What triggers military coups or popular revolts?

By and large – and with reference to Africa – military coups and/or popular revolts occur for the following reasons.

1. When a government under the same leader and key cabinet members stay in power too long. They lose value. It is like wearing the same shirt or skirt or eating the same food every day. People get tired and want a change – sometimes any change. This is what happened with Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Ben Ali of Tunisia, and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

2. When the national army feels that it is losing power to the presidential or imperial guard, the former steps in and removes the head of state and the government. In Ghana, the 1966 military coup against Mkrumah and his government was prompted, inter alia, by Mkrumah’s building a strong President’s Own Guard Regiment (POGR) and his attempt to party-ize the military. Both ideas were unpopular with the Ghanaian military officer corps. Although the coup was led by a small number of middle-ranking officers, they had the tacit support of the majority of the officer corps and senior commanders of the police.

3. When a country experiences inequalities between the rich associated with the first family and the rest of the population that grows poorer absolutely or relatively, when there is an economic and social crisis such as food shortages and rising food prices and rising levels of corruption and sectarianism and when the military officer corps shares civilian grievances in addition to its own a military coup or a popular uprising will occur.

4. When people’s hope of changing a government at the polls are not realized because of rigging, disenfranchisement of voters and intimidation, the last resort is a military coup or popular uprising.

5. The people must recognize that peaceful demonstrations to bring down an unpopular regime is not only a human right but also has international recognition, witness the changes in Tunisia and Egypt. However, for peaceful demonstrations to succeed, two conditions must be fulfilled: First, security forces must not prevent peaceful demonstration from taking place because citizens have the right and freedom to assemble and express their opinions peacefully. Security forces must intervene only to maintain law and order (army, police and other security institutions must remain professional and politically neutral). Second, demonstrators must have a strong conviction and bravery that they are doing the right thing and that they will not rest until the goal has been fully realized.

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