Corruption fuels coups… – Prof Asamoah on the causes of coups

“Unbridled” corruption, poverty – and poor governance are fuelling coups in Africa. BizNews speaks to Professor Humphrey Asamoah Agyekum of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark following the most recent coup, this time in Niger. He lists some of the main reasons behind the many coups – specifically in West Africa. He also discussed the link between coups in West Africa and coup leaders trained in the West. Commenting on one coup whose leader was US-trained, Professor Asamoah says: “So that, of course, also led to lots of discussions about what exactly was he trained in. Was he trained to overthrow the government or was he trained in something else, right? – Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introductions
  • 00:25 – Professor Humphrey Asamoah Agyekum on Western influence on coups in Africa
  • 03:46 – On the Niger coup
  • 04:17 – On why certain countries in West Africa are so prone to coups
  • 13:28 – On poor governance in Africa
  • 17:42 – Concludes

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Highlights from the interview

“Unbridled” corruption, poverty – and poor governance are fuelling coups in Africa.

BizNews speaks to Professor Humphrey Asamoah Agyekum of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark following the most recent coup, this time in Niger.

He lists some of the main reasons behind the many coups – specifically in West Africa.

“So there is a dynamic to coups… I think in West Africa, if you look at the coups, corruption sort of seems to fuel coups. 

Read more: Renegade warlord Prigozhin steals limelight at Russia-Africa summit, lauds Niger coup

“You know, if the political class is seen to be overly corrupt while the population is suffering, especially nowadays…with the cost of living crisis. So, if you see that your leaders are living large while you’re suffering and a military person comes to say, yeah, well, the only way to get rid of these corrupt people is through a coup. You know, people are inclined to support them without thinking further about what it actually means. Because once a coup has been conducted, it has all sorts of societal implications.”

Another coup motivator is leaders clinging to power. “…when… politicians change the electoral rules to such an extent that people who are sick of the government don’t see that the government they are sick of would ever leave office.

“…and of course, usually the government who do these things, they have a multiple security apparatus that is arranged in a way that it suppresses its people and then people don’t have anything to say, right? So when somebody comes to say, well, I can dispose the government through military coup, people support.”

Poverty also “drives people into the arms of military intervention”.  I mean, I’ve spoken to a lot of Africans, West Africans, who say, yeah, well, democracy hasn’t shopped us, right? Because only the elites are shopping. They are benefiting, and we are suffering, right?”

Coups can also be sparked by despair because governments are not using the country’s resources to the benefit of the people – and have entered into “very poor”, decades-long contracts with foreign countries that rake in huge profits while locals are starving.

Read more: African leaders show little enthusiasm for Putin’s charm offensive – Peter Fabricius 

“…sometimes you read about these negotiations and the contracts, and you think, seriously? you know, why did you make such a deal?”

In certain cases a country’s resources are sold “too cheaply” because of the leaders’ “personal interest and their immediate circle of lieutenants, without taking into account the broader, wider society”. 

“You know, we need to, African people need to start asking their governments questions about what kind of deals they are making. And if somebody negotiates something and the deal is seen, seems to be very poorly, negotiated, they should be able to conduct a forensic audit of what happened and how did we get here.”

Professor Asamoah also discussed the link between coups in West Africa and coup leaders trained in the West. “So what I would say about that link is that officer training historically has in post-independent Africa been conducted by Western institutions…So that there is clearly a link. The other issue is of course, since the… fight against terrorism, there are also all these exercises that are conducted, right, between or organised by Western countries, but then held in Africa. And African militaries participate with Western countries in these exercises.”

Commenting on one of the coups whose leader was US-trained, Professor Asamoah says: “So that, of course, also led to lots of discussions about what exactly was he trained in. Was he trained to overthrow the government or was he trained in something else, right?”

*Professor Asamoah’s regional interest of research is West Africa. His thematic fields of interest are: civil-military relations, militarism, African armies, violent conflict, conflict management, human security, youth in post-conflict environments, security governance and security sector reform. His is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology.

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