Presidents Alassane Ouattara of Côte d'Ivoire (right) and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana (left) conferring with the military leadership in Guinea, led by Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya (middle) in in Conakry, capital of Guinea, on 17 September. The regional leaders are worried over the spate of military takeovers of power/Photo: Ghana Presidency

Opinion: Don’t blame only the military for coups in Africa – Nobel laureate

The recent military takeover of power in Burkina Faso, the third in three years in West Africa, is causing worry that democracy may be backsliding in the region and that more coups could be in the offing. Liberian peace activist, who received the Nobel Prize in 2011, Leymah Gbowee, comments on the spate of military coups in West Africa, calling for a broader look at the problem and proffering a solution

The recent news of coups and foiled coups in the West African sub-region has been discussed in many spaces. Many are asking, Why is the military bent on destroying the democratic system? Why is the military keen on taking our region back 20 or 25 years? These questions are valid and genuinely need to be answered.

Leymah Roberta Gbowee /Photo: NMF

I also have questions of my own. Did someone ask about destroying the democratic systems? What democratic systems? The winners take it all systems? The systems of filling your swiss bank accounts and leaving the masses destitute? The system of suppression and oppression of minority groups? The system of rape and abuse without any judicial recourse? What democratic system? The strategy of changing the constitution to perpetuate your stay in power?

I know many will come here and say, “You are a Nobel laureate, and you should not be supporting military takeover.” Did I even mention that I support any military take over? Hell No! However, it is high time we begin to speak to the issues on hand.

In the last few years, we have seen people taking down oppressive regimes: Tunisia, Egypt, and Sudan, to name a few on our continent. However, these popular uprising has never really benefitted the people.
Democratic systems are reestablished, and the status quo of corruption and lack of transparency starts on a new wheel.

Our continent is not poor; our subregion is loaded with many natural resources. Our youthful population should not be risking their lives in a foreign land doing menial jobs because the leaders failed to create opportunities.

The biggest threat to peace and security in our region is not the military. The biggest threats are the millions of young people that go to bed hungry daily, the thousands of families who cannot afford proper health care, the millions of school children receiving substandard education, and our leaders’ children and grandchildren school outside.

I can go on listing the pains and suffering people in the sub-region experience daily due to the failure on the part of our leaders to prioritize the basic human security needs of our people.

On a recent trip to Dubai, I encountered many young people from our sub-region. Curiosity had me questioning them about the decision to relocate. The answers were the same, lack of opportunity. One girl from Nigeria told me she had been offered a scholarship to Germany to complete her master’s. Her time in Dubai was to work, save her money, and maximize the opportunity. Another said, “Aunty, some days I am so exhausted that I even forget to call my mother after a long day of work.”

Recently a group of Liberians working in another gulf country contacted me about their plight. I asked them why they risk their lives, and one told me, “Ma Leymah, at least here, I am assured of $200 at the end of every month to send back home. Though the conditions are harsh, it is better to have a source of livelihood.”

Peace, my people, is not just the absence of war; “peace is the presence of conditions that dignifies all.” We do not support militarism in any shape or form; we also do not support leaders’ failure to ensure that their citizens benefit from the fruits of democracy.

I believe that democracy is a two-way street – needs of people and respect for the process. Failure to do either will lead us to where we find ourselves today.

I do not support any of the coups in our region. I also do not endorse the failure of our leaders to do what is right, just, and fair for their people. It is time for the people’s lives to move forward for our region to move forward!

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