The coup is back in Africa. Last week, soldiers in Mali overthrew the unpopular president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, completing the West African country’s second coup in eight years. In Sudan, in April 2019, after months of massive protests, the Sudanese military toppled the 30-year dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir. In 2017, a faction of Zimbabwe’s military ousted Robert Mugabe, who had ruled and misruled the former Southern African breadbasket for 37 years. 

This is not a return to the past. Before a wave of African democratisation in the 1990s, coups were as common as military dark glasses. Now they are far less frequent, and no longer acceptable in polite circles. Coups are routinely condemned by elected leaders (who rather fancy staying in power) and by institutions such as the AU. That is why, in all three recent “military-assisted transitions” — as the perpetrators would have them — soldiers have bent over backwards to deny that a coup has taken place at all...

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