Why military coups persist in West Africa

Ogunsakin Mustapha
8 Min Read
Femi Falana SAN

By Femi Falana SAN


Until about three years ago, all the member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were led by democratically elected governments. But, since some Ecowas leaders decided to extend their tenure, there had been about nine successful and unsuccessful coups in West Africa.

In view of the meeting of the Authority of Heads of State and Government, the highest decision making organ of the ECOWAS scheduled to hold in Abuja on Thursday, August 10, 2023, it is pertinent to draw attention to the main causes of unconstitutional change of government and how to arrest the ugly development.


It is common knowledge that the immediate and remote cause of unconstitutional change of governments is the manipulation of constitutions and referenda by elected governments to extend the tenure of Presidents. In 2015, the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) proposed to restrict West African presidents to two terms in office to stop unconstitutional changes of governments in West Africa. The proposal was shelved as it was opposed by Togo and The Gambia, both with presidents who had been in power for more than two terms in office.

But following the coup in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, Ecowas leaders under the immediate past Chairman, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana proposed to amend of the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance to limit the tenure of Presidents to a maximum period of two terms in office.

The amendment was not passed due to the objection of President Allason Quatara of Cote divoire, Mall of Senegal, and Faure Eyadama of Togo. Presidents Quatara and Eyadama are currently spending more than two terms in office while President Mall is scheming for a third term.

The new Chairman of Ecowas, President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria, should ensure that the amendment is passed forthwith while sanctions are imposed on democratically elected presidents who engage in amendment of the national constitutions to extend their tenure beyond two terms.


We have confirmed that another principal cause of change of governments in West Africa is the reckless exploitation of the natural resources of the member states of the ECOWAS by former colonial regimes and their allies. Such exploitation is compounded by the control of the national economy by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The implementation of the anti people’s policies of the foreign forces has continued to increase the poverty of the entire people of the region.

Out of frustration with civilian governments, unemployed youths and victims of human rights abuse usually troop to the streets to celebrate coup plotters. The Ecowas leaders should end the crude exploitation of natural resources and empower the people to control the commonwealth of member states in accordance with Article 21 (1) of the Charter which provides:

“All peoples shall freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources. This right shall be exercised in the exclusive interest of the people. In no case shall a people be deprived of it.”


Another reason for change of governments in West Africa is the contempt of African leaders for rule of law and human rights. Judgments of domestic and regional courts are disobeyed without any repercussion. For instance, only six member states of the member states of ECOWAS have appointed national authorities to enforce the decisions of the Community Court of Justice (ECOWAS Court) in line with the Revised Treaty of the Ecowas. Only The Gambia has complied with decisions of the Ecowas Court while other member states are in gross disobedience of the judgments of the Court.

Only four member states, i.e. Benin, Cote Divoire, Burkina Faso, and Mali have recognised the competence of the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights to determine allegations of human rights abuse by aggrieved nationals. It is an irony that the two democratic countries of Benin and Cote divoire have withdrawn their acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Court while the military regimes in Burkina Faso and Mali have continued to accept the jurisdictional competence of the Court!

We are compelled to call on the Ecowas leaders to comply with all subsisting judgments of the Ecowas Court. Ecowas leaders should prevail on the Government of Cape Verde to sign the Supplementary Protocol of the Ecowas Court so that victims of human rights abuse in that country can access the Ecowas Court. In addition to Burkina Faso and Mali, all the member states of the Ecowas should recognise the competence of the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights without any further delay


The security committee of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) comprising Military Chiefs of some West African countries namely Togo, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Cote’Divoire, Cabo Verde and Republic of Benin held an emergency meeting at Abuja, Nigeria from August 4-5, 2023 to review the political crisis in Niger Republic.

At the end of their two-day high-powered delegation meeting the members of the security committee condemned the coup in Niger but resolved inter alia;

“we must intensify diplomatic efforts to engage with all relevant stakeholders. Dialogue and negotiation should be at the forefront of our approach in resolving the crisis in Republic of Niger.

“We must engage with the transitional authorities, civil society organizations, and other key actors to foster an inclusive and peaceful transition process.”

Since the call for diplomatic initiative by the security chiefs reflects the wishes of the people of West Africa, the Authority of the Heads of State and Government should jettison the military option and impose more sanctions with a view to isolating the military junta in Niger. The demand for the restoration of constitutional order in Niger must address the exploitation of uranium by France and the United States. It is unacceptable for Niger, the fourth largest producer of uranium to remain one of the poorest countries in the world.

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