As first reported by the University of Minnesota’s David Schonbrunn in the Atlantic, the struggle by longtime ruling parties in some countries, including Rwanda and Guinea, to hang on to power has triggered coups against elected government.
Earlier this year, the Zimbabwe opposition party led by veteran president Robert Mugabe launched its latest attempt to force Mugabe out of power after 37 years in power. The July elections, won by long-time ruling party ZANU-PF, widely failed to extend the opposition’s ascendancy.
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The Africa Security Index, created by the British government’s Foreign Office in 2016, estimated that between 2002 and 2015, 10 countries had coups which led to about 15,500 deaths. South Africa is the only African country to have witnessed three successful military takeovers: Zulu King Frederik W. de Klerk overthrew Ian Smith’s minority government in 1994, Army General Jacob Zuma overthrew Mbeki’s government in 2008, and Jacob Zuma overthrew Mbeki again in 2014.
Two countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Guinea and Guinea-Bissau – have not witnessed coups.
The Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, refers to the concept of a “judicial taking of power.” It says such power can occur when “a constitutional or other lawful institutional power is removed through unconstitutional or irregular means.”
According to a report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, coups are rare in Africa. However, the group points out that over the past two decades, many African governments have tried to consolidate power by imposing a top-down, one-party-rule that at times led to coups. This is because elite succession requires a lot of financial resources.