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West Africa’s Political Shift: Military Coups Rise

Established Parties Wane as Hybrid Politics Emerge in Francophone Africa

by Oluwatosin Alabi

Over the last four years, a shift has been observed in the political landscapes of Francophone West Africa, notably in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea. This shift has been characterized by the resurgence of military coups, leading to a decline or even fragmentation of established political parties. These countries are witnessing the rise of new, hybrid political organizations that are beginning to replace the long-standing parties, signaling a transformative period in the region’s political dynamics.

Wendyam Hervé Lankoandé, a consultant at Africa Practice, sheds light on these developments, highlighting the challenges they pose not only to internal governance but also to external engagement with entities like ECOWAS and Western governments. These governments have historically expected a quick return to civilian rule, a prospect now complicated by the sovereignist and populist narratives promoted by the military juntas.

In Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea, dominant political parties such as the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP), the Rally for Mali (RPM), and the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) have seen their influence wane in the public domain. The military’s rise to power has stifaced opposition voices, with figures like Cellou Dalein Diallo of Guinea’s UFDG being forced into self-imposed exile due to revived corruption allegations.

The military regimes have attributed the socio-political woes of their nations to their predecessors, effectively delegitimizing civilian governance and sidelining partisan politics. In Burkina Faso and Mali, the emphasis on national unity has been linked to counterterrorism efforts, while in Guinea, a stringent anti-corruption campaign has morphed into what many perceive as a political witch hunt against the former establishment.

These juntas have not operated in isolation. Instead, they have garnered support
from hybrid coalitions comprising military personnel, technocrats, civil society activists, and peripheral political figures. This strategy of co-option has led to the formation of government structures that, while military-led, include civilian components aiming to bring about a semblance of diverse representation. These individuals, though limited in their influence on the political transition, signify a change in the political landscape, potentially laying the groundwork for post-transitional electoral dynamics.

In both Mali and Burkina Faso, military authorities have leaned on networks of exclusionary, anti-establishment organizations to bolster their sovereignist narrative and to justify shifts in foreign policy alignments. These organizations, often embracing authoritarian tendencies, have supported the juntas’ efforts to stifle dissent, positioning themselves as “patriots” in the process. This has lent the military regimes a veneer of grassroots support, despite the questionable representativeness of these groups.

The political future of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea remains uncertain. The military juntas’ reliance on various support groups to channel popular mobilization suggests an imminent reconfiguration of political alliances. However, the transient nature of these organizations, coupled with their dependence on military patronage, raises questions about their long-term viability and their ability to facilitate broad political participation.

The established political parties, once the cornerstone of governance in these nations, now face the daunting task of redefining their identities and strategies. The loss of political power and financial resources, coupled with a growing disinterest in electoral politics among citizens, poses significant challenges. These parties must navigate a new political reality dominated by populist agendas and a disillusioned electorate.

Whether these developments herald the arrival of a new political era or merely a reconfiguration of existing dynamics is yet to be determined. The potential retirement of figures who have dominated the political scene since the 1990s, in response to widespread calls for change, suggests the possibility of political regeneration. However, such a transformation is inherently gradual and unlikely to exclude the old guard entirely.

As Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea navigate their political transitions, the old and new forces within their political landscapes must adapt to the evolving realities. The military juntas’ strategies of co-option and alliance-building hint at a desire for legitimacy and broader support, possibly through electoral means. Conversely, traditional parties and civil society groups face the imperative of reinventing themselves to remain relevant in an increasingly populist environment. This pivotal moment in Francophone West Africa’s political history underscores the complex interplay between military power, civil society, and the enduring quest for democratic governance.

Source: Mining Review Africa

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