Mutinous soldiers in Niger this week overthrew the democratically elected government of President Mohamed Bazoum, adding to a growing list of military regimes in West Africa’s Sahel region and raising fears of regional destabilization.
The Sahel, the vast arid expanse south of the Sahara Desert, faces growing violence from Islamic extremists, which in turn has caused people to turn against elected governments.
The military takeovers have followed a similar pattern: The coup leaders accuse the government of failing to meet the people’s expectations for delivering dividends of democracy. They say they will usher in a new democratic government to address those shortcomings, but the process gets delayed.
Karim Manuel, west and central Africa analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, says the military governments threaten to unwind democratic gains made not just in the Sahel region but in the broader West Africa region.
“This increases political instability going forward and makes the situation on the ground much more volatile and unpredictable. Regional stability is undermined as a result of these coups,” Manuel said.
Here are countries in the Sahel with military regimes:
The Sahel’s latest wave of coups kicked off in Mali in August 2020 when the democratically elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was overthrown by soldiers led by Col. Assimi Goita.
The military was supposed to hand power back to civilian rule within 18 months. However, seven months into the transition process, the military removed the interim president and prime minister they had appointed and swore in Goita as president of the transitional government.
Last month, Malian voters cast ballots on a new draft constitution in a referendum that the regime says will pave the way for new elections in 2024.
Burkina Faso experienced its second coup in 2022 with soldiers ousting Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba about eight months after he helped overthrow the democratically elected President Roch Marc Kaboré early in the year.
Capt. Ibrahim Traore was named as the transitional president while a national assembly that included army officers, civil society organizations, and traditional and religious leaders approved a new charter for the West African country.
The junta has set a goal to conduct elections to return the country to democratic rule by July 2024.
Sudan slipped under military rule in October 2021 when soldiers dissolved the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok as well as the Sovereign Council, a power-sharing body of military officers and civilians.
That took place weeks before the military was to hand the leadership of the council to civilians and nearly two years after soldiers overthrew the longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir amid deadly protests.
Eighteen months after the coup and amid the hopes for a transition to democracy, fighting broke out between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The conflict has resulted in the deaths of hundreds with no end in sight.
Chad has been under military rule since April 2021 when President Idriss Deby, who ruled Chad for more than 30 years, was killed while battling against rebels in the hard-hit northern region.
His son, Gen. Mahamat Idriss Deby, took power contrary to constitutional provisions and was named the interim head of state with an 18-month transitional process set in place for the country’s return to democracy.
By the end of the 18 months period, the government extended Deby’s by two more years, triggering protests that the military suppressed.