Coups are ugly, yes, but military is justified to stop rogue leaders

People gather in support of a coup that ousted President Roch Kabore, dissolved government, suspended the constitution and closed borders in Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou on January 25, 2022. [Reuters, Vincent Bado]

Burkina Faso is the latest West African Country to witness a military coup. Three other countries – Mali (twice), Chad and Guinea – in the larger Sahel region have had similar experience within a span of just 18 months.

Pundits, journalists, scholars, politicians and experts on African polity generally have rushed to disapprove these developments without looking at the bigger picture. Like the Pharisees who shouted “crucify him”, “crucify him”, without looking at the facts, the African bourgeois both in media and academia has strongly reprehended the rise of military coups in Africa.

Their argument may be popular. But it’s also rigid and dishonest. Military coups aren’t the democratically conventional ways through which power should change hands, and they hardly live to the expectation and aspirations of the people. Most of the military coups, if anything, are executed by hotheaded, crooked soldiers whose sole motivation is to lord it over the people for the sake of it.

However, some military coups that were led by principled soldiers turned national misfortunes into success stories in ways none could have imagined. Fidel Castro, alongside Che Guevara, did it in Cuba. Thomas Sankara did it in Burkina Faso. And a few others. 

Baptised “the land of upright people” by Captain Sankara, Burkina Faso, for example, has had its fair share of bad leadership. The country has one of the highest poverty rates in the world; at least 32.82 per cent of the national population live below two dollars per day.  

Political moralists have taken to the overdrive to summarily dismiss military coups as unconstitutional and unacceptable. A Constitution isn’t some sacred document that exists in a vacuum. Most progressive constitutions represent the aspiration of the people. What does it matter if and when – especially if – it takes the intervention of the military to restore those aspirations?

Military coups aren’t fashionable in this day and age. We aren’t going to argue about that. But sometimes they serve as the only available alternative more so in countries where the state has effectively captured legal institutions that are meant to offer redress such as the judiciary.   

A regime that rules through repression and violence instills enough fear among the people, so much so that the people are unable to challenge the status quo. It’s morally and intellectually dishonest to criticise the military for intervening in such situations. 

It’s absolutely acceptable for military to stop leaders who have presided over decades-long orgy of economic mismanagement, corruption and lawlessness. It’s morally correct for the military to oust and prosecute corrupt, little despots.

Provided it transits power to a democratically elected civilian leadership, the military is absolutely justified to stop leaders who believe to have been picked out by God to rule with Him on earth.

Political scientists have used so much ink in teaching us about government and how it should operate. Apart from telling us where a government derives its legitimacy, they have told us time and again that history will be kind to a military that endeavours to stop a leader who has made the life of everyday man nasty.

Mr Ouma is a journalism student at Multimedia University of Kenya.