Debunking the Myth of the “Good” Coup d’ État in Africa

by Andrew C. Miller


In response to the recent coup in Niger, which ousted the country’s president-turned-strongman Mamadou Tandja, the capital erupted in pro-coup demonstrations. Many commentators and foreign governments also showed tacit support for the junta. What is the likelihood that this coup and the other coup regimes in Africa will lead to the institutionalization of durable and stable democracies? Based on historical analysis of past African coups that brought brief democratic transitions, this article argues that it is unlikely. For the four African coups that briefly put in place democratic institutions – Sierra Leone (1968), Ghana (1978), Sudan (1985), and Niger (1999) – the juntas and proceeding civilian governments failed to address core political and economic issues, lacked durability, and did not engender long-term political stability. To further debunk the myth of the so-called “good” coup d’ état in Africa, this article also demonstrates that coup regimes, which consolidate governing authority in failed states, attempt to institutionalize autocracies.

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Andrew C. Miller is a graduate student at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Prior to attending the Walsh School, Mr. Miller lived in West Africa and conducted independent research on post-conflict reconciliation in Sierra Leone. He recently authored “The Burdensome Neighbor: South Africa and the Zimbabwe Dilemma” published in the Cornell International Affairs Review. The author would like to thank Professor Lise Morjé Howard for her guidance during the drafting of this article, Dr. Monty G. Marshall for providing the datasets that made the research possible, the editorial staff at Africa Studies Quarterly for their insightful comments, and Sara Zettervall for her support.