I don’t like the part of the continent they call West Africa. It’s hot with overcrowded, noisy, and unruly cities. It’s a miserable region. But I love the people who live there – the locals. They are rambunctious. Confident. Beautiful. And often authentic.
Most of the time they are proud to be black and African. When they are rich, they are very rich – and very poor when they are poor. But they have perfected the art of using the post-colonial state to inflict savage cruelty on one another.
They seem to enjoy exacting pain on citizens by abusing the instruments of power. They have done so especially during the dictatorship of juntas, but also during elected civilian governments.
I have always thought that most men regard the gun – with its ability to fire – as an extension of their manhood. In the world of machismo this is a weapon of war – of conquest – against the female gender. Many African soldiers who are bred with the legacy of the colonial occupying army see themselves as the “male” conquerors of “female” native subjects.
They are trained to rape and loot the body and the soul. They brandish the gun as a symbol of their virility. In fact, they aren’t trained to repel and fight the external enemy, but to pulverize the internal native citizen. Nowhere has this script been more evident than in West Africa.
West Africa has led Africa in many things, both good and bad. One of the areas where it’s led the continent is the incubation of the soldier as a ruler, a dictator. The region led the continent in coups against civilian governments soon after independence in the 1960s. Civilian governments fell like dominoes soon after Black civilian rulers took over from the departing white colonialists.
Some of Africa’s anti-colonial stars – including Kwame Nkurumah – were among the first to face the wrath of the soldier. Never mind that many of the putschists were barely literate. Personally, I trace the tragedy that is Africa to the large appetite of the soldier for political power. The soldier has cannibalized Africa.
I know the silly and tiring responses to my argument. The opposite side will argue civilian regimes have been equally worse.
I won’t accept that whataboutism. Have civilians been better? Undoubtedly. Have they also been demonic at times? Of course. But the devils that the people themselves have chosen are better than those who impose themselves on you at the barrel of a gun. Besides the argument of democracy, you get a chance to kick out the rascals – at least in theory – once every electoral cycle.
Soldiers, however, don’t have to do anything but shoot you in the face if you threaten their hold on power. Civilian to soldier rulers are carnivores to herbivores. They aren’t the same.
I am vexed by the soldier as ruler because of the return of the coup in West Africa, the continent’s leader in many things. This should be ominous to all pan-Africanists on the continent. History shows that whatever starts or happens in West Africa doesn’t stay there. It usually spreads – sometimes like a wildfire – to the rest of Africa.
That’s what happened with the coup in the 1960s. It was the West African coups that set the pace for Idi Amin in Uganda, Jean-Bedel Bokassa in Central African Republic, and so many others I would like to forget. Since 2020, West Africa has again incubated the virus of the coup. Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, and now Niger have fallen.
Elsewhere, others have followed suit in Chad and Sudan. One must now wonder whether there are soldiers elsewhere on the continent secretly hatching coup plots against civilian leaders. Will the cycle of the 1960s repeat itself?
Then, as now, the soldiers from the illiterate Samuel Doe of Liberia to Omar Bashir of Sudan claimed they had taken power to “save” the nation from local thieving elites and their Western puppeteers.
We’ve heard the same gibberish from the junta in Niger.
The clownish putschists, often glad in comical dark goggles and military camouflage with a pretend machismo, look like Martians on earth. Many are child-soldiers who can’t recite the alphabet. How are they supposed to liberate Africa from imperialism?
It’s the same tired song. And Africa’s youth are so undereducated and completely impoverished that they see a promise in the boy-soldiers. But there is a lesson for civilian governments in the public support they have received from segments of the population. You risk a coup if you don’t listen to the cry of the people, even if you are democratically elected. This is scary but true.
At the same time, I believe Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) simply can’t let the coup in Niger stand. It is one coup too many. The African Union must support Ecowas restore constitutional order by force if necessary or risk a cataclysmic continental contagion.