Webinar on coups and failed states in Africa

On Tuesday 26 October 2021, the CACS, in partnership with the UJ Library, hosted a zoom webinar titled ‘Are African States Failing, Again?: Examining the resurgence of military takeovers and failed states in Africa’.

The moderator was Dr Dorcas Ettang, senior lecturer in the School of Social sciences and Coordinator of the Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies (CTPS) Programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The presenters were:

  • Prof Norman Sempijja, associate professor at Mohammed Vi Polytechnique University in Morocco.
  • Ebrahim Deen, a researcher at the Afro Middle East Centre
  • Margaret Monyani, sessional lecturer in International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand
  • Dr Tshepo Gwatiwa, lecturer in International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand


Time Item Speaker
14h00 – 14h15 Opening address and introduction of speakers Dr Dorcas Ettang
14h20 – 14h35 Presentation Ebrahim Deen
14h40 – 14h45 Presentation Prof. Norman Sempijja
14h50 – 15h05 Presentation Dr Tshepo Gwatiwa
15h15 – 15h30 Presentation Ms Margaret Monyani
15h30 – 16h00 Q & A session and closing remark Dr Dorcas Ettang



On 5 September 2021, President Alpha Condé of Guinea, who had been in power since 2010, was arrested in a successful coup d’état. The military takeover was orchestrated and led by the commander of the  Guinean special forces, Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya. Earlier in the year, the Malian army led by Vice-President Assimi Goita detained President Bah N’daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Defence Minister Souleymane Doucouré in an attempted coup. In 2019 and 2020, Gabon, Sudan, Ethiopia, Mali (first attempt) and Chad (military intervention) all experienced some form of military intervention (coup plots, coup attempts, and successful seizures of political power). These occurrences suggest a resurgence of military actors in state governance architecture in Africa.

In academic literature, proponents of coups – albeit ‘bloodless’ – argue that such events serve as a ‘shock’ to the system, thereby creating opportunities for political liberalisation that would not otherwise exist; a significant weapon in fostering democracy (Collier 2009). Leaders of coups often cite state failure – poor governance, worsening poverty, corruption, nepotism, poor development, and ineptitude – as the basis for coups. For example, in Mali, a central issue was the failure of the state to adequately address terrorism, while in Guinea it was the abuse of power and a general  lack of development. On the other hand, opponents of coups emphasise the threat they post to ‘fragile’ transitional governments, the risks of violent conflicts, and the spill-over effects that could compound/exacerbate existing development challenges by triggering displacement and forced migration.

While Africa is meant to be striving towards democratic consolidation and inclusive/participatory governance, with citizens at liberty (without fear and prejudice) to choose their leaders and chart their development course, governance seems to be sliding away from democracy. The Buhari administration in Nigeria recently admitted it had failed to address the rising levels of insecurity and insurgency in the country. When public institutions mean to maintain order and bring about development are failing, what options remain open to African people?

This webinar is being held at a time when Africa’s political governance and security are precarious, posing a challenge to continental efforts such as Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Key issues to be discussed include: are African states failing, once again? And what factors explain the resurgence of military coups and the failed state narrative in Africa?

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