Africa and the Return of Strong Men: Recent Coups in Africa and Their Historical Comparisons

Capt. Ibrahim Traore
Capt. Ibrahim Traore

Grace Chigbu

Africa has recently witnessed a concerning resurgence of strongman politics, with several West African countries experiencing coup d’états. This article focuses on the African countries that have had experiences with coups in the past and examines the latest coup in Gabon, led by General Brice Oligui Nguema, in the context of historical comparisons.

I. Historical Context and the Reappearance of Strongmen in Africa:

Africa’s history of governance has been marked by the rise and fall of strongman leaders who often came to power through military coups. Notable figures like Ghadaffi, Mugabe, JJ Lawrence, Thomas Sankara, and Yaya Djammeh have played pivotal roles in shaping the continent’s political landscape. Their leadership ranged from authoritarian control to progressive policies, leaving behind a complex legacy.

Thomas Sankara, the former leader of Burkina Faso, stood out as a beacon of hope. He embraced progressive policies aimed at improving the lives of his nation’s impoverished masses, focusing on self-sufficiency and women’s rights.

II. Recent Coup d’états in West Africa:


In Guinea, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya orchestrated a recent coup, toppling President Alpha Condé. This coup was driven by accusations of Condé’s authoritarian rule and corruption. The people of Guinea are now looking to Doumbouya and his junta for a return to civilian rule and transparent governance. The question remains whether they will follow Sankara’s path of progressive leadership or fall into the traps of past strongmen.


Mali faced a coup in 2020, led by Colonel Assimi Goïta and the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP). The coup was sparked by President Keïta’s handling of the country’s security and economic crises. The CNSP promised a transition to civilian rule, but doubts linger over their intentions, given the history of power consolidation among past strongmen.


Niger experienced a coup attempt in 2021, led by soldiers seeking to seize power from President Mohamed Bazoum, who had recently been elected. While the attempt was thwarted, it underscores the region’s volatile power dynamics and raises concerns about the stability of democratic institutions.


Gabon recently witnessed a significant political upheaval when General Brice Oligui Nguema overthrew the 55-year Bongo dynasty. The military coup led to Nguema assuming transitional leadership, while the African Union swiftly suspended Gabon in response. The Gabonese opposition has called for its candidate’s recognition as the winner of weekend elections.

III. Comparing Historical Strongmen with Emerging Coup Plotters:

Leadership Styles:

Past strongman leaders often centralized power, sidelining democratic institutions. Emerging coup plotters, like General Nguema, claim to be transitional and aim to return power to civilian rule. However, history urges caution, as similar claims have been made by past strongmen only to consolidate their hold on power.

Economic and Social Policies:

Leaders like Ghadaffi and Mugabe initially presented promising economic policies, but their long tenures were marred by Leaders like Ghadaffi and Mugabe initially presented promising economic policies, but their long tenures were marred by frustrations from their citizens and accusations of corruption in Zimbabwe. In contrast, Sankara focused on social justice and self-sufficiency, earning him the admiration of his people. Expectations on the current coup plotters include addressing economic challenges and implementing policies that prioritize the well-being of the masses.

Human Rights and Democracy:

Past strongmen were notorious for suppressing dissent, curbing free speech, and violating human rights. The emerging coup plotters must recognize the importance of upholding democratic principles, promoting human rights, and fostering an inclusive political environment.

The resurgence of coup d’états in West Africa has reignited concerns about the return of strongman politics on the continent. By comparing the older generation of strongmen with the emerging coup plotters, we can discern potential challenges and opportunities for Africa’s future governance. It is essential for current leaders to learn from history, avoid past mistakes, and prioritize the welfare of their citizens and the preservation of democratic values. Africa’s trajectory will be shaped by the choices these leaders make today.

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