The number of coup d’États in the world in 2021 was the highest in two decades, totaling seven coups. Of these, four were successful, two were defeated, and one is ongoing.

What is striking is that six of these seven coups or coup attempts happened in Africa. Only Myanmar, in Asia, is elsewhere. Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, called this the “putschist epidemic that sweeps Africa”.


By: Cesar Neto e Asdrúbal Barboza

Originally published in Spanish here

On this continent, the coups on Chad, Mali and Guinea-Conakry were successful and the attempt in Niger was defeated. In Sudan, the most unstable country, there were two attempts; the first was frustrated and the second is ongoing. This second attempt began in October and is still at an impasse because of the reaction of the masses. Sixty people have already lost their lives.

In the countries where the coups were successful, military officers took power, suffocating democratic liberties and establishing a phantom calendar for a “transition to democracy”.

There are also cases where no coups took place, but the presidents themselves, or the governments, maneuvered  the Constitution with Bonapartist measures to remain in power, like in Tunisia. This is a very common practice in the continent: in Uganda, the Parliament abolished the age limit that would force president Yoweri Museveni to quit after his fifth tenure; in Rwanda, Paul Kagame changed the Constitution to become a candidate for the third time, as did Pierre Nkurunziza on Burundi and Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire. There are also electoral frauds like Uhuru Kenyatta did in Kenya, as well as the probable fraud being prepared by João Lourenço and the MPLA, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola.

But what is most impressive is the bourgeois media’s justifications for these events. They describe this as caused by “lack of legitimacy of local leaders,” “ethnic disputes,” “effects of the Covid pandemic which led the international community to be less proactive in responding to coups,” “militarized societies where the Armed Forces always interfere in politics,” and a general environment of “corruption, bad governments, economic and social crisis, and international apathy”.

All of these elements are partially or even completely true, but none of them are real reasons for so much upheaval. Nobody speaks or writes that behind all of these coups lies the interests of imperialism and of its enormous multinational companies, who have organized coups, massacres and genocide in the African continent for centuries now, all to defend their own moneyed interests. In this moment of change in global productive processes, the raw minerals found in the African continent have become more valuable, and thus, the dispute for them is also more violent.

This is why, for example, the governments of France and the USA promoted the coup, torture, and murder of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1960. Behind the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda in 1994 were disputes between the French and British imperialists after the Belgians left the country. The French were also responsible for the ousting of Mamadou Tandja from the president’s office in Niger, the poorest country in the world, when he tried to negotiate with the Chinese for better conditions for the exploitation of the country’s natural resources. These multinationals profited immensely from the apartheid and racist government of South Africa, a government which instigated wars across the entire region in defense of imperialist interests, such as the invasion of Namibia, Angola and Mozambique, as well as supporting the racist regime during the civil war in Zimbabwe. These are only a few examples.

Beyond this, the rapid expansion of Covid-19 on the continent is a consequence of the same policies of these imperialist governments. They side with the pharmaceutical multinationals and do not dispute vaccine patents, which led to the vaccines the continent needed to contain the pandemic not being sent, increased the poverty and misery in already fragile economies.

One in every three people is now unemployed in Nigeria, the biggest economy of Western Africa. The same is true in South Africa, the most industrialized African nation.

It is estimated that the number of extremely poor people in sub-Saharan Africa has risen above 500 million people, half of the population. Fifteen of the 20 countries that lead the “Fragile States Index” are in Africa. Among them are Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

This is all without mentioning the absurd hypocrisy of the United Nations, which is always silent, complicit and on the side of imperialist interests in each of these events. The young officers which led the coups, like in Guinea-Conakry and Mali, received complete military training from powers like the USA, Russia or even the European Union under the guise of “fighting terrorism.”

The over-exploitation of the continent

One of the biggest lies widely disseminated about the African continent is that it relies on and drains economic assistance from imperialist countries. This narrative suggests that the continent’s growth is subsidized by these richer countries due to philanthropic efforts.

This is entirely false. The natural resources of the region are responsible for a large amount of the raw materials which are utilized by multinational capitalist countries. If China, and after it India, are the factories of the world, then the African continent is where the inputs for these factories come from.

Currently, the region is integrated into the globalized production chain, with the growing exploitation of its raw materials, especially mineral and oil wealth. This is occurring in a context where international governments and big companies are turning their eyes to energy transition which, according to the International Energy Agency, demands a multiplication of mineral extraction. For example, lithium will need to have its production multiplied 42 times, graphite 25, cobalt 21, nickel 19, and copper 7 times.

These materials are absolutely essential for the production of new cars and batteries, power grids, modern windmills and new photovoltaic plants, not to mention cell phones, computers, planes, rockets, nuclear plants, turbines, cutting tools, etc.

That is why companies like Apple, which has reached $3 trillion market value, or Microsoft (both of which are bigger than the Brazilian GDP), or Tesla, which makes and distributes electric cars, are being accused of “being aware” that the cobalt used in their products is related to child labor exploitation. The Democratic Republic of Congo produces 60% of the world’s supply of cobalt.

Corruption and hunger

These multinationals buy and practice active corruption together with corrupt and complicit governments, such as, avowedly, those of Angola, Zimbabwe, and Senegal.

A study done between 2019 and 2020 by Afrobarometer in 18 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa showed that 59% of respondents thought corruption had increased in their country, and that 64% believed nothing was being done to stop it.

This is a scenario fertile for coups, because young Africans are more and more desperate and cannot stand their corrupt governments. So they accept the lies of coupist military men who promise radical change, like we have witnessed in the streets of Guinea-Conakry, where, after power was taken, many exultant Guineas fraternized with the soldiers. The military spread statements, like in Mali, about “theft and bad governance” to justify their actions.

But, as in past coups, the scenes of joy will not last, as these governments will show themselves to be as corrupt and pro-imperialist as the ones that came before.

Coups and counter-coups

In Chad[1], in April 2021, Idriss Deby Itno, in power for 30 years, was elected for the sixth time, with 79% of the vote. The elections were marked by jailings, beatings and the murder of objectors. Before the new tenure began, Idriss was murdered in a controversial fight against guerrilla groups. According to the Constitution, power should have been taken by the President of the National Congress, but the military staged a coup and created a so-called “Military Transitional Council” which gave power to Manamy “Kaka” Déby, son of the late dictator.

Chad is an important ally of France, which leads the military alliance known as G5S, the “G5 of Sahel”, reuniting Chad, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. Chad is the most involved country, and Idriss guaranteed 1200 Chadian soldiers to the G5S. These troops are directly part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), where the USA and France, with five thousand soldiers, lead Operation Barkhane, an anti-insurgent operation based in N’Djamena, capital of Chad.

In Mali, in the last decade, three coup d’états were successful. In 2012 the military took down the regime of Amadou Toumani Touré and installed a “National Committee for the Recovery of Democracy and the Restoration of the State” which dissolved the institutions. In 2020, protests demanded the fall of president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who led the coupist government. He was deposed and arrested, along with his prime-minister, by vice-president, Assimi Goita, with the excuse of a “government remodeling”. Goita was sworn in on July as a transitional president. The Republic of Mali, although landlocked, is surrounded by countries that produce gold, oil and uranium, and thus is an important point in African geopolitics. The north of the country, where the Sahel strip is located, is sparsely inhabited but rich in gold and uranium [2].

In Guinea-Conakry, Alpha Condé was elected president in 2010 in the first democratic elections since Independence. He was reelected in 2015, but in 2020, when a Constitutional barrier stopped him from running for a third time, he organized an amendment and was reelected in October. Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, leader of the Special Forces Group, led a coup on September 5th and kidnapped the president. Doumbouya was trained in France and served in missions in Afghanistan, is trusted by imperialism, and has formed a new government with Mohamed Beavogui, ex-general-sub-secretary of the United Nations, as chancellor. Guinea-Conakry has the biggest bauxite reserves in the world and enormous iron reserves, and behind these coups and counter-coups is the exploitation of the Simandou mountain range by Anglo-Australian conglomerate Rio Tinto, as well as Chinese company Chinalco, both seeking to produce more than 100 million tons/year of high-quality ore. They fight for it against BSGR, owned by Israeli multimillionaire Beny Steinmetz, associated with De Beers, Dan Gertler of Nikanor, and Glencore.

Sudan is the most tragic example, because three years ago, in December 2018, the Sudanese people took to the streets to fight against the living conditions under the regime of Omar al-Bashir, who was in power for three decades. They managed to take him down, but the Armed Forces took power promising to hand it over after the new elections.

But on October 2021 [3], the military deposed civilian prime-minister Abdalla Hamdok, declared a state of emergency, and blockaded all telecommunications. Sudanese demonstrators returned to the streets and faced brutal repression, which has left at least 60 dead so far. Under pressure, the military negotiated the reinstatement of the prime minister, but the masses remain in the streets; after all, with unemployment skyrocketing and inflation of 400% per year, workers are willing to fight not only for a civilian prime minister but also to solve the problems of unemployment and inflation. They are demanding an end to the government led by general Abdel-Fattah Burhan.

According to a study, sub-Saharan Africa faced 80 successful and 108 failed coups between 1956 and 2001, an average of four per year. This number was halved between 2001 and 2019, when most African countries became more democratic, but is now growing again.

Changes in the palaces to block the anger of the people

The governments face widespread hatred due to the poverty of the population, economic crises, and the corruption of the ruling classes. Therefore, when confronted with demonstrations, revolts, and inevitable crises, the crisis of governance is usually resolved with military coups or agreements between the ruling cliques to hand over power rather than risk outright revolution.

This is the case of Angola, where José Eduardo dos Santos (in power since 1979) was removed against his will; of Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe (since 1980) went the same way with his prestige below zero; and of Senegal, where Abdoulaye Wade gave up on his proposal of changing electoral law, which would allow him to run again, after violent protests.

These “palace” changes seek to stop demonstrations from growing and effectively topple governments and regimes.

During the pandemic, Africa saw many rebellions occur, among them in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Senegal, Angola, Eswatini and South Africa. All of them were mostly of the popular and youth sectors. However, a new cycle seems to be starting, with organized sectors of the working class leading struggles. If this new cycle grows, a new situation in the balance of forces in the continent may emerge.

Popular and youth rebellions

The popular and youth rebellions in Africa and the coup attempts are the most visible aspects of the situation of social polarization magnified by the pandemic.

In Zimbabwe, the masses rose up against the dictatorship of Mnangagwa; in Nigeria, against police repression; even in Mali, against the first coup attempt; in Senegal, it was essentially against French imperialism and its ally, Macky Sall; in Angola, against the MPLA dictatorship; in Eswatini, against the absolutist monarchy of King Mswati III, and in South Africa, the starving masses looted supermarkets, shopping centers, and other businesses, with 374 dead.

With growing polarization and struggle between the classes, two opposing poles have formed. On one hand, the national bourgeoisies, allied with imperialism, trying to get out of the crisis by worsening the misery of the masses, increasing the exploitation of natural resources, and ending what little national sovereignty still exists.

On the other hand, the masses, the industrial proletariat and the poor working class, which grow increasingly more radical and defend themselves with whatever instruments they have available. It is a very unstable situation, provoked by this “every man for himself” mentality.

In this context, there is space for the appearance of actions on the right and on the left: coups and counter-coups, the formation of pro-imperialist right-wing governments, but also movements and insurrections, and, now, the first actions of the organized working class.

In this bubbling cauldron, it is essential that we start building organizations of the working class, even if they are embryonic, which start to give a socialist revolutionary perspective to these movements; which from the struggle against many of these dictatorships and Bonapartist regimes, present, along with the demands for democratic liberties, social change towards a revolution that gives power to the working class and the poor, to break with imperialism, and nationalize natural wealth to satisfy the needs of the people.

Only with these national revolutions that empower governments based in the working class will we really be able to walk the path of a Socialist Federation of African Peoples that extinguishes over-exploitation and misery on the continent.





(translated by Miki Sayoko)