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Africa’s Coups and the Role of External Actors

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The 82 coups Africa experienced between 1960 and 2000 were devastating for the continent—contributing to the instability, corruption, human rights abuses, impunity, and poverty that characterized many African countries during that era. Coups, moreover, are contagious. A successful coup significantly increases the probability of subsequent coups—in that country as well as its neighbors.

The recent spate of coups in Africa, therefore, is bad news. In the past two years there have been coups in Mali (twice), Chad, Guinea, Sudan, Tunisia, and, arguably, Algeria and Burundi—many of which were navigating democratic transitions. This variant of the coup bug can be traced back to the coups in Egypt and Zimbabwe a few years earlier. That means nearly 20 percent of African countries have succumbed to coups since 2013. The continent, thus, risks hurtling back to bad old days of military misgovernance—a period often remembered for its “lost decades.”

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