Can their new plan stave-off coup fear?
Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | On Feb.11, President Yoweri Museveni who had not ventured outside East Africa since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Uganda in March, 2020, flew thousands of miles to Congo-Brazzaville and Senegal.
A statement from State House said President Yoweri Museveni’s visit of Brazzaville was aimed at boosting trade cooperation between the two countries.
This was even on show when the two presidents, Museveni and his host, Denis Sassou Nguesso, were photographed visiting a bio milk processing unit, a cattle ranch and an ostrich farm. But the real substance of Museveni’s visit happened on the second day of the visit on Feb.12.
Museveni and Sassou-Nguesso who have been in power for a combined 73 years, had by now been joined by President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo and President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé Eyadema of Togo for a mini summit on peace and security.
A communiqué issued after the presidents’ meeting noted that the “Exchanges between the four presidents were essentially focussed on the evolution of the political and security situation in the Great Lakes region, central Africa and western Africa.”
The presidents referenced the joint operations being carried out by Uganda and DR Congo’s armies in eastern DR Congo in order to eradicate rebel groups; the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), MTM (Madina al Tauheed wai Mujahedeen) and, the other negative forces which are threatening peace and stability in both countries.
The communiqué noted that Museveni, Sassou-Nguesso, Tshisekedi and Eyadema were delighted by the success already realised by the Ugandan and Congolese armed forces.
The presidents reiterated their total support to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which has taken stern action towards the coup organisers in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso. They also agreed to regularly meet and then continue to strengthen dialogue regarding political, security, regional and international issues.
Then on Feb.14, Museveni raked in another 3700km when he flew northwestwards to Dakar, Senegal to meet President Macky Sall who is now the chairman of the African Union.
On table were a “wide range of continental issues of mutual interest between the two countries of Uganda and Senegal” noted another statement from State House. But, the re-emergence of coups in West Africa once again featured in the discussions between Museveni and Sall.
Eyebrows were raised when President Museveni travelled and returned to Uganda with erstwhile ‘super minister’ Amama Mbabazi in tow. It later emerged that Mbabazi who has previously served in several capacities including that of Minister of Security, Minister of Defence, Attorney General and Prime Minister, was with Museveni on the state visits of Congo-Brazzaville and Senegal.
On Feb.16, Mbabazi called a press conference at his residence and announced what he called a new continental think tank known as the Africa Global Security Foundation. He said it had been set up following the Museveni trip to Congo and Senegal.
Mbabazi said he will be heading the foundation whose intention is to give analysis and insights on “the medium and long term security threats facing the continent.” Mbabazi, 73, said the foundation will have its headquarters in Dakar, the Senegalese capital.
“It will offer decision makers global, independent and strategic insights and innovative ideas that advance international peace,” he said.
He said the foundation will as well provide security briefings to member states through their established organs to provide insights to help members make sense of the changes happening in the region and the world.
Mbabazi said the foundation’s pioneer member states include; Congo-Brazzaville, Mauritania, Senegal, Togo, Uganda and the DR Congo. Speaking about the motivation for creating the Africa Global Security Foundation, Mbabazi cited the changing global political environment.
“We are not building a force or army. We are going to build a force of ideas and capacity. This is the cyber age. Any society that doesn’t have the capacity to develop its own weapons to define itself cannot be free.”
“International politics is rapidly changing, and we need to see how the member states can navigate this changing environment. The organization will offer member states’ insights on how to maintain peace in the face of the changing environment,” he said.
“One of the reasons why states exist and the central mission of the African Union and United Nations is to maintain peace and security. This can be accomplished by all parties working together by preventing conflict,” he said.
When asked to explain whether coups d’état influenced the formation of the initiative, Mbabazi said the idea had been on the table over a long period beyond the emergency of military coups in West Africa.
“Of course coups have also been the result of the insecurity that has existed in some of these countries. The decision to start a process of this (foundation) was having a global view of the security threats and issues in Africa and elsewhere,” he said.
Although, he holds no official government position, this is not the first time Mbabazi appears together on President Museveni’s foreign visit. In January 2020 they were together at a two-day France – Africa summit on drug trafficking and counterfeit medicines on the continent held in the Togolese capital, Lome.
Mbabazi attended in his capacity as a director of the Brazzaville Foundation; a charity organisation headquartered in the UK. It was founded in 2014 by Jean-Yves Ollivier, 77, said to be a long-time friend of Sassou-Nguesso.
Setting up the Brazzaville Foundation also involved Lord Bell of the infamous PR firm Bell Pottinger which was linked to the Gupta family corruption scandal in South Africa under President Jacob Zuma.
Apart from Mbabazi, others listed as key people in the Brazzaville Foundation are Kabiné Komara; former Prime Minister of Guinea and until 2008 a director at the African Export-Import Bank in Cairo, Egypt; Kgalema Petrus Motlanthe, former South African president, and Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria.
The Brazzaville Foundation, which has also been linked to British royalty through Prince Michael of Kent (Queen’s cousin), has similar objectives as the Africa Global Security Foundation that Mbabazi unveiled in Kampala. The question is why did Museveni and Mbabazi feel compelled to create a parallel organisation with the same leaders; Mbabazi as chairman and Jean-Yves Ollivier as his deputy?
Jean-Yves Ollivier is a French businessman who works primarily in the commodities sector in emerging markets. Wikipedia describes him as “a parallel diplomat” who uses his personal relationships with heads of states to facilitate mediation and peace processes in Africa.
Since military coups are the current headache for African leaders, the next question is whether Mbabazi, Jean-Yves Ollivier, Museveni and Sassou-Nguesso can stave-off the coup pandemic gripping Africa?
Forceful power grabs or coups d’état are back in vogue and Africa’s remaining strongmen are nervous. In just over one year, the continent has experienced four successful coups including two in Mali and one each in Guinea-Conakry and Burkina Faso.
There have also been four coup attempts in DR Congo, Djibouti, Niger and Guinea-Bissau as well as an arbitrary transfer of power in Chad following the assassination of long-serving Chadian president, Idris Déby in April, last year.
The power grabs, observers say, are also threatening democracy on the continent which has been taking root over the past two decades.
Coups have been on President Yoweri Museveni’s lips since the successful takeover of government in Guinea-Conakry where Lt. Col. Mamady Doumbouya toppled 83 year old Alpha Condé in September, last year.
Museveni told France24 last September that the coup in Guinea was a “step backwards” adding that the coup leaders should be sanctioned and jettisoned out of power. He re-echoed his thoughts on coups at this year’s Liberation Day celebrations on Jan.26. Museveni argued that the current problem of coups facing African governments, particularly in West Africa, can be dealt with when African leaders come together to find lasting solutions.
“Africa should not allow those novices to disturb our peace and agenda. We shall get in touch with West African leaders to harmonise our thinking,” Museveni said at Kololo independence grounds in Kampala.
Museveni blamed the recurrence of coups in West Africa on the emergency of several armed groups in the Sahel region and the surrounding areas. “The problems happening in more parts of Africa today started with the attack on Libya by people (the West) who could not listen to Africa. All terrorist groups who were in Libya are now spread up in the whole of Sahel,” he said.
But Dr. Solomon Asiimwe, a lecturer of governance at Uganda Martyrs University told The Independent on Feb.17 that coups are simply a result of bad governance. “Once you lack strong institutions of governance coupled with lack of accountability, you will have coups.”
“You just need to check the democratic governance standards of the countries where the coups have so far happened?” he said, “To avoid coups, you must have strong institutions.”
Dr. Asiimwe told The Independent that in countries, particularly in eastern Africa, where the coups have not yet happened, it is because the leaders there still have a firm grip on the military.
Dr. Asiimwe told The Independent that although many African countries had made strong democratic gains two decades ago, some of them have recently relapsed into the old ways of governance.
“Many of these countries in Africa are what are called transitional (democratic) countries) which means that they could easily fall back into the old ways,” he said.
According to a study titled, “African military coups d’état, 1956-2001: frequency, trends and distribution,” which was published in 2003 in the Journal of Modern African Studies, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced 80 successful coups and 108 failed coup attempts between 1956 and 2001— an average of four coups per year. However, Patrick McGowan, the study author noted that the figure had halved in the following decade ending 2019, thanks to many states embracing democracy.
In a recent blog post for the Observer Research Foundation’s strategic studies programme, Abhishek Mishra, an associate fellow says it is important to assess the recurrence of coups on the continent basing on the prevailing conditions in the international system and its shifting global orders.
“The structures, motivations, and conditions that incite coups in Africa, whether on the national/domestic front or on the global front, have not changed much,” he said in a blog published last September.
“On the one hand, democracy across Africa has not made satisfactory progress in national politics as to prevent a return to authoritarianism on the continent (while) on the other hand; the possible evidence of external involvement or sponsorship of coups cannot be ignored.”
He mentions particularly Russia which he says its mercenary groups have appeared to play a deeper role in countries such as Mali, Libya and the Central African Republic. He also mentions the surge of foreign interest in Africa, dubbed the “New Scramble” for resources and influence in the continent; a democratic recession in sub-Saharan Africa with weakening of democratic institutions and civil society; and the emergence of new and subtle methods of overturning constitutionally mandated presidential term limits and subsequently winning rigged or managed elections.
In his contribution during a seminar organized last October by the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, Kwesi Aning, the director of Academic Affairs and Research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra also suggested that optimism around the declining rate of coups this century needed to be treated with caution.
He said forecasts should account for a “teeming democratic sea—of frustrated, uneducated, barely educated, unemployed youths—who see the possibilities of their participation in the domestic government of their countries truncated by people who want to stay in power.”
Dr. Asiimwe said he doubts much will be achieved with Amama Mbabazi’s Africa Global Security Foundation. He says the African Global Security Foundation is just a loose coalition.
“It’s not an internationally recognised organisation with a treaty ratified by governments subscribing to it. I also see it having challenges because it has no legal basis on the international stage.”
Asiimwe said the foundation may struggle with buy-in from other countries considering that some of its objectives around peace and security are already provided for within the framework of the African Union. “So what has failed in the AU that the Africa Global Security Foundation is going to do?” Asiimwe wondered.