from Coups to Military


I want to explore the more general phenomenon of the Military as agents of change for stability - exogenous force -  as well as agents of their own tradition and independence from politics - endogenous force.


Historically as far as Africa is concerned, it is difficult to separate the Military from their role as coup-makers


and although the 60s-70s are often seen as the years of  coups and military intervention against the civilian government, we perhaps ought to look at the graphics for this from the EU ISS report


"no sooner had colonial rule ended than our new [African] rulers set about converting the revolution into one of fire and thunder against their own"  

                                                General  Obasanjo, Head of State, Nigeria, 1999.






Thus we need to go further than simply coups: African states face a raft of different forms of military activity which to some degree are reflective of the 'New Wars' tag. But the very instability of many African states suggests that they were doing new Wars' long before Mary Kaldor came up with the phrase!



Having had a look  at the picture of military intervention in more recent years (than the 60s) we need to go back to some classic discussions of the military - in part because you should know of these because they are classic and because they can open up the factors that shape activity.


But we need first to say something about how we analyse military interventions - how do we model the interactions between variables that 'cause' coups and so forth. (You may note that Tordoff in the chapter on the Military in Africa in his recent book on African Politics spends perhaps half or more discussing the military in terms of coups...)



Methodological note: Explaining Coups and multivariate analysis.




and here is a summary of perhaps the most classic analysis of the military


S E Finer - The Man on Horseback (1962 et seq.)

Prior to Finer’s work, political scientists had approached coup d’etats as a set of ephemeral, exceptional and isolated experiments by the military in governmental politics. Finer approached the coup from a fresh new perspective, one which recognized the increasing tendency of military intervention as a peculiar political phenomenon that was abiding, deep seated and distinctive. In contrast to popular opinion at the time, his belief was that direct military rule was an emerging distinctive kind of regime and that the military could become an important independent political force in itself.



an exposition of the political strengths of the military in terms of its organization, coherence, virtues and structure before going on to examine the weaknesses of the military as a political organization.


He peels back the façade of invisibility and mystery which often shroud military affairs and exposes two crippling weaknesses of the military – their technical inability to govern and their lack of legitimacy – which preclude them from ruling without civilian collaboration.



He argues that military intervention is often more common when there is a concomitant increase in the dependence of civilian governments on the military and a decrease in the popularity of the civilian governments.


He categorizes military intervention in politics into four levels.


The first – influence - is the case where the military merely presses the civilian government to implement policies which the military deems appropriate.


The second – pressures or blackmail – is the case where the military seeks to convince civilian powers to do its bidding by threat of some sanction.


The third level – displacement – is the case where the military replaces one cabinet or set of civilian politicians with another more compliant set through the use of violence or threat of violence.


The last level – supplantment – completely sweeps away the civilian regimes and establishes a military one in its place. This classification was a useful construct at the time because it highlighted and neatly categorized the diverse universe of coups that were occurring at the time.


Finer also examines the modes of intervention through which these four levels of influence could be expressed. He argues that the military could use collusion, intimidation, threats of non-cooperation or violence in their quest to influence the civilian powers that be. Finer concludes his book by looking at the past and future of military interventions.



Luttwak: Coup d'etat (1969 et seq.)


Luttwak’s book, Coup d’etat: A Practical Handbook, published in 1969, grapples with the mechanics of how a coup is actually organized. He goes to some lengths to distinguish the classical coup’detat from other forms of extra-constitutional overthrows such as revolutions, civil wars and insurgencies. In his conception, a coup is distinct from many of the other forms of state capture because of its lack of reliance on the intervention of the masses. He asserts that most coups are politically neutral, in the sense that there are no discernable policies that tend to be followed after the seizure of power.


One aspect of the coup phenomenon that receives almost no attention in Finer’s work is the question of what the preconditions for a coup are. Luttwak tries to answer this question by painting a picture of the kind of environment that would be favorable to potential coup makers.


He summarizes these conditions into three – the confinement of political participation to a small minority, a politically independent state with limited foreign influence in its internal affairs and a non-ethically structured identifiable political centre.


Drawing on the fact that most of the officer corps in the armies were drawn from the middle classes, Samuel Huntington, in his widely read work, Political Order in Changing Societies, surmises that the source of coups and military intervention in politics in general was as a result of the struggle for dominance between the economic classes of society.


Other writers such as Jose Nun and Guillermo O’Donnell have followed in this tradition, alleging the existence of an alliance between the military and the elite and upper classes of society to monopolize power, excluding the middle and lower classes from the political processes. It is therefore the tension between the classes that leads to most coup d’etats.




Onwumechili: The aims of the military intervention

There are numerous reasons for military coups, but over the years most

historians or scholars have simply assumed that the reasons are those that are

often announced by the coup plotters themselves (Huntington, 1956, 1968;

Welch, 1970; Uganda, 1971; Nordlinger, 1977; Sahlin, 1977).


Those assumptions can often be classified as following either

the development thesis or the guardian perspective.


The development thesis arrogates the title of people's representatives

to military coup leaders, who claim to have militarily intervened on the behalf

of downtrodden citizens. These types of coups occur in developing nations (thus

explaining the name development thesis), where citizen political activity is considered

weak and the military, being a strong and nationally organized group, is

left to carry out political interventions. Wiking's elaborate study in 1983 lists

various justifications that could all be considered to fall broadly under the development

thesis. These include the lack of success in nation building and economic



The lack of success in nation building includes accusations of tribalism

and the failure to unite the nation. Wiking, for instance, notes that Major General

Juvenal Habyalimana's coup in Rwanda in July of 1973 was solely based

on accusations of increased national disunity during President Gregoire Kayibanda's

rule. Idi Amin's coup of 1971 in Uganda was announced as a necessary

intervention to prevent the then Ugandan leader Milton Obote's continued ethnic

policies against the Ganda people.



The guardian perspective acknowledges the military as the unit that is

entrusted with the nation's defense and military coups are, therefore, seen as

part of the maintenance of political sanity and, thus, a necessary part of national

defense. An example is political power tussles that are usually announced as

reasons for several African military coups. Such tussles frequently emerge after

elections when the loser refuses to concede victory and claims electoral malpractice.

Rarely do presidential electoral losers concede victory in most African

countries. Moreover, there are several election frauds that take place during

these elections that it is easy to find reasons for an electoral defeat. The power

tussles that follow those elections are usually protracted and they threaten the

country's peace. There are other power tussles that are not directly related to



Wiking lists lack of law and order; unlawful acts of the government,

and the army's duty to guarantee order as additional justifications usually announced

by coup leaders. These additional justifications can all be considered

also as being part of the guardian perspective. Coup leaders often give several

justifications to support their activities and these justifications can fall both

within the development thesis and the guardian perspective.


Wiking listed numerous other reasons that cannot easily be classified as

either a development thesis or a guardian perspective. However, they all are

announced reasons, including the following: lack of democracy, corruption,

interference in military affairs, and inadequate military budgets.

Let us elaborate more on the "lack of democracy," which should be absorbed

with a pinch of doubt. Coming from the military, this accusation is incredible.

Remarkably, the Malian coup leaders of 1968 had accused President

Modibo Keita of being dictatorial and undemocratic but the subsequent military

regime hardly proved different.


Corruption is frequently used as an excuse for military coups. Coup

makers point to various and sometimes verifiable examples of government corruption.

This wins immediate support for the coup makers but does not stop

corruption. The coup makers become engrossed in corruption. Several coup

makers have led some of the most corrupt governments in Africa. For example,

Jean-Bedel Bokassa in Central African Republic, Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire


Coup makers have also pointed to interference in military affairs as

well as inadequate military budgets as reasons for military coups..




Beyond Coups


Africa’s wars have killed more than 7 million people and created about 19 million refugees

since 1960 – not to mention the huge losses in terms of infrastructure and economic

opportunities. In comparison to other continents, Africa is becoming less and less

of an inter-state conflict continent, although a few have occurred. The typical conflict

involving an African military force is an intra-state conflict, such as a civil war, rebellion,

secession attempt, ethnic and/or religious strife or even a genocide (in Rwanda’s case).

The Ogaden war in 1976, the Katanga events in 1960, the Biafra conflict in 1967 and

the Casamance struggles in Senegal since 1984 have all shown themselves to be localised

conflicts that have not mutated into wars on a regional scale.



There are several forms/contexts of post-coup roles or identities for the Military in Africa


1) using the graphic about military interventions above, we have the classic role of protecting nation against the enemy - against insurgents - Boko Haram etc


2) but you have the more problematic role in engaging with 'liberation forces' where government forces are fighting with home grown opposition forces who have formed armies


rebels - Angola/Mozambique


civil war - which itself in the case of Biafra is one and the same as a separatist movement.


separatist movements

Angola, for example, saw three separate, largely  ethnically based independence movements, fighting not only the Portuguese army but

also each other, as well as Angolans fighting alongside the imperial power. The MPLA, largely representing the mixed-race coastal elites, came precariously to power in Luanda mostly thanks to Cuban and Soviet support, and fought a 30 year-long civil war, primarily against the UNITA forces of Jonas Savimbi, themselves supported and supplied by the West. The military wing of the African National Congress had its training camps in Angola (not the more logical Zimbabwe, which supported the rival Pan-Africanist Congress), which thus led to South African incursions into Angola and fights between Cuban and South African troops, with members of the military wing of the ANC (also South Africans, of course) fighting alongside the MPLA. Finally, apartheid-era South Africa’s war against Namibia’s independence was fought partly by anti-MPLA Angolan mercenaries, as well as a number of other nationalities, aligned against the SWAPO liberation movement, itself allied with the ANC.



and then we have the use of Afrcan armies for International purposes

3) Use of military in inter-state wars

The most important inter-state conflicts took place in West Africa during the post-independence period, such as the 1973 Chad-Libya conflict or the 1993 Nigeria-Cameroon dispute over the Bakassi island claims. Water-related clashes have also been fairly common, such as the 1974 dispute between Mali and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) regarding the Agacher water well, or even the controversy between Senegal and Mauritania in May 1989.




4) Use of Military for Peace-keeping

Regional involvement in the settlement of disputes has been uneven over the decades.

African-led interventions such as those of the African Union are quite rare. From the

first operation, with 2,600 personnel deployed to Zaire in 1968, until the deployment

of 850 Nigerians to Chad in 1979, pan-African forces performed relatively poorly. More

recently, African armies have become increasingly engaged in peacekeeping, peacebuilding

and post-conflict activities in a regional and multi-national context. However, their

mandates have mostly encompassed non-coercive, stabilisation-related tasks rather

than high-end peace-enforcement and combat ones.


A recent and promising exception – and experience – is represented by the Multinational

Joint Task Force (MNTJF) assembled to fight against Boko Haram across Northern Nigeria

and the Lake Chad region. The coalition, led by Nigeria, includes Chad, Niger,

Cameroon and Benin. Setting it up has been a slow and complicated process, with Nigeria

reluctant for some time to acknowledge that it needed help and Chad keen on gaining

clout on Nigerian soil. Yet the adoption of a regional approach to counter the sect

(responsible for approximately one third of all civilian killings across Africa in 2014)

and the improvements made in terms of intelligence sharing and operational coordination

have brought tangible results and may come to represent a precedent to build upon

in the future.





5) The Military from outside: the African military budget is variously sized (ad this has implications for likelihood of interventions) and they tend to get their arms from other non-African states (which has implications for the structure of support for an intervention).


Arms as Aid


other non-African forces inside








and then we the ambivalent role of the military -as threat, support, or hegemon in a regime


6) Keeping them in the Barracks as Civil-Military relations or as fear of worse....

"democratic civil–military relations, it remains a critical issue in a number of

states. The nature of democratic civil–military relations implies an adherence to

principles that conform to accountable, legitimate democratic authorities, and

the existence of a parliament that exercises oversight over the military and

authorises the declaration of war and also makes the executive accountability to

it in terms of the character of its defence policy. Democratic civil–military

relations is also defined in terms of good governance to the security sector, and

accountability by individual members of the security sector to national and

international laws, as well as political neutrality (Ngoma)"



The military are coup-makers and this is always a threat to leaders/government.

So how do you keep the army in the barracks? (and see (6))


Governments often attempt to establish paramilitary organizations as a check on the power of the armed forces.


This can increase where there is a personalist style of rule by a leader who rules on whim rather than law and institutions. He needs a security agency against a military who has endogenous forces of identity i.e. military traditions. Their loyalty as such cannot be taken for granted. This a personalist leader need a personally commanded force against the military. The cost of coup-making have to be high so as to keep them back in barracks. But equally personal leaders are so autocractic and run such dreadful regimes that they are likely to be threatened from rebel armies or from other countries trying to depose them and thus may need the proper army to defend them...



7) Military/Para-military

A coup led by the military is often the main threat to the existing

regime. Policymakers often view expenditures on the armed forces as a

way to win their support. Politically weak governments may attempt to

win support from the military by higher levels of defense spending

(Snider, 1989). However, increases in military spending may only be

partially effective in winning the loyalty of the military and may simply

serve to strengthen the primary threat to the existing government (Ross,

1988). On the other hand, any reduction of military spending is likely to

turn the military against the government.


A more effective strategy may be to build paramilitary organizations’

loyalty to the government and make them strong enough to oppose any

attempts to overthrow the regime. An example is the Juventud en

Marcha con Macias (JMCM) in Equatorial Guinea. This was a

paramilitary organization of ‘Guinean Youth’ by Francisco Macias

Nguema after his election in 1968. When a coup overthrew his

government in March 1969, he was able to regain power with the help

of the JMCM. Nguema then used the JMCM, his presidential militia,

and the National Guard to maintain his rule until another coup

overthrew him in 1979. These cornerstones of the regime were all

organizations designed to deal with the internal dissent that was the

primary threat to the government. (Dowdle)



Clientelistic Politics

Political leaders try to win the support of the paramilitary organizations

by trying establishing clientelistic relationships. The political leaders

allocate government resources to the paramilitary in exchange for the

paramilitary’s performance of security duties and ability to counter any

threat to regime survivability from the regular military. Clapham

(1982a: 4–8) identifies four characteristics necessary for the establishment

of clientelism. First, one group must have a monopoly on critical

resources. Second, the client should find these resources so valuable that

the patron is willing to exchange their services for the patron’s resources.

Third, the patron should prevent the client group, as a whole, from

forming a united front to seize control of these resources from the

patron. Fourth, the state apparatus allocates public resources based on

personalistic grounds instead of predictable and universalistic ones. The

next task is to examine the effectiveness of clientelistic relationship

between political leaders and paramilitary organizations. (Dowdle)




8) State capture by the Military:

The military is not elected by anyone and for that reason, its intervention in the political process of a country,

even at a peripheral level, is harmful for the democratic process and accountability. Some of its other important

 implications are as follows: the military may be involved in government on account of an actual or created internal

or external threat to national sovereignty. This situation implies the distortion of government policy because certain

policy options need to be required and implemented to meet this threat; for instance, a reallocation of budget in

favor of the military at the cost of other important budget allocations. The threat of a military take over can force

 an elected government to change its policy in line with the desires of the military or may even replace it by another

government more acquiescent to the wishes of the military. If a military take over, or a threat of take over, indicates

inability of the present government to function effectively then the economy will pose high risks for foreign businesses

and a full-scale military regime poses the greatest risk. Although a military regime may temporarily provide stability

and therefore reduce risks for businesses in the short term, in the longer term risk will almost certainly rise for

two major reasons: the system of governance will be become corrupt and, second, the continuation of such

a government may create an armed opposition (Majeed)





9) Armies are popular and this makes them difficult to control in terms of civil-military relations.