I always thought the characterization of the African continent, sometimes by many smart, well-meaning journalists, and others, biased in their analysis, makes the continent appear as hell, the worst place to live in the eyes of the world.
Narratives following the recent coup and ouster of long-time Sudanese leader Omar al Bashir help make my point.
Africa – A Place for Military Coups?
When Omar al Bashir, leader of Sudan, was ousted by military leaders on April 11, after more than two decades of rule, the story captured headlines around the globe.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) quickly put out this piece to remind us about the continent’s history of coups.
The story about coups in Africa piqued my interest for many reasons. While true, it failed the journalistic test of impartiality and balance when it did not tell us, that against this very backdrop, there are still many democratic nations in the African continent, including many that have never experienced a coup.
Just look at the map the BBC provided which counted the states that have experienced a coup since 1952. On the same map, more than half the nations on it have never experienced a coup. For those that never experienced a coup, while many may not be full functioning democracies, if you go by the definition of a democracy, they are a hybrid, with a mix of aspects of freedom as well as a display of authoritarian tendencies within the system. The same applies to many countries in the West.
This picture about democracy in Africa, pointing to the year 2013 for example, tells us one thing – the trend towards democracy in the continent since 1960 has been upwards, not downward.
The screaming headline the BBC gave us is a disservice to the continent. While the continent accounted for the highest number of coups that have occurred on a global scale, the analysis missed the framework to tell readers the real reasons why some of the coups happen. I repeat – it missed the framework to tell readers the real reasons why these coups happen in the first place.
Poverty and poor economic performance, cited from U.S. political scientist Jonathan Powell as some of the reasons why these countries experience coups, are actually the lesser of the evils associated with this phenomenon. African history, often tied to their former colonial masters, many of them sustaining dictatorships in these countries, and geo-economic interests, are the real reasons for the coups. This is an entirely different discussion that I won’t get into here.
Also, the account was not placed within the context of a recent global decline in democratic norms that includes countries in Europe and North America.
Lastly, The Guardian tells us that the challenge of democracy, which varies by regions of the world, and the notion that African nations may be more autocratic because of coups, is a myth or stereotype. The fact is, there are imperfections, flaws even within so-called established democracies of the world. That African nations experience coups more often is not the real question. The real question is, why do Western and Eastern countries, who prop up dictators in many of these countries, act like they are tone deaf when the citizens who are impacted by the leadership of dictators, cry out to them for help?