1. Background

Since 2020, there have been several successful military coups in Central and West Africa:

  • Mali (2020 and 2021). In August 2020, Colonel Assimi Goïta and Malian soldiers ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, citing corruption and the government’s failure to address security challenges.[1] Following the coup, the soldiers agreed to transfer power to a civilian-led interim government. However, in May 2021, Colonel Goïta staged a second coup and assumed the presidency.[2]
  • Guinea (2021). In September 2021, Guinean soldiers led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya overthrew President Alpha Condé, accusing the government of corruption and authoritarian rule. Doumbouya promised to restore democracy within three years.[3]
  • Sudan (2021). In October 2021, soldiers led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane deposed the transitional civilian government headed by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, following tensions between the government and military.[4]
  • Burkina Faso (twice in 2022). In January 2022, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba and soldiers loyal to him ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, criticising the government for failing to address “jihadist violence”.[5] However, in September 2022, Damiba was overthrown in a second coup led by Captain Ibrahim Traore, accusing Damiba of failing to improve the security situation.[6]
  • Niger (2023). In July 2023, General Abdourahmane Tchiani and several Nigerien soldiers overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum, stating that they wanted to prevent “further economic and security problems”.[7]
  • Gabon (2023). Following then President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s re-election in August 2023, General Brice Oligui Nguema and Gabonese soldiers staged a coup, detaining Mr Bongo Ondimba, alleging electoral fraud.[8] General Nguema was sworn in as transitional president in September 2023.[9]

2. Response to the coups

The recent coups in Africa have been met with strong condemnation from regional and international bodies, who have called for a return to democratic governance.

2.1 Regional response

In recent years, the African Union (AU) has taken action in response to military coups by suspending the membership of countries that have experienced unconstitutional changes in government.[10] Article 30 of the AU’s constitution states that “governments which shall come to power through unconstitutional means shall not be allowed to participate in the activities of the Union”.[11] Beyond membership suspensions, the AU has imposed sanctions, such as freezing assets and enforcing travel bans, to pressure coup leaders into relinquishing power. To date, Mali (June 2021),[12] Guinea (September 2021),[13] Burkina Faso (January 2022),[14] Niger (August 2023),[15] Gabon (August 2023)[16] and Sudan (June 2019)[17] have all been suspended by the AU as a result of the coups.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has taken a similar stance against military coups.[18] In response to recent coups in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Niger, ECOWAS has suspended the countries, imposed sanctions, closed borders and demanded clear timelines for a return to civilian rule. Underlining ECOWAS’ commitment to democratic principles, the organisation’s president, Bola Tinubu, stated in July 2023 that ECOWAS “must stand firm on democracy” and would “not accept” coups in West Africa.[19] In August 2023, ECOWAS member states agreed to activate the ECOWAS standby force in response to the coup in Niger, raising the possibility of military intervention.[20]

2.2 International response

The UK has condemned the coups and pledged to support regional efforts aimed at restoring democratic rule. In a speech in Nigeria in August 2023, then foreign secretary James Cleverly emphasised the UK’s commitment to democracy, human rights and sovereignty.[21] He also commended the AU and ECOWAS for their “defence of democratic values and the constitutional order” in Niger.

The US has expressed concern about “democratic backsliding” in Africa. During a July 2023 speech to the UN security council, Ambassador Robert Wood reiterated support for transition processes in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali, emphasising the importance of returning to democratic governance.[22] Similarly, the French government has also condemned the coups and announced the withdrawal of its military from Niger in October 2023.[23]

3. Potential implications

The recent wave of military coups has raised concerns about the potential implications for democracy and security on the continent.

3.1 Undermining democracy

Some commentators have speculated that the recent wave of coups could undermine democracy in other African countries and increase the appeal of military rule. In July 2023, Afrobarometer,[24] a Ghana-based research network, published the findings of a survey of 36 African countries, revealing that 66% of respondents preferred democracy over any other form of governance.[25] However, only 38% of respondents expressed their satisfaction with the way democracy had functioned in their countries. The chief executive of Afrobarometer, Joseph Asunka, stated that the data had revealed that “Africans’ commitment to democracy remains strong”. Despite this, he warned that governments and elected leaders had “failed to meet these popular democratic aspirations”, leading to a “decline in popular confidence in democratic governance and an increasing attraction to military rule and intervention”. Similarly, Jonathan Asante-Otchere, a lecturer at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, told Al Jazeera in September 2023 that many African citizens were “not seeing the dividends of democracy”.[26] He stated that this was a “key reason […] why the coup makers seem to enjoy that kind of support”.

3.2 Further instability

Examining the impact of the coups on security across the continent, some commentators warned that the coups could see further instability in Africa. Speaking to Foreign Policy in August 2023, Cameron Hudson, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, warned that there was a “shared sentiment” amongst some African countries that were “fearful of a contagion effect of coups in the region”.[27] He warned of the “secondary and tertiary effects” of allowing a series of coups to go unchallenged, including the potential for “jihadist groups” to “spread the threat of Russian intervention”, following the deployment of the Russian private military company the Wagner Group in Africa.[28] Méryl Demuynck and Mathis Böhm of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, a thinktank based in The Hague, Netherlands, shared similar concerns. In an article published on the thinktank’s website in August 2023, they warned that further destabilisation of Niger “would certainly pose serious risks for the broader region”, as it “might impact counter-terrorism efforts, benefit terrorist organisations, and eventually impact the broader […] security landscape”.[29]

4. Read more

Cover image by Gabriel Vasiliu on Unsplash (cropped).


  1. Isaac Mugabi, ‘Mali revolt turns into coup d’etat’, DW, 19 August 2020. Return to text
  2. House of Commons Library, ‘Coups and political stability in West Africa’, 18 September 2023. Return to text
  3. BBC News, ‘Guinea coup attempt: Soldiers claim to seize power from Alpha Condé’, 5 September 2021. Return to text
  4. Ivana Kottasová and Eliza Mackintosh, ‘The military has taken over in Sudan. Here’s what happened’, CNN World, 26 October 2021. Return to text
  5. Africa News, ‘Burkina Faso coup: How President Kabore’s ouster unfolded’, 30 January 2022. Return to text
  6. Guardian, ‘Burkina Faso’s military leader ousted in second coup this year’, 30 September 2022. Return to text
  7. Al Jazeera, ‘Timeline: What has happened in Niger since the coup?’, 20 August 2023. Return to text
  8. Gerauds Wilfried Obangome, ‘Gabon officers declare military coup, President Ali Bongo detained’, Reuters, 31 August 2023. Return to text
  9. Guardian, ‘Gabon coup leader takes presidential oath and promises ‘free’ elections’, Guardian, 4 September 2023. Return to text
  10. Al Jazeera, ‘African Union suspends Gabon’s membership after military coup’, 31 August 2023. Return to text
  11. African Union, ‘Constitutive act of the African Union’, accessed 11 December 2023, p 17. Return to text
  12. African Union, ‘Communique adopted by the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU) at its 1001st meeting held on June 1 2021, on the situation in Mali’, 1 June 2021. Return to text
  13. African Union, ‘Communique adopted by the Peace and Security Council at its 1030th meeting held on 10 September 2021, on the situation in the Republic of Guniea’, 10 September 2021. Return to text
  14. African Union, ‘Communique adopted by the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU), at its 1062nd meeting held on 31 January 2022, on the situation in Burkina Faso’, 31 January 2022. Return to text
  15. African Union, ‘Communique adopted by the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU) at its 1168th meeting held on 14 August 2023, on updated briefing on the situation in Niger’, 14 August 2023. Return to text
  16. African Union, ‘Communique adopted by the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU) at its 1172nd meeting held on 31 August 2023, on the situation in the Republic of Gabon’, 31 August 2023. Return to text
  17. African Union, ‘Communique adopted by the Peace and Security Council at its 854th meeting held on 6 June 2019, on the situation in Sudan’, 6 June 2019. Return to text
  18. Sam Jones, ‘Niger coup: Britain cuts aid and neighbours ‘may use force’ to restore president’, Guardian, 31 July 2023. Return to text
  19. Sahara Reporters, ‘‘We won’t accept coup d’etat in West Africa again,’ Tinubu declares as new ECOWAS chairman’, 9 July 2023. Return to text
  20. ECOWAS Commission, ‘Second extraordinary summit of the ECOWAS authority of the heads of state and government on the political situation in Niger’, 10 August 2023. Return to text
  21. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘UK partnerships with Africa: Foreign secretary's speech in Lagos’, 1 August 2023. Return to text
  22. United States Mission to the United Nations, ‘Remarks at a UN Security Council briefing on West Africa and the Sahel’, 25 July 2023. Return to text
  23. Angelique Chrisafis, ‘France to begin pulling out troops from Niger this week’, Guardian, 5 October 2023. Return to text
  24. Afrobarometer, ‘About: Pan-African, non-partisan research network conducting public attitude surveys’, accessed 11 December 2023. Return to text
  25. Afrobarometer, ‘Declining satisfaction threatens African democracy, Afrobarometer CEO reveals’, 18 July 2023. Return to text
  26. Kent Mensah, ‘Africa’s coup epidemic: Has democracy failed the continent?’, Al Jazeera, 22 September 2023. Return to text
  27. Alexandra Sharp, ‘Niger’s coup is West Africa’s biggest challenge yet’, Foreign Policy, 4 August 2023. Return to text
  28. BBC News, ‘What is Russia’s Wagner Group, and what has happened to its leader?’, 6 September 2023. Return to text
  29. Méryl Demuynck and Mathis Böhm, ‘Unravelling the Niger coup and its implications for violent extremism in the Sahel’, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, 4 August 2023. Return to text