We are living in a world that is drowning in a wealth of information but afflicted by poverty of thought. Such a notion conjures images of social media, with all its inherent pros and cons. When used appropriately, social media makes the speed with which news filters to the world hypersonic. It has miniaturised and transformed the world into a global village. It has brought far flung committees to within touching distances and helped keep the insatiable appetite for news ticking at nanoseconds. However, we should not be blinded by the dark side and dark arts of social media. With Computer Generated Images, Artificial Intelligence, ChatGPT and many other technological advances, the risk of misinformation cannot be ignored.
Unfortunately, not many people have the time, nuance, or patience to synthesise news or video clips for their factual or authentic value. Not even logic or reasonable reasoning is applied, especially if it feeds into their own narrative. Despite its shortcomings, we cannot ignore the fact the emergence of social media has helped to change the narrative. In years gone by, news, programmes, media outlets and the direction of travel for world events were in the hands of a few barons and media cartels. Today, anyone with kilobyte, megabyte or gigabyte can pass for a media person.
It will be erroneous to call such people journalists. Journalism might appear to be a dying breed, slowly replaced by a new species known as “influencers”. It requires no training. You just need to pick a controversial or interesting topic, and without any relationship to facts, say your piece. If you can convince people to like, follow and share your piece, you’re free to live in an alternative universe with alternative facts. If you can achieve a sizeable following, and BANG, you become an overnight influencer.
So, is there another insidious side to social media?
The recent political charade taking place in French speaking countries brings to mind an unappreciated side of social media. It sounds like beating a dead horse to go on harping about the politically seismic changes taking place in the Sahel and beyond. This is not a blanket carte blanche to the concept of coup d’états per se. The history of the African continent will not be complete without mentioning coups. Coups d’état in Africa are usually caused by political antagonism, economic strife, tribalism, greed for power, and in some cases when the military feels shortchanged by the ruling governments. Other factors include history, economics, foreign intervention and the politization of the military. Burkina Faso and Mali could use the serious security threats facing the countries as justification for their usurpations. Both suffer from the loci of a cold war-era proxy battle for influence.
The military have always stepped in, in the guise of a national and patriotic obligation to rescue their respective countries from Armageddon. As we all know, there first aim is to put on the garment of legitimacy. Interestingly, International bodies call for return to civilian rule, and in most cases by way of elections. Ironically, such elections don’t mean a country’s functioning will be based on democratic norms. To those international bodies, as long as the winner is wearing a suit and not a military uniform, do they care if post-coup elections are robust enough? Sadly, most of these coups that are wrapped in borrowed clothes of patriotic duty and national interests turn out to be more corrupt, inefficient and oppressive than the very civilian governments they deposed. The public euphoria, jubilation and songs of redemption that usually follow military take-overs traditionally have short shelf lives. It just gives credence to the notion that military coups d’état are done in the name of democracy against democracy.
One of the earliest coups d’état in Africa was in Egypt, on July 23, 1952. This was led by Gamal Abdel Nasser and Mohamed Naguib. The coup was not only aimed at deposing the leadership of King Farouk, but also to abolish the monarchy. This uprising did not only become a contagion as a pacesetter in inspiring other countries to revolt, but also lead to the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. It was the resulting Suez crisis which forced Britain and France to decolonize. It later became known as the Egyptian Revolution.
Most subsequent coups d’états on the continent were bloody, including the likes of Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso), Samuel K. Doe(Liberia), William Tolbert( Liberia), Francisco Macias Nguema(Equatorial Guinea), Muamar Gaddafi(Libya), Sylvanus Olympio(Togo)and many more. Most had one thing in common: They had the fingerprints of Western governments and agencies autographed all over them.
Unlike those bloody days of political strife, the recent coups d’état in the Franco-phone countries have come in rapid succession. As a common denominator, they have all been bloodless or palace coups d’état. However, do these recent coups d’état share any DNA with the likes of the Egyptian Revolution? In 2010, a wave of pro- democracy protests took place in the Middle East and North Africa. It began in Tunisia and spread to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. The West christened this political wave: Arab Spring. The same is happening in the outback of Africa and precisely the Sahel region in West Africa. We are still waiting for the christening ceremony. In the case of other leaders like Saddam Hussein, they called it Regime Change.
So, when is a coup d’état not a coup d’état? Who decides what is a coup d’état? Is that why different coups d’état draw different reactions from the body politic? What are the parameters that determine the levels, origins and intensity of reactions to coups d’états? Is it a question of different strokes for different folks? It is an undeniable fact that the world is organised by the war economy and the war culture. This means that coups d’états, military interventions, regime change, etc. have one fundamental tenet: They are the by-products of foreign interests that are euphemistically called foreign policy.
Should military coups d’état be universally outlawed?
The world now has a challenge to lend conviction to what constitutes a coup. Does the world have an obligation not to allow coups d’état and the unconstitutional removal of legitimate power? Democracy is universally,a largely accepted concept “which requires a healthy, educated, morally grounded leadership”. It is unquestionable that military coups usually end up being dictatorships in one way streets. However, should any method of change of power that does not involve the people and the will of the people qualify as illegitimate? The International Criminal courts outlines four categories of international crimes which include genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Do coups d’états qualify? No.
So, if the world supposedly finds coups d’états so abhorrent, and if the powers that be want to stop them as one of the greatest threats to democracy, shouldn’t the General Assembly of The United Nations adopt a declaration of the non-recognition of coups d’états as a method of change of power? The UN will not. This is because, there are coups and there are coups, there is regime change and there is military intervention. Get my drift? If the UN were to adopt such a declaration, would it be required then, to go one step further and declare the inadmissibility of interference into the domestic affairs of sovereign states? What would that mean for foreign policy, as we know it? We know that foreign policies have no permanent friends, just permanent interests. So, just as beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, do coups d’états depend on the piper? Is it any surprise that one man’s putschist is another’s freedom fighter?
This is where social media might have played a role in the Sahel coup debacle. When the media was in the hands of the few, the narrative was one that presented the dastardly side of such events. Now that the narrative is no longer in the hands of media moguls, France and ECOWAS are struggling to justify their proposed actions. Tik Tok, Facebook, Instagram etc have all been flooded with video and voice clips putting out the other side of the story. In the past, it was a question of, “until the lions have their own storyteller, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”.
Through social media, these countries have been rightly portrayed as an oppressed, exploited, and dehumanised people who are just asking for their just share of their wealth resources. Niger just raised the price of Uranium from $ 0.80 (eighty cents) to$ 200 per kilogram. France used to pay $0.80 when the world market is $200. Per kilo. How fair was this? So, what’s wrong with the putschists asking for a fair price? Why is ECOWAS supporting the French to continue sucking the blood of its brothers? Now that the world is getting an alternative view of the Sahel saga, is it any wonder that ECOWAS and France are struggling to garner support for its plan to “Ukrainize” the region? Will Africa forgive Nigeria and Tinubu if they carry out their threat of military intervention?
Caught in the vortex of a cold War-era proxy battle for influence, is the situation in these countries a checkmate on democracy? Has democracy failed Africa? What this proves is that when a country’s economy and security is dependent on foreign aid, the lack of sustainable institutions and economies become unsustainable, thereby making democracy an insecure and expensive joke. Is it any wonder that such countries exists as polarised societies and the so-called democracies are fed on political antagonism?
Without doubt, social media has been very influential in helping to determine the direction of travel for the news. What the world is going through these days is the tectonic shift in the balance of power. If knowledge is power, and if the information highway is no longer policed by the few, media moguls should be running scared of the inevitable prospect that they can fool the people some time, but that they can’t fool the people all the time. Social media has made the coups seem appealing to many, especially when governments appear to provide ineffectual leadership. Sanctions against these countries might put the squeeze on the people. You wonder how much difference these sanctions could inflict on the people who have perennially lived subservient and below poverty lives because of French policies, other than a siege mentality.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people” (MLK). The genie is out, and the people would no longer be ignorant, silenced, or cowed. In the face of oppression, by not speaking out, we lose our dignity. Asking for equality is beginning to feel treasonable. As for ECOWAS, it believes that “birds that are born in a cage should see freedom as a crime”. Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, and those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”-MLK.
Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.