With the crisis in Burundi recently, stories of the coup have been in the news quite a bit. A coup d’ etat happens when there is a sudden overthrow of a government, usually done by a state establishment like the military, in order to replace it with another body from the military or a chosen civilian. However, such exercise can be exacting to the civilian populace, not only for the violence during the acts of rebellion and sometimes in ‘democratic coup to oust an oppressive government, but also the failure of coup attempts often resulting in civil war. Here are the most violent military coups in Africa. These are just too many African leaders who have come to power either democratically or illegitimately and have refused to step down. They torture members of opposition parties, rig municipal and presidential elections, censor newspapers, radio and television stations that are critical of the despotic government, intimidate members of the press that are opposed to the government’s policies and amend the constitution so that they can rule the nation indefinitely. Such oppressive rule promotes members of opposition parties and the military to carry out a coup as that is the only way in which the current government can step down and much-needed reforms brought about.
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 patriotic duty, more often than not, military regimes have turned out to be more corrupt, oppressive, and downright inefficient than the civilian governments they deposed thus driving the civilians into even further suffering and turmoil.
Notes: Coup leaders must seize and hold central authority for at least one week to be considered a “successful” coup d’etat.
The July 23, 1952 revolution by a group of young army officers, named ‘The Free Officers Movement led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nassar, first started out to depose the leadership of King Farouk. However, they also had other political agendas such as their moves to abolish the constitutional monarchy and aristocracy of Egypt and Sudan, establish a republic and end the British occupation of the country. The significance of this coup is that not only did it inspire other countries to revolt, it also lead to the Suez canal being nationalized which caused the Suez crisis which forced France and Britain to decolonize; while Muhammad Naguib became the first President of Egypt.
In February 2011, then-president Hosni Mubarak resigned after 18 days of mass protest and was succeeded by President Mohamed Morsi. Morsi was later deposed by the military in 2013 by the Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who is now the current president.
On August 3, 1979, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo overthrew his uncle, the then-dictator Francisco Macias Nguema after fearing that he has gone mad for ordering the murders of several members of his family, including Obiang’s brother. Charged with a number of atrocities committed including the genocide of Bubi, Macias was executed by the firing squad on September 29, 1979. While the bloody coup d’état that ensued was shocking, what was more shocking was its aftermath when Obiang held power for three decades and funneled all the country’s wealth through his own bank accounts while the world questioned his part in his uncle’s atrocities.
Cameroon Coup and NonCoup 1982
After nearly 23 years as President of Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo resigned for unclear reasons in November 1982 and was succeeded by Prime Minister Paul Biya. Despite his resignation, Ahidjo remained President of the Cameroon National Union (CNU), the ruling party, and retained enormous political influence. Although Ahidjo's resignation was voluntary and he was initially happy to see Biya take his place as President (although Biya was a Christian from the south and Ahidjo was a Muslim from the north), a power struggle between the two developed in 1983. Ahidjo attempted to assert his supremacy by arguing that the party should make policy decisions and that the state should merely implement them, but Biya in turn pointed out that the constitution assigned responsibility for determining policy to the President of the Republic.
Ahidjo went into exile in July 1983, and on August 22, 1983, Biya publicly accused Ahidjo of plotting a coup, while simultaneously dismissing two key Ahidjo loyalists—Prime Minister Maigari Bello Bouba and Minister of State for the Armed Forces Maikano Abdoulaye—from the government. Ahidjo bitterly criticized Biya from exile, accusing him of paranoia and misrule, and he resigned as President of the CNU. In February 1984 he was sentenced to death in absentia for alleged involvement in the 1983 coup plot, although the sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment by Biya.
In early April 1984, President Biya ordered a transfer of all presidential palace guards who came from the predominantly Muslim north, probably because he had been alerted to a coup plot involving those soldiers.
Dissident members of the palace guard promptly reacted to the order by rebelling against Biya; the plot's leaders may have been forced to launch their coup attempt prematurely due to Biya's order to relocate the soldiers away from the capital, Yaoundé. An important factor was Cameroon Air Force, which remained loyal to the president.After several days of heavy fighting in Yaoundé, Biya loyalists defeated the rebels.
Estimates of the death toll ranged from 71 (according to the government) to about 1,000. More than 1,000 accused dissidents were arrested shortly afterward, and 35 of them were immediately sentenced to death and executed. The government declared a state of emergency lasting six months in Yaoundé and the surrounding region.
Although Ahidjo was not overtly involved in the coup attempt, it was widely believed that he had masterminded it from exile. The failure of the coup attempt was followed by Biya's full consolidation of power; in 1985 he relaunched the CNU as the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM).
On June 30, 1989, Omar a-Bashir, a colonel of the Sudanese Army led a bloodless coup against the unstable government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi. However, his 22 years in power had been marked with extreme violence as he issued purges and executions in the upper ranks of the army, banned associations of political parties and independent newspapers, and imprisoned journalists and political figures while his military bombed and killed untold numbers of civilians causing 100,000 to flee.
He was charged with the genocide of 300,000 people, war crimes, and embezzlement of millions of dollars by the International Criminal Court in 2003.
The Nato powers overthrew Gaddafi did not do so because he was a tyrannical ruler, but because he pursued a nationalist policy that was at odds with western policies in the Middle East.
Western and regional governments share responsibility for much that has happened in Libya, but so too should the media. The Libyan uprising was reported as a simple-minded clash between good and evil. Gaddafi and his regime were demonised and his opponents treated with a naïve lack of skepticism and inquiry. The foreign media have dealt with the subsequent collapse of the Libyan state since 2011 mostly by ignoring it, and politicians have stopped referring to Libya as an exemplar of successful foreign intervention.
As a result of the coup, Libya is still imploding into a militia country. Its oil exports have fallen from 1.4 million barrels a day in 2011 to 235,000 barrels a day. Militias hold 8,000 people in prisons, many of whom say they have been tortured. Some 40,000 people from the town of Tawergha south of Misrata were driven from their homes which have been destroyed.
Muammar al-Gaddafi himself overthrew the monarchy in Libya in 1960. Gaddafi’s successor, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, survived two coup attempts in 2013 in space of 5 months.
On May 17 the forces of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), with the support of Uganda, Angola, Rwanda, and the USA, took Zaire’s capital Kinshasa and changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo putting an end to 31 years of dictatorship by Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu was chased from power in May after a seven-month rebellion led by a lifelong opponent, Laurent Desire Kabila. Throughout his rule, Mobutu swore that he would never be known as a former president, but only as of the late president. In another characteristic boast, he often said that before him there was no Zaire and that his country would not survive him either.
The old regime had become one of the most hated in Africa. Mobutu and the clique around him were specialists in extracting wealth from the country and the population and transferring it to their own pockets. The regime became known as a kleptocracy (rule of the thieves) and Mobutu has been aptly described as a “walking bank account with a leopard skin hat”.
Mobutu’s panicked flight into exile was merely the beginning of a humiliating end for a man whose an almost constant presence at the front and center of the African political stage had turned him into one of the world’s most vainglorious leaders. France, Mobutu’s close ally until the bitter end refused to give him asylum. Similarly, Togo, a West African state ruled by another longtime dictator, Gnassingbe Eyadema, asked Mobutu and his large entourage of family and aides to leave the country just days after the exiled leader landed there. Finally, Morocco, another ally, took Mobutu in. For most of his four months there, the longtime dictator’s failing health kept him confined to hospitals.
General Idi Amin seized power from President Milton Obote, the man who led Uganda to independence in 1962. The general led a military coup while the president was out of the country attending the Commonwealth conference in Singapore.
Ugandan troops sealed off Entebbe airport and patrolled the capital’s streets of Kampala with tanks. The president’s residence was surrounded and major road links blocked.
Dr Obote himself became the country’s first prime minister in 1962 at the head of an uneasy coalition between his own Uganda People’s Congress and Sir Edward Mutesa of the Kabaka Yekka or King’s party who became president. Four years later Obote ousted the king and revised the constitution to make himself president.
Uganda has experienced four other coups as listed below:
The junta, called the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy overthrew the government and identified its leader as squadron chief Salou Djibo on er10th February 2010. The junta stormed Niger’s presidential palace in broad daylight, captured president Mamadou Tandja and his ministers in a four-hour gunbattle that left at least three people dead.
Tensions had been growing in the country since Tandja, himself a former army officer, changed the constitution to allow him to stay in power beyond his legal term limit. The move provoked a political crisis and threw Niger into isolation.
There was also another attempted coup in 2011 against President Mahamadou Issoufou
Togo was the first country in West Africa to experience a military coup when on 13 January 1963 Togolese soldiers, recently demobilised from the French colonial armies and facing unemployment as a result of the refusal of their applications to join ‘the minuscule Togolese army, staged an armed coup that led to the assassination of President Sylvanus Olympio.
On Jan 13, 1967, Étienne Eyadéma one of the masterminds of 1963 coupled to another coup to overthrow Nicolas Grunitzky and then became the president until his death in 2005.
With President Taya out of the country for the funeral of the Saudi king, a group of army officers staged a bloodless coup on August 3rd, 2005, and announced the formation of a military council. The council, headed by Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, said it had acted to end a “totalitarian” regime and promised to hold presidential elections within two years. Many Mauritanians welcomed the move.
On 24th February 1966, the government of Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown through a military and police coup d’état in which the key figures were Col E.K. Kotoka, Major A.A. Afrifa, and Inspector General of Police J.W.K. Harlley. They made sure Nkrumah did not make a return trip to Ghana and to power again.
The files of the US Central Intelligence Agency declassified in 1999 show that the USA has been trying to influence people to overthrow President Kwame Nkrumah since 1964. The CIA-backed coup in Ghana was part of the Cold War conflict of the time as President Nkrumah was seen as an ally of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
On 31 December, Jerry John Rawlings staged the second successful military coup in Ghana overthrowing Dr. Hilla Limann’s constitutional government.
On 12 April military leaders detained Prime Minister and presidential candidate Carols Gomes Jr (known as Cadogo) and interim President Raimundo Pereira, going on to appoint failed presidential candidate Manuel Serifo Nhamajo as president of a proposed two-year transitional government in a move which the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deemed “illegal” and which has also been strongly condemned by the UN Security Council, European Union, African Union, and CPLC.
Since 1994 no elected president in Guinea-Bissau has finished his mandate.
Nigeria is the epicenter of coup d’etat in Africa having seen 8 of them to date. Two Nigerian Military Juntas of 1966-1979 and 1983-1998 were a pair of military dictatorships in the African country of Nigeria that were led by the Nigerian Military, having a chairman or president in charge.
The first one began on January 15, 1966, when Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and a group of Majors overthrew current Prime Minister Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in a coup d’état (known as the coup of the five Majors). Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi was made the Head of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria. Aguiyi-Ironsi was then overthrown and murdered in a coup in July of the same year and succeeded by General Yakubu Gowon, who held power until 1975 when he was overthrown in a bloodless coup by a group of soldiers that wanted to return the civilian rule to Nigeria.
Brigadier (later General) Murtala Mohammed, who succeeded General Gowon, was not directly involved in this coup but did help round up soldiers for the coup. A year later, in 1976, Mohammed was assassinated in a violent coup, but Olusẹgun Ọbasanjọ escaped assassination and become the head of state. Three years later, in 1979, Ọbasanjọ handed power to the elected Shehu Shagari, which ended the military regime and installed the Nigerian Second Republic.
The second Junta: Shagari, however, was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1983 and succeeded by Muhammadu Buhari, who was appointed Chairman of the Supreme Military Council of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces by the junta.
Buhari ruled for two years, until 1985 when he was overthrown by General Ibrahim Babangida, who appointed himself with the position of President of the Armed Forces Ruling Council of Nigeria. Babangida promised a return of democracy when he seized power but ruled until 1993 when he temporarily handed power to the interim head of state Ernest Shonekan, being part of his promise to return democracy. Two months later, however, Shonekan was overthrown by General Sani Abacha, with former President Babangida conveniently involved with a visit to Egypt.
Abacha appointed himself Chairman of the Provisional Ruling Council of Nigeria. After Abacha’s death in 1998, General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over and ruled until 1999 when Olusẹgun Ọbasanjọ again became head of state (via an election) and ended the junta. Incidentally, Buhari is the 2015 presidential election of Nigeria. The retired Major General had run unsuccessfully for the office of President in the 2003, 2007, and 2011 elections.
The 1973 Rwandan coup was a military coup staged by Juvénal Habyarimana against incumbent president Grégoire Kayibanda in the Republic of Rwanda. The coup took place on 5 July 1973 and was bloodless.
In the months prior to Habyarimana’s coup, President Kayibanda had intensified persecution of ethnic Tutsi through the formation of Hutu vigilante committees to ensure enforcement of the required ethnic quotas. This policy had isolated Rwanda economically and diplomatically, especially from neighbouring Uganda which housed large numbers of Tutsi. Consequently, the 1973 coup was largely supported by the urban population and met with indifference amongst the rural communities.
Prior to the coup, Habyarimana had been a General in the Rwandan army. Immediately after seizing power, Habyarimana outlawed all political parties but in 1974 created his own.
On October 15 in 1987, President Thomas Sankara was assassinated in a coup organised by his former colleague Blaise Compaoré. Sankara seized power in a 1983 popularly supported coup at the age of 33, with the goal of eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power.
Blaise Compaoré. was later to be deposed in 2014, 27 years after he took over power by a lieutenant colonel in Burkina Faso’s presidential guard. Lieutenant Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida was elected unanimously to lead the transition period opened after the departure of President Blaise Compaore.”
The Barre-led military junta came to power after a coup d’état in 1969. Guerrilla forces later performed a successful coup against the Barre government in Somalia. After 21 years of military rule, Barre’s Supreme Revolutionary Council was eventually forced from power in the early 1990s by a coalition of armed opposition groups. The guerrilla forces included the Somali Salvation Democratic Front in the northeast, the Somali National Movement in the northwest, and the United Somali Congress in the south.
The list of these coups galore across the African continent goes on. In retrospect, the results of military rule in this vast continent have been very disappointing indeed. 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. 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. Military rule has not necessarily been free of incompetence, corruption, and maladministration that their civilian predecessors were alleged to have encouraged.
The coups whether successful or not saw a systematic ‘political genocide’ where thousands of leftists ‘disappeared’, deaths, cancelling of upcoming elections, abrogating the Constitution, censoring of media, banning of all kinds of protests, and the declaration of martial law nationwide, curfews, organizations being de-legalized, and suspension of university classes.
In November 2017, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was removed as president and party leader of ZANU-PF, and replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa.
On the evening of 14 November 2017, elements of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) gathered around Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, and seized control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and key areas of the city. The next day, the ZDF issued a statement saying that it was not a coup d'état and that President Mugabe was safe, although the situation would return to normal only after the ZDF had dealt with the "criminals" around Mugabe responsible for the socio-economic problems of Zimbabwe. Jacob Zuma, then-President of South Africa, phoned Mugabe and was told that Mugabe was under house arrest but otherwise "fine".
The uprising took place amid tensions in the ruling ZANU–PF party between former First Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa (who was backed by the ZDF) and First Lady Grace Mugabe (who was backed by the younger G40 faction) over who would succeed the 93-year-old President Mugabe. A week after Mnangagwa was fired and forced to flee the country, and a day before troops moved into Harare, Zimbabwe Defence Forces chief Constantino Chiwenga issued a statement that purges of senior ZANU–PF officials like Mnangagwa had to stop.
On 19 November, ZANU-PF removed Mugabe as party leader, replacing him with Mnangagwa, and issued a deadline of 20 November for Mugabe to resign the presidency or face impeachment. Mugabe did not resign, so on 21 November a joint session of Parliament met for his impeachment. After the session convened, Mugabe sent a letter to Zimbabwe's Parliament resigning the presidency. Second Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko became the Acting President. Mnangagwa was sworn in as president on 24 November 2017, till date.
This Coup d’état began on March 21, 2012, as the mutinying Malian soldiers, who formed the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy, became displeased with President Amadou Toumani Touré’s management of the Tuareg rebellion from January to April. They attacked the capital of Barnako, including the presidential palace, military barracks, and the state-run television. The Tuareg rebellion was a series of insurgencies that dated back to 1916 as the rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad fought to gain independence for the northern region of Mali. The 2012 rebellion displaced 100,000 civilians and killed almost 15,000 soldiers.