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Camara’s expertise called upon as coups threaten African stability

August 31, 2023

A recent military coup in Gabon makes the Central African state the sixth Francophone country to have its leader fall to a military coup in the past three years, following Mali, Chad, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Ford School professor of practice Kamissa Camara, who spent years in the government of Mali, including serving as its minister of foreign affairs, has been widely quoted for her unique perspectives on the most recent political upheavals. 

Camara is also a Senior Africa Advisor at the United States Institute of Peace, for which she wrote her own analysis of the unfolding events. In Countering Coups: How to Reverse Military Rule Across the Sahel, she writes, “Patterns among the Sahel’s coups show their root causes and how policies should respond. Countries vulnerable to military regimes face three main realities: First, systems of governance were not effectively democratic. Second, large youth populations’ aspirations for economic opportunity and political voice remain unmet. Third, ineffective systems of governance lack the public credibility and capacity to prevent violent conflicts.”

“To prevent coups — and to shift countries from unstable, military rule to actual democracies — several imperatives for policy are clear. They begin with communicating to American, European and other citizenries the critical stakes, for ourselves and our children, of working with Africans to stabilize their countries. Demography, natural resources and economics ensure that Africa will be this century’s rising global superpower. Africa’s young, ballooning population will by 2050 form a quarter of humanity, far more than China or India. Africans will be able to provide globally critical new resources and economic growth — or, if enmired in warfare and unmanaged climate degradation, could be exporting extremisms, violence and millions more displaced people. No government in 2023 that hopes for global stability in this century can ignore the imperative of partnering with Africa.

“As an epicenter of governance failures, extremism and violence, the Sahel region now should be made an exemplar for (1) an African-led, international campaign to resume the broad if uneven progress in democratic governance that Africans made from the 1990s through about 2010; and (2) cooperation in applying improved responses to violence, extremism and failed governance,” she suggests 

Here are excerpts from her media appearances and citations:

Why West Africa is seeing a spate of military coups, PBS NewsHour, August 26, 2023

The first commonality that observers usually mention is that all of these countries are former French colonies. We've had successful coups in Sudan recently, but also coup attempts in Guinea-Bissau, which is a country that was colonized by the Portuguese. We've had a coup attempt recently in Sao Tome and Principe same story. And so all of the three countries that I just mentioned have not necessarily been colonized by the French. But I believe that the reason why France is mentioned so often in the recent military coups in West Africa is because France, as a Western power, has been definitely extremely present in domestic politics, but also in security assistance. And so France has become the easy culprit.

A coup in Niger, The Independent (Uganda), August 7, 2023

Of course, each new coup complicates this web of crises. In this case, President Bazoum has been a leader elected by a majority of Niger’s voters and valued by international partners. He served previously as prime minister and interior minister, which had him in charge of security, of course. When Secretary of State Blinken visited Niger in March, Nigeriens and others saw it as an important U.S. commitment to both Niger’s democracy and to building security in the Sahel.

Clearly, each successful coup provides some bit of encouragement for others, but we shouldn’t oversimplify the pattern as a “contagion.” Coups, like insurgencies or extremist movements, are rooted in failings of governance to meet the needs of their people  and each of the Sahel countries has its own patterns: needs or conflicts in the populace that need to be resolved to have stability, patterns of civilian-military relations and so on.

U.S. sees a ‘narrow’ window of opportunity to reverse attempted coup in Niger, NBC News, August 1, 2023

“The situation is very confused and very fluid. There have been negotiations between ECOWAS leaders and the Nigerien junta to reinstate President Bazoum into power… If a military intervention were to take place in Niger, it would be detrimental to Niger and also the whole region. I just don’t see how a military intervention would be a bloodbath.” 

Niger was a source of stability in a volatile region, says former Malian Foreign Minister, CNN, August 1, 2023

“Niger is a key country for Western international efforts to combat a jihadi  insurgency and threat in the entire Sahel region. And Niger has been a very stable country in a very volatile region. Niger has had two democratically-elected presidents in recent years… This coup definitely came as a surprise because Niger was considered a very stable country, contrary to the situations in Mali and Burkina Faso when the coups actually took place after popular protests and heightened tensions between the leaders and their militaries.”

Wagner Group already circling post-coup Niger as Russia seeks influence across Sahel, iNews, July 31, 2023

Kamissa Camara, the former foreign minister of Mali, who left the country after the military coup there in 2021 told the BBC today there were still hopes that Bazoum might be able to claw back power.

She pointed to the fact President Bazoum is still able to make comments on the situation after his ouster. And she noted the unusually tough statement on the coup from leaders of the Western-back West African bloc Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States).

There were 13 military coups in Africa in recent years. Why does this keep happening?, USA Today, July 29, 2023

Kamissa Camara, a former foreign minister to Mali, said there are few compelling arguments that wholly explain why the Sahel, the vast semi-arid region between the Sahara Desert to the north and its tropical savannas to the south, in which Niger prominently sits, has experienced so many coups in recent years. In fact, the area is often referred to as the "coup belt."

"These are very different countries. Their militaries are not really communicating with one another. Some of the geopolitics, security issues and cultures are similar, yes. But there is no one size fits all justification," says Camara, who is now a senior advisor for Africa at the United States Institute of Peace research organization.

But Camara, like Fatai Alli, a U.K.-based expert on security issues in West Africa who served in Nigeria's military before becoming a researcher at the University of Portsmouth, said there's no question that France's persisting political, economic and cultural foothold in the region is a contributing factor.

Coup in Niger puts U.S. efforts to thwart terrorism in Africa’s Sahel region at risk, PBS NewsHour, July 27, 2023

“Well, there has been a definite development from yesterday, where we still thought that President Mohamed Bazoum could be kept in power. There were still parts of the military who were still loyal to him, and the ones who wanted to conduct the coup were isolated.

In the early hours of the day today, the head of the army joined the putschists and an announcement, a public announcement was made confirming that President Mohamed Bazoum had been removed from power, that borders were closed, and that the Constitution was suspended.

So I think it is a successful coup, unfortunately, and this is the fix that Niger has known since the 1960s.

If the United States were to call the Niger event a military coup, then, automatically, all assistance would be — would be stopped. And I think it's also — it also shows that Niger is still, as of today, an important security partner, that the United States might want to keep a door open to conduct business with the Nigerien authorities, and to see if actually President Bazoum could maybe be reinstated.”