First, recent coups have proven popular. Malians were fed up with rampant corruption under ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, as were Guineans with ousted President Alpha Condé, who circumvented constitutional term limits to stay in power.
More generally, most West African countries have extremely young populations who resent their leaders for not creating enough jobs or providing public services such as education, health or justice. .
Second, their governments seem weak in the face of a great threat. Jihadist insurgencies have multiplied in the Sahel region. Eurasia Group analyst Tochi Eni-Kalu said Burkinabe President Roch Kaboré was ousted because his government was seen as “incompetent” in tackling Islamic State-linked militants.
Although jihadism took root in the region a decade ago, it has now spread to large swathes of the Sahel, and there is no end in sight. Governments unable to control large swathes of their territory are exposed as vulnerable.
Moreover, national militaries feel that civilian leaders are not giving them the tools they need to fight heavily armed jihadists. Some believe it is better to take the reins themselves.
Third, France is retreating. As a legacy colonial power, it has long been a major player in the region, and since 2014 it has spent more than $1 billion to crush the Sahel insurgency with French troops under Operation Barchan. But with weak French public support for the mission and rising anti-French sentiment in the region, Paris has backed down and wants the EU’s Takuba task force to play a bigger role in the Sahel.
Eni-Kalu says Barkhane’s dismal record in the fight against jihadists has further tarnished France’s reputation with West Africans. Many are increasingly buying into the conspiracy theory – allegedly pushed by Russia – that France is responsible for instability in the Sahel and that the conflict is a ruse to safeguard French interests.
And no one else is really committed to stopping the region’s descent into putschist life. Not Russia, despite rumors of Russian mercenaries operating in Mali to thwart jihadists.
ECOWAS has some clout, but Eni-Kalu says the 15-member regional economic bloc lacks the power to do more than impose sanctions and demand new juntas call elections. Other world powers see little benefit in getting entangled in West Africa’s problems.
So where could the next coup in the region take place? One of the main contenders is Niger, which just 10 months ago suffered a failed putsch days after its first-ever peaceful handover of presidential power.
With soldiers now becoming more popular than politicians, an Islamist insurgency still raging, and outside actors looking the other way, another military takeover in West Africa could come sooner than you think.