All the major news bulletins throughout the world would immediately announce the breaking news of a coup in such and such a country – and an emergency meeting called of the relevant international and regional bodies to make a resolution, most likely, to have that country suspended, economic sanctions imposed, and a timeline ordered for the restoration of civilian and democratic rule.
It was so simple.
This was witnessed in several countries, especially on the African continent, such as Nigeria, and more recently Madagascar.
However, as time wore on, the military generals became more and more savvy, as – typical of any criminally-motivated mind – sought to out-fox the law and exploit any loopholes, in their quest to conduct ‘smarter’ coup d’etats.
On 3 July 2013, the world was awakened by the breaking news of a military ‘takeover’ in Egypt, whereby the democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi had been overthrown by army general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, after a June 30 popular uprising against the government.
The general – who most likely engineered the popular protests – was quick to deny that it had been a coup, but was merely an answer to a popular call by disgruntled Egyptians.
In other words, el-Sisi had simply stood for the suffering people of Egypt, and therefore, was merely intervening for the sake of the nation.
In fact, el-Sisi had a shocker for all and sundry – which caused headaches for the international community, as this had never been done before in coup history – he did not take over power himself, but a civilian Adli Mansour was appointed president.
The continental body, African Union (AU), found itself standing on one leg, as it did not know how to respond, due to its lax rules on coups – despite having made a 2010 resolution against ‘unconstitutional changes of governments’.
Although, on 5 July 2013, the AU promptly suspended Egypt and demanded a restoration of democratic rule, the first cracks in its anti-coup resolution were starting to show – as the body could not be clear on exactly which of its rules had been violated.
Although, the AU treated the ousting of Morsi as unconstitutional change of government, prohibited in its various instruments – to which Egypt has subscribed – the pressing question was, which one?
Under the Lome Declaration of 2000, unconstitutional change of government is defined as i) military coup d ‘état against a democratically elected government; ii) intervention by mercenaries to replace a democratically elected government; iii) replacement of a democratically elected Government by armed dissident groups and rebel movements; and iv) the refusal by an incumbent government to relinquish power to the winning party after free, fair and regular elections.
As far as the Egyptian military junta and some within the AU were concerned, it was not clearcut which of these instruments Egypt violated – as it was argued that the military acted in the interest of the people and the country’s security, and that the military did not takeover government, but a civilian was in charge.
Egypt, however, remained suspended until it conducted elections in 2014, but, true to nature, el-Sisi was always one step ahead of everyone – as he had conveniently retired and assumed a civilian role, thereby, enabling him to run for the presidency.
After el-Sisi’s win – in a highly controversial election – the AU had no other choice but to re-admit Egypt as a democratic and civilian-led nation.
Coup plotters 1 – AU 0.
The Egyptian coup’s exposure of the AU’s weaknesses, signalled a dawn of a new era in ‘smart coups’ on the African continent.
I am sure power-hungry generals from across our continent have since been closely and carefully studying the ‘Egyptian model’, so as to improve on it and come up with even ‘smarter’ coups, that will leave the whole world ‘impressed’.
Indeed, it did happen four years later in the long-troubled southern African country of Zimbabwe, when on November 15 2017, the military ‘intervened’ in the running of the state, apparently to ‘restore the legacy of the liberation struggle’, and to ‘remove criminals’ that had surrounded then president Robert Gabriel Mugabe – who had ‘captured the state’.
The then president was reportedly held either at his Blue Roof house or his official residence at State House – nothing clear as the whole process was shrouded in non-information – though, South Africa president Jacob Zuma confirmed that he under military ‘guard’.
However, as with the Egyptian model – but, only better – a popular protest against the then president was promptly organised – to portray this as a ‘people’s revolution’.
A few days later, the ruling ZANU PF party held an extraordinarily central committee meeting, which resolved to expel the ‘criminals around the president’ from both the party and government – but, most notably, demanded the immediate resignation of Mugabe, or else parliamentary proceedings would be conducted a few days later.
Still not been clear if he truly was a free man – or, was under duress from the military – Mugabe entered into prolonged negotiations on his departure , resulting in his resignation on the day of his impeachment proceedings.
As much as there were widespread celebrations after his departure, since he had made the lives of millions of Zimbabweans a living hell, the fact still remains – this was the next generation in coups: SmartCoup 2.0.
In spite of all the ‘legal’ Mumbo-Jumbo, including the facade of Mugabe’s voluntary resignation – the military intervention was the only reason he finally did so.
Similarly to the Egyptian scenario, the AU was caught sleeping – in fact, doubly so – as this time, the body did not have the faintest idea how to respond.
This military intervention was so state-of-the-art that the AU could not even issue a simple condemnation – in fact, the new president Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, the Zimbabwean version of Egypt’s Mansour, was welcome all over the world as the saviour and new hope of the country.
Global leaders have been swift in their support for the ‘bloodless and peaceful’ manner in which the Zimbabwean transition was conducted.
Thus, Zimbabwe became the trailblazer for the new norm in coup d’etats – as long as they are bloodless and peaceful, then they will be acceptable, and even welcome, to the world.
Starting with Egypt and now Zimbabwe, a new precedence has been set for all military generals around the world – all they need to do is come up with smarter coups, and all will be acceptable.
Apparently, unless if the military generals are numbskulls, it is now official – as the AU and other global bodies’ weaknesses and shortcomings are further exposed – coups are to be the new trend – or, have merely made an impressive comeback – on the African continent.
° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. He is the Programmes Director with the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice). Please call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or email: [email protected]. Please also ‘Like’ the ‘ZimJustice’ page on Facebook.Post published in: Featured