Why are coups making a comeback in Africa?

The president of Central African Republic who won power in a coup this week, has the long history of military interventions in his country

Why are coups making a comeback in Africa?

When Seleka rebels attacked the presidential palace in Central African Republic this week, they ended nearly two years of rebel rule that had plunged the Central African Republic into chaos.

The president, Faustin-Archange Touadera, a 62-year-old former anti-drugs counsellor, was a favourite of the rebels. But the president of the country’s new parliament, Catherine Samba-Panza, is a major figure in a recent history of African coups that have gained in frequency and intensity over the past five years.

The South African-born Samba-Panza, who is in her fifties, has a long history of coup attempts in Africa, having been jailed in her homeland in 1975 for helping to launch the Republic of Congo’s independence against France. She then fled to the Netherlands, where she became a journalist and won awards.

She moved back to South Africa in the 1990s and in 2009 was confirmed as the speaker of the national assembly, which she subsequently used to endorse coups in Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad.

She is currently under house arrest in Chad, while facing criminal charges.

When the Seleka rebels came to power in Central African Republic in 2013, with 1,300 foreign mercenaries in their ranks, Samba-Panza gave them 100 seats in the national assembly. Among those she supported in that March coup were Malian rebel leader Iyad Ag Ghali, of the Ansar Dine movement, who is banned from returning to South Africa.

In March 2014, Samba-Panza oversaw the creation of a transitional assembly which cancelled all presidential and parliamentary elections, which many observers saw as a sham. Instead, members of the Séléka were asked to take over the presidency from Touadera.

Mauritania’s former army chief, general Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, has stepped down after just one month in charge of Guinea

In August 2014, the president of Chad was overthrown during a lunch in an upscale restaurant in a luxurious hotel in the capital, N’Djamena. While the coup plotters claimed their goal was to remove president Idriss Deby from power, many observers concluded that they wanted to enter the world of international diamond smuggling.

Mauritania’s former army chief, general Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, has stepped down after just one month in charge of Guinea. Aziz described his country’s first coup as “a mistake” but he has provided no evidence of personal wrongdoing.

In 2013, Samba-Panza became head of the Council of States, which is based in Cairo. In February 2016, she had ordered Sudan’s army chief of staff to withdraw troops from the Guinean border after relations were strained.

She is one of the key figures in the multi-party Muslim rebel alliance, which has claimed responsibility for a string of assassinations since 2014, including of the South African ambassador.

African leaders have come under international pressure to crack down on coup attempts. South Africa dismissed a law changing the constitution to allow it to detain its citizens for up to six months without trial, which would have applied to Samba-Panza.

An internationally organised group of former heads of state has called for a “day of action” next month aimed at putting pressure on nations to stop military coups.

“Some countries say they want to end coups but they know that will not do because coups in Africa are dirty and they are not going to clean them,” Samba-Panza told the BBC World Service last year.

“We have to unite together and end coups. It is our duty as citizens.”

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