A timeline of coups in West Africa since 2000

With the current wave of coups in Africa, it is crucial to look at one of the continent's most conducive coup environments, West Africa

Coups are attempts by the military or other groups to overthrow a democratically elected government. Putsches are illegal but are becoming the norm in West Africa in the 21st century.

One of the leading factors contributing to coups in West Africa is the legacy of colonialism. The forced borders created by colonial powers ignored pre-existing ethnic and cultural divisions. As a result, it created the conditions for inter-ethnic conflicts that continue today.

The Cold War also played a significant role in exacerbating conflict in Africa. During this period, various African countries were used as proxies in the ideological struggle between the US and the Soviet Union. This led to the arming of various rebel groups, further fueling conflicts and undermining efforts to build stable and peaceful societies.

ECOWAS has threatened military action to restore Niger's ousted president
ECOWAS has threatened military action to restore Niger’s ousted president

This helped highlight the weak governance systems in many African countries, which consist of corruption, lack of accountability, and weak institutions that have created conditions where various actors can exploit the situation for their own benefit. This has often resulted in violent conflict, as different groups vie for control over resources and power.

Coups have been popular in West Africa since the 1960s. However, it is important to look at the density of coups in the 21st century. This is important for a range of reasons but mainly assessing regional stability.

It also helps identify trends in governance with the prevalence of military interventions and weaknesses in democratic institutions and its impacts on development.

Knowing recent coup attempts also influences international relations and diplomacy. Most importantly, knowing the coup density in this century can help inform strategies for conflict prevention and potentially mitigate conflicts for regional groups like the AU, SADC or ECOWAS.

Timeline of coups

2003- Mauritania’s coup attempt

Date: 8 to 9 June 2003

Key actors: Army officers, Islamic groups, suspected leader, former government minister Colonel Salah Ould Hananna and former minister Mohammed Ould Cheikhna.

Context: Dissatisfaction with President Ould Taya’s authoritarian rule. He had ruled Mauritania for 19 years at the time coming to power through a coup himself in 1984. The actors behind the coup also disapproved of President Taya’s diplomatic ties to Israel. This is because they feared anti-Arabic ethnic groupings. As an Islamic republic, most social and ethnic groups in Mauritania are Muslims

Impact: The rebel forces of President Taya engaged in heavy fighting which caused a lot of civilian casualties. This caused many hospitals to cope with the casualties. Over 150 died and military equipment was destroyed in the struggle.

Outcome: It was a failed coup attempt. President Ould Taya remained in power.

2003- Guinea-Bissau’s bloodless coup

Date: 14 September 2003

Key actor: Colonel Veríssimo Correia Seabra, army chief of staff.

Context: Unrest due to postponed elections by then-President Kumba Yala. There was speculation that President Yala would rig the elections.

Impact: No death casualties were recorded.

Outcome: Colonel Seabra and other coup leaders set up a transitional government and stepped down from power. President Kumba Yala resigned and Henrique Rosa became interim president two weeks later in 2003.

2003 – Burkina Faso coup

Date: October 2023

Key actor: Captain Luther Diapagri Oualy and other military and political dissidents.

Context: Dissident against successful coup leader, President Blaise Compaoré. He was accused of many human rights abuses and his long reign since 1987.

Impact: Several suspected coup plotters were arrested and detained.

Outcome: Failed coup attempt. Captain Luther Diapagri Oualy was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

2005 – Togo protests and riots dubbed coup

Date: 25 February 2005 – 29 April 2005

Key actors: Opposition groups of the late and former President Gnassingbe Eyadéma’s regime.

Context: The son of President Gnassingbe Eyadéma, Faure Gnassingbe immediately installed by the Togolese Armed Forces following his father’s death. There was a negative reaction towards the undemocratic instalment.

Impact: Around 500 protesters were killed by the Togolese armed forces. Due to the death casualties, the AU dubbed the riots a military coup.

Outcome: Protestors were suppressed and over 35,000 Togolese citizens fled to neighbouring countries like Benin and Ghana. Faure Gnassingbé was forced to step down due to domestic and international pressure. Bonfoh Abass appointed interim President of Togo.

2005 –  Mauritania’s successful coup

Date: 3 August 2003

Key actor: Security Chief, Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall

Context: Similar sentiments to the 2003 coup attempt, the desire to end the totalitarian regime of President Ould Taya. The coup occurred during President Taya’s visit to the Saudi Arabian King’s funeral.

Impact: No death casualties as it was a bloodless coup.

Outcome: Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Vall came into power in 2005.

2008 – Mauritania’s consecutive successful coup

Date: 6 August 2008

Key actor: General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, a career military officer.

Context: Through free and fair elections Ould Cheikh Abdullahi came into power in March 2007 but was deposed a year later.

Impact: Disruption of the transition to democracy in Mauritania

Outcome: General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was installed in place of Ould Cheikh Abdullahi.

2008 – Guinean coup

Date: 23 December 2008

Key actor: Moussa Dadis Camara, leader of the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD)

Context: The coup came after the announcement of the death of the then President, Lansana Conté. According to Captain Camara, Guinea was facing rampant poverty and corruption.

Impact:  Minimal disruption was recorded.

Outcome: Headed by Captain Camara, the CNDD seized power and ruled Guinea until presidential elections in 2010.

2010 -Niger third successful coup

Date: 18 February 2010

Key actors: General Salou Djibo leader of the junta called the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy(CSRD)

Context: President Tandja dissolved Niger’s National Assembly and pushed forward a constitutional referendum to extend his rule as President of Niger. The coup came from efforts to restore democracy.

Impact: Gunfire and violence used by the military junta resulted in about 14 deaths.

Outcome: The successful coup attempt resulted in free and fair elections. General elections were held in January 2011.

2012 – Mali’s coup

Date: 21 March – 8 April 2012

Key actors: Malian soldiers under the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State. Leader Amadou Sanogo.

Context: Dissatisfaction with the Malian government headed by President Amadou Touré in dealing with the Tuareg rebellion in Northern Mali. It was the fourth Tuareg rebellion since 1960. There was also a general lack of support for the Malian army by the government.

Impact: The coup led to a power vacuum, allowing Tuareg rebels and Islamist militant groups to seize control of northern Mali, destabilizing the Sahel region.

Outcome: International condemnation followed the coup, leading to economic sanctions and political isolation for the junta. Eventually, a transitional government was established, and democratic elections were held in 2013, restoring civilian rule.

2012 – Guinea-Bissau’s coup

Date: 12 April 2012

Key actors: Military officers led by Antonia Indjai

Context: The coup occurred amidst a period of political instability, with longstanding tensions between the civilian government and the military. It was believed to be an attempt to disrupt the presidential election scheduled for the 29th of April 2012.

Impact: The coup led to the arrest of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. and other political figures, disrupting the electoral process and causing political turmoil in the country.

Outcome: General Indjai took control of the military and maintained influence in Guinea-Bissau. Mediation efforts by the international community, particularly ECOWAS, led to a transitional government and subsequent elections in 2014.

2014 -Burkina Faso’s successful uprising

Date: 30 October 2014

Key actors: Political opposition that consisted of citizens and the military

Context: The 2014 uprising in Burkina Faso was sparked by President Blaise Compaoré’s attempt to amend the constitution to extend his 27-year rule, which triggered widespread protests and discontent among the population.

Impact: The uprising led to the resignation of President Blaise Compaoré on October 31, 2014. It marked a significant moment in Burkina Faso’s history, as the people successfully ousted a long-standing leader who had held power for decades.

Outcome: After Compaoré’s resignation, a transitional government was established, led by Michel Kafando. It oversaw a period of political transition, which included the organization of democratic elections. These elections took place in November 2015, leading to the election of Roch Marc Christian Kaboré as Burkina Faso’s new president. The 2014 uprising is seen as a successful example of people’s power in West Africa and a turning point in Burkina Faso’s political landscape.

2020 – Mali’s second coup

Date: 18 August 2020

Key actors: Military officers led by Colonel Assimi Goïta.

Context: The 2020 coup in Mali occurred in a backdrop of political unrest, and public dissatisfaction with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s government due to perceived corruption, security challenges, and economic difficulties. Protests demanding Keïta’s resignation had been ongoing for months.

Impact: The coup resulted in the resignation of President Keïta and the dissolution of his government. It also prompted international condemnation and suspension from regional organizations like ECOWAS.

Outcome: The military junta, led by Colonel Assimi Goïta, established the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) to oversee a transition to civilian rule. Pressure from the international community, particularly ECOWAS, led to the appointment of a civilian-led transitional government.

2021 – Mali’s second consecutive successful coup

Date: 24th May 2021.

Key actor: Vice President Assimi Goïta

Context: The 2021 coup followed the 2020 Malian coup, which saw President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta being removed from power by a group of military officers due to various issues, including irregularities in elections and public outrage. Tensions had been rising between the civilian transitional government and the military since the 2020 coup, leading to the 2021 coup.

Impact: The coup resulted in the detention of civilian leaders, including President N’daw, Prime Minister Ouane, and Minister Doucouré. Mali faced international condemnation, with the United Nations, African Union, European Union, and ECOWAS all condemning the coup. Sanctions were imposed on Mali by various international organizations, and ECOWAS suspended Mali from the organization. The coup disrupted the transition to democracy in Mali, delaying the return to civilian rule.

Outcome: Assimi Goïta was named as the country’s transitional president by Mali’s constitutional court. Choguel Kokalla Maïga, a leader of the M5 movement, was appointed as the interim prime minister. The junta agreed to hold general elections by February 2024 in exchange for the immediate removal of sanctions during an ECOWAS summit meeting in Accra on July 3, 2022. France temporarily suspended joint military operations with the Malian military but later resumed them after consultations.

2021 –  Guinea coup

Date: 5 September, 2021.

Key actor:  Lieutenant-Colonel Mamady Doumbouya.

Context: Guinea had experienced political instability and protests during President Conde’s controversial bid for a third term in 2020. Conde had amended the constitution to allow himself to run for a third term, which sparked widespread protests and allegations of electoral fraud. The country had faced accusations of human rights abuses and a crackdown on opposition figures during Conde’s presidency.

Impact: The coup resulted in the ousting of President Alpha Conde and the dissolution of the constitution. The coup leaders declared a nationwide curfew and threatened politicians with consequences if they refused to attend a meeting convened by the military. Guinea’s streets experienced heavy gunfire as special forces battled soldiers loyal to Conde during the coup. Celebrations broke out in some parts of the capital as the news of the coup spread.

Outcome: Guinea’s military special forces, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, took control of the country. The coup leaders expressed a commitment to change the political landscape and “entrust politics to the people. The international community, including Russia and the United States, condemned the coup and called for Conde’s release.ECOWAS threatened sanctions if Guinea’s constitutional order was not restored.

2022 – Guinea-Bissau’s recent coup

Date: 1 February 2022

Key Actors: Armed individuals, armed with machine guns and assault rifles, attacked the government palace in Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau.

Context: Growing political instability is characterised by corruption, high unemployment, and low education.

Impact: After a period of violence and unrest, President Embalo declared that the situation had been brought under control, with some individuals involved killed and arrested.

Outcome: Despite sanctions and suspensions by ECOWAS, the military rulers in these countries have not organized new elections, raising questions about the credibility of the regional bloc.

2023 – Niger latest coup

Date: 26 July 2023

Key Actor: Head of Niger’s Presidential Guard, General Abdourahamane Tchiani.

Context: Due to increasing insurgent attacks and economic stagnation caused by the government under President Bazoum.

Impact: Sanctions by ECOWAS and Western nations like France and the US. It created growing concerns for regional security.

Outcome: It was a successful coup. On Saturday, 19th August, an ECOWAS delegation held talks with coup leader Tchiani and met with Bazoum. Tchiani proposed a three-year transition of power and warned against any attack on the country. The ruling junta also cancelled over 900 military passports. On the 21st of September, ousted President Bazoum appealed to ECOWAS to the ECOWAS court to free him. The situation in Niger is still ongoing.


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