What Emmanuel Macron calls an "epidemic” of coups in Francophone Africa is spreading. Not since the Arab Spring have Paris and other Western capitals seemed so overtaken by events, as a string of supposedly stable strongman regimes fall at the hands of ambitious military officers, often cheered on by a new generation disillusioned by unkept democratic promises. There is no easy fix, but a new approach is overdue.
The significance of the latest domino to fall — President Ali Bongo in Gabon — is the fact that instability is spreading beyond the Sahel region, where a losing French-backed fight against jihadis has angered locals, emboldened the military to topple regimes in countries like Mali and Niger and given inroads to Russia’s Wagner Group. The inability of the West or African regional blocs to reverse these power seizures probably fueled the urge to oust Bongo — whose family ruled Gabon for 55 years and for a long time was a key partner for Paris’ interests in Africa, though had more recently pivoted to the Anglosphere.
What makes Gabon a particularly awkward development for France and its European allies, who met on Thursday to examine responses to the July 30 coup in Niger (which saw the unseating of President Mohammed Bazoum), including possible sanctions, is that some dominos are asking to be pushed.