Bella. 7. Dahomey; December 1965. A second coup is staged. 8. Burundi, October 1965. The monarchy is overthrown by Army officers. 9. Central Africa Republic, January 1966. President David Dacko is ousted by Colonel Jean Bokassa. 10. Upper Volta, January 1966. Colonel Lamizana deposes President Yamego. 11. Nigeria, January 1966. General Ironsi is installed after a coup led by young officers. 12. Ghana, February 1966. President Kwame Nkruma is over- thrown by the military led by General Ankrah. 13. Nigeria, July 1966. General Gowon overthrows General Ironsi. 14. Burundi, November 1966. Captain Micombero takes over in another coup. 15. Sierra Leone, March 1967. President Margai deposed by Lieutenant Colonel Juxon-Smith. 16. Algeria, December 1967. A second coup attempt is made. 17. Sierra Leone, April 1968. A coup from the ranks over- throws Lieutenant Colonel Juxon-Smith. Civilian govern- ment re-installed under President Siaka Stevens. 18. Mali, November 1968. Young officers led by Lieutenant Moussa Traore depose the government of President Keita. 19. Sudan, May 1969. Free Officers' Movement seizes power. 20. Libya, September 1969, The monarchy is deposed. 21. Somalia, October 1969. A revolutionary Council led by the military overthrows the government.2 The list of this coups galore across the African continent goes on. After 1970, numerous other governments were overturned. The progressive government of Dr. Milton Obote in Uganda was deposed by General Idi Amin in January 1971. Uganda, under General Amin, went through one of the most tragic experiences in recent African history. The feudal monarchy of Emperor Haile Selassie in Ethiopia was deposed by the military in September 1974. By 1975, approximately half of the continent's states were led by military or civil-military governments. Other states also had records of predatory attacks by their military forces.3 In the recent 80's changes of government through the coup d'etat have occurred in Ghana, Upper Volta and Nigeria. No doubt, the coup d'etat and the military regime have be- come the most prevalent political phenomena in Africa. In an effort to justify the overthrow of the government one African officer is reputed to have claimed that a military take over and rule by officers never constitutes a revolution in tropical Africa but rather a limited modification of existing arrangements. This reasoning tends to 2Ruth First, The Barrel of a Gun (London: Penguin Press, 1970) p.xiii. 3Samuel Decalo, Coups and Army Rule in Africa (London: Yale University Press, 1976) p. 6. border on naivety. What then has led to such an apparently endless spate of coups? Looking at the entire continent, there appears to emerge some causes that share general commonality in the majority of the states. A protracted economic crisis has in most cases led to the failure of the political leadership. When faced with runaway inflation some of the more common measures have been price control, strict currency control, increased taxes and devaluation. Unfortunately these have not always been popular measures and have instead tended to generate countrywide dissatisfaction and national outrage. Military intervention has often occurred in these circumstances. Political squabbling, whereby the civilian leaders have been unable to resolve their differences in the interest of the nation, has led to military coups. Internal political problems within the ruling elite has had the out- ward effect of leading the masses into disappointment, disillusion and loss of faith in the government. The inefficiency of the civilian government, coupled with corruption and maladministration has been a common factor. After independence, the people expected their own government to be more familiar with their pro- blems and be able to find solutions to them. This has not always been so. A problem that is not likely to be resolved easily in Africa is 'tribal- ism' or the ethnic factor. Ethnic groupings have created more national disunity than any other single factor. Governments have tended to be more tribal than national in structure, with inter-tribal oppression becoming common practice. This in effect has created more societal tension and tur- moil. Military intervention has not always been conducted to 'rescue' the nation from political ills. Coups have been linked directly or indirectly with personal ambitions and the craving for power by some specific key players.4 This was in fact the case in Dahomey in 1965. In other instances, officers have led coups to regain lost prestige or to pre-empt an impending purge. Coupled with this, interpersonal clashes have occurred between the civilian and military elites and thereby provoking takeovers. Cases in point have been Uganda in 1971, Togo in 1963, Congo in 1968, Dahomey in 1967, and several others. In retrospect, the results of military rule in this vast continent have been very disappointing indeed. Besides being unable to solve the problems they set out to solve in the first place, military regimes in some cases have created situations that did not exist with civilian governments. Mili- tary rule has not necessarily been free of incompetence, corruption and maladministration that their civilian predecessors were alleged to have en- couraged. Soldiers have been known to be more of wealth-seekers, property. grabbers and bribe-takers. They have openly engaged themselves in self- enrichment activities through the barrel of the gun and through intimidation. They have become better embezzlers than their forerunners. They have made better smugglers and tax evaders. In Uganda, General Idi Amin expelled the entire Asian community without any compensation. All the Asian-owned busi- nesses, premises, dwelling houses and plantations were literally dished out to fellow soldiers, friends and any other Ugandan who caught the General's fancy. Within about two years most of those businesses had closed down or 4Samuel Decalo, Coups and Army Rule in Africa (Clinton: The Colonial Press Inc., 1976) p. 231. gone bankrupt owing to mismanagement and neglect. It soon came to light that the Asian participation in the Ugandan commerce and industry formed a very dynamic part of the country's economy. Essential consumer goods became scarce and in turn this prompted smuggling across the borders from the neighboring countries. By the time Dr. Milton Obote made a comeback, Uganda was at the brink of bankruptcy and total economic decay. Further- more, the soldiers in Uganda were no longer accountable for their actions. The rule of law was a total breakdown and thousands of people were massacred or simply "disappeared" without trace. Events in other countries echoed of economic mismanagement and political instability. There were threats of further coups, counter-coups and assassinations. Although the general public had initially welcomed, hailed and celebrated coups, they were now disillu- sioned. Today, the coup d'etat phenomenon still looms over Africa. The coup has not improved the African economic conditions. The coup has not been a source for political stability. Rather than solve African contemporary political and socio-economic problems, military coups d'etat in Africa have tended to drive the continent into even further suffering and turmoil. And then there is that aura of insecurity and uncertainty. When and where is the next one going to be? More so now than ever before, African political systems remain unpredictable. But one thing is certain. As long as there is economic and political instability military coups will continue to occur; and as long as military regimes exist, counter-coups will continue to occur. The future of Africa is that bleak. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Decalo, Samuel, Coups and Army Rule in Africa. London: Yale University Press, 1976. 2. First, Ruth, The Barrel of a Gun. London: Penguin Press, 1979. 3. Gutteridge, W.F., Military Regions in Africa. London: Methuen & Co., 1975. 4. Luttwak, edward, Coup d'Etat. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979. 5. Van Dourn, Jacque, Military Profession and Military Regimes. The Hague: Mouton, 1969. 6. Woddis, Jack, Armies and Politics. New York: International Publishers, 1978.
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