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Is There Such a Thing as a Good Coup in Africa?


The military promised not to participate in the elections. Because the military had overthrown a civilian regime, the African Union condemned the action.

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									                                                                                                                                                     columnists | a good coup?
Amb. Hank J. Cohen (Ret.)

Is There Such a
Thing as a Good
Coup in Africa?
Mauritania, Guinea and Niger as
Instances of Positive Change
                                                                           Maaouya Ould Sid’ Ahmed Taya: What Goes Around, Comes Around. Photo: UN

         BOUT 15 years ago, the Organi-         overthrew an elected regime. Over the              fulfillment of the military’s promises.
         zation of African Unity (now the       years, he transformed himself from a
         African Union) declared that it        military to a civilian ruler and in his            The transition was remarkably transpar-

                                                                                                                                                     journal of international peace operations | volume 5 | number 6 | may-june 2010
would no longer tolerate military coups         second decade in power, he orchestrated            ent. Political parties formed and operated
against civilian governments. Even worse,       several rigged presidential elections. Then,       openly. Televisions and radios broad-
military coups against democratically-          in August 2005, the Presidential guard             casted political debates. There was no
elected civilian governments would result       staged a bloodless coup while Ould Taya            censorship. The election took place in
in total membership suspension and              was visiting Saudi Arabia. A military              2007, producing a civilian president and
possible sanctions. Of course, since            ruling council was established. The                civilian parliament.
several of the African heads of state           military leadership promised to bring
making these declarations were them-            about a two-year transition to establish a         In 2008, the unfortunate occurred. The
selves elevated to power through military       new constitution and free and fair                 new civilian president Sidi Ould Cheikh
coups, the condemnations were clearly           elections, leading to a new civilian               Abdellahi turned out to be so incompe-
not going to be retroactive.                    dispensation. The military promised not            tent and corrupt that the military had to
                                                to participate in the elections.                   depose him. This time, all international
Since the anti-coup doctrine’s promulga-                                                           hell broke loose. A truly, democratically
tion, there have been relatively few            Because the military had overthrown a              elected head of state had fallen victim to a
military takeovers in Africa. Those that        civilian regime, the African Union                 coup. What could be worse? The U.S.
have most recently taken place in               condemned the action. However, the                 ambassador declared the military regime a
Mauritania, Guinea (Conakry) and Niger          coup was so popular among the people,              bunch of criminals. The African Union
are considered unique cases requiring           that the African Union decided to send a           was outraged.
special treatment; and deserve individual       mission of inquiry, which found,
examination to determine how the                unsurprisingly, that the military had staged       However, the military gave democracy
African Union’s policy has evolved.             the coup because the Ould Taya regime              another chance. This time, the com-
                                                had become hopelessly corrupt and                  mander of the army, General Mohamed
Mauritania                                      stagnant. Poverty was increasing and               Ould Abdel Aziz, resigned and ran as a
                                                Islamic militancy growing internally. The          civilian, and won a free and fair election in
By the end of his reign in August 2005,         African Union placed Mauritania on a               2009. At the end of this tortuous three-
President Maaouya Ould Sid’ Ahmed               suspended list, but asked the international        year process, all was forgiven and
Taya had been in power for just over two        community to support the country’s                 international relations were normalized
decades; and he had originally taken            transition to democracy. In short,                 with Mauritania.
power through a military coup that              Mauritania was on probation pending the

                The author is a former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa and is President of Cohen & Woods International.
                                                                                  35                                              total absence of communication until U.S.      required to step down in favor of a newly
columnists | a good coup?

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