Colonialism, Coups, and Development The Multifaceted Identity of Africa’s Recent Coups

The recent spate of coups in Africa signals that civil and democratic ideals have regressed on the continent. Yet, the coups also present an opportunity for African governments and regional blocs to recommit themselves to continental development & social welfare.

Coups d’état in Africa have always been strong markers of changing times. Though Africa’s current sociopolitical landscape is markedly different from what it was between the 1960s and 1980s when coups were most rampant, the resurgence of military takeovers points to a similar kind of disillusionment. The trigger of these coups can be traced to chronic underdevelopment and the suppression of public will. The fact that the ousting of ‘democratically elected’ presidents has generated acceptance in some quarters points to a collective distrust of so-called democratic structures which have so far failed to deliver peace, security and prosperity to them.

The coups in Burkina Faso and Niger which happened in September 2022 and July 2023 respectively demonstrated classic scenarios of waning confidence in Africans towards democratic structures. The Human Development Index of sub-Saharan Africa remains within the index scores of 0.42 and 0.56, an indication of low human development. These are the critical issues that deserve timely socio-economic interventions. So, this wave sweeping across the west and Sahel regions of Africa should serve as a wake-up call to other African countries to prioritize institutional development and social welfare, lest they descend into their own chapters of political crisis.


A curious trend has emerged amid the coups that have taken place in the past three years. They have mostly been localized to French-speaking countries. To understand this phenomenon, one needs a contextual review of Africa’s historical and political realities, set in motion over 100 years ago through colonialism. French occupation of Africa under colonial rule was particularly brutal, even within dire standards of colonialism. France eventually granted independence to its colonies on the premise of the Françafrique policy. Yet, like a coin with two sides, there was little by way of practical difference between the colonial and the postcolonial epochs. French colonialism merely shapeshifted to neocolonialism, taking on the form of a monetary zone—African Financial Community Franc currency. Ultimately, the Franc was introduced into the financial systems of Francophone countries in order to diminish the value of their domestic capital and to grant power over the foreign reserves to France.

Given their shared experience under French colonial and neocolonial rule, it is no surprise that the coups have primarily been localized to Francophone Africa. The coups have given a number of Francophone countries a shared purpose, a rallying point against France’s neocolonial posturing or foreign interventions in the region. The military regimes of Mali and Burkina Faso (who also seized power via coups) have made it clear that any intervention or attempts to upturn the Niger coup would be considered a ‘declaration of war’ on them. Interventions, whether sponsored by the African Union, Economic Community of West African States {ECOWAS}, or other foreign powers could be devastating to the whole region. Curiously, ECOWAS, which should have crusaded for a peaceful settlement in the Niger coup, was the most eager to initiate a military intervention plan. Such impatience without any consideration for severe regional consequences was a naïve move. Experts have speculated that the ECOWAS chairperson, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, whose presidential ‘win’ at home (Nigeria) happened under massive logistics and technical issues, probably found such a move to be a quick means to gain legitimacy and save face for himself in Nigeria and in the region regardless of the far-reaching consequences.

There is a foreign dimension to the coups in West Africa as well. Aside from Western interests which have lingered since the colonial era, Russian interests are growing too, and given the competing interests in the region, a clash of interests is inevitable. The Niger coup was passionately condemned by France, perhaps because France had no stake in it. While the European Union, the United Nations, and the United States also condemned the coup and declared support for the steps taken by ECOWAS, Russia in a diplomatic fashion called for the restoration of ‘constitutional order.’ Extreme care must therefore be taken by ECOWAS or any other regional blocs in Africa in this kind of delicate situation as any slight mismanagement of foreign interests portends widespread political and socio-economic crises.


Colonialism is a wedge in Africa’s quest to improve intra-Africa trade and diplomatic systems. On the principle of ‘effective occupation’ of African soil, colonial powers halted centuries of historical relations between ethnic groups and restricted free movement across African borders. This situation persists today, decades after the last colony gained independence in 1990. Fixed territorial boundaries have restricted cross-cultural exchange and created mutual suspicion between neighbouring countries: tearing indigenous African communities away from one another and effectively creating echo chambers of European languages and cultures.

However, both Anglophone and Francophone West African nations are plagued by the same social and economic challenges, despite being responsible for the raw materials that power lucrative industries in the Global North. With more Francophone countries cutting ties to France, Africa could usher in a new era of improved intra-African trade. A review of trade statistics on intra-Africa trade vs African trade with international partners offers insights into the socio-economic possibilities that lay ahead if trade across regions of the continent is taken more seriously. According to a United Nations report, intra-Africa trade accounts for just 14.4 per cent of total African exports. Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Zimbabwe and South Africa are top intra-Africa exporters, with South Africa leading with 32 per cent. In order to circumvent Africa’s tortuous economic inadequacies, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development projects the Africa Continental Free Trade Area to be able to ‘boost intra Africa trade by about 33 per cent and cut the continent’s trade deficit by 51 per cent.’ Initiatives like this will go a long way to promote economic interdependence between African states and foster the free movement of financial and human capital across borders.

In 2022, Africa’s agricultural exports to G7 nations were pegged at $21.3 billion, while Brazil Russia India China (BRIC) imports from Africa stood at $10.7 billion. The revenue from trade with G7 and BRIC combined at $32 billion and represents a sustainable revenue pipeline to Africa’s growing economy. Revenue generation could be much more enhanced if such a large trade with outsider partners like G7 and BRIC could be replicated in intra-Africa trade. In doing this, it is pertinent that efforts be exerted to ease border checkpoints in African countries, particularly regarding Africa’s merchandise. Taking advantage of the proximity of borders, human and mineral resources alone foreshadows the unquantifiable benefits that await the African continent. In addition, Africa’s Purchasing Power Parity stands at $5,872 with a population of 1.2 billion; compared to the Middle East’s $28,000 with a population of 371 million, intra-Africa trade is, therefore, imperative to raising the standard of living and the infrastructure of Africa and its people.


With the threat of even more coups on the horizon, African governments must take internal development and economic reforms towards social welfare seriously. National leaders must show commitment to non-negotiable values, such as equitable distribution of wealth and pre-eminence of the rule of law. If responsible governance and strong institutions are not prioritized, civilian leaders will face the fury of the masses who have borne the brunt of decades of state mismanagement and systemic impoverishment.

Africa and Africans cannot afford to be led down to baseless authoritarianism and mediocre leadership in light of another ‘New World Order’ taking shape before our eyes. The time for Africa to institute economic interdependence in all ramifications is now. And regarding military interventions in African countries where soldiers seized power, AU and the regional blocs must always resort to thoroughgoing dialogue and peaceful settlements. According to political analyst, Kamissa Camara:

We need to start with hearing local populations’ explanation of their needs… when we do that listening to African partners, we will hear the need for less traditional ‘development aid’ and more economic investment. Stronger local business communities are natural engines that will push for the transparent governance and rule of law that allows both business and democracy to function.

Africa’s underdevelopment is the common thread across many African states. Africans must not relent in their just demands for responsible and accountable governance. African governments must start institutionalizing long-term development plans and social welfare measures within their countries and across the regions in Africa in order to neutralize the countdown fury of the masses as well as halt the spread of coups

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