What makes a country ripe for a coup détat or revolt?


There are pertinent questions, which beg clarification about the technicalities of coups. These include: what makes a country ripe for a coup détat? What should we look for?

Hosmer, Hebditch and Connor (2001), identified the following ten characteristics as pre-conditions desirous in a country for a coup to take place and I will apply this to Namibia:
1. Is Namibia a former colony or overseas possession?
2. Does Namibia lie in tropical latitudes?
3. In Namibia, do we have tribal, ethnic or religious divisions?
4. Does Namibia have substantial natural resources, especially oil or diamonds?
5. Does Namibia have endemic corruption and nepotism?
6. Is Namibia strategically located?
7. Does Namibia have a long-term despotic regime?
8. In NDF, do we have army staff officers trained overseas?
9. Does Namibia have finance available for mercenaries?
10. Did Namibia had a coup détat previously?

The more answers in the “yes” column, the more susceptible the country under examination is to coups or counter-coups. For the record, Equatorial Guinea hits nine checks in the “yes” column out of the ten possibilities above – the only “no” being in regard to strategic location.
Some of the above might seem curious or arbitrary, such as number 2 on the list: “Lies in tropical latitudes?” Consider, however, that many countries in this geographical sphere were colonised by England, Spain, France and Portugal.

Let us conceptualise coup détat and revolution
The definition of a coup détat is sufficiently captured by Edward Luttwak, who in his seminal publication, Coup détat: A Practical Handbook, defines it as follows: “A coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.”

More often than not, the method utilised to gain control is illegal and revolves around violence, or at least the threat of violence. Thus a coup détat can also be defined as the seizure of an existing government by a small group, or the sudden violent overthrow of a legitimate government and political power by through extra-constitutional measures and by the military.

A coup usually involves a few elite members of the society, but leadership and direction of a coup is normally in the hands of military and police commanders. It is possible to have some remnants of overthrown civilian authority participate in a coup, with an explicit example of the former minister of defence of Algeria, Houari Boumédiène, who seized power with some military commanders in 1965.

The revolution and revolt is a change in government brought about by mass protests, such as Serbia in 2000, Argentina in 2001, The Philippines in 1986 and 2001, Bolivia in 2003 and 2005, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004/2005 and Ecuador in 2005, and most recently in the Middle East, is not technically a coup.

These popular uprisings, which force the incumbent leader’s resignation, so that an unknown, uncontroversial interim leader can govern until formal elections are held, are considered revolts or revolutions, not coups détat, because they are not military actions. The term “revolution” has gained certain popularity, and many coups are graced with it, because of the implication that it was “the people” rather than a few plotters, who did the whole thing, but this is just cosmetic. (Luttwak, 1979)

A successful revolution or revolt runs a risk of being met by a veto coup from the military or a counter-coup from an opportunist. A classic example of this type of occurrence would be Napoleon’s rise to power during the chaos of the French Revolution and Egypt in 2011.
Why does the subject matter?

Nationally, this article is of great significance to Namibia, as it offers a critical yet independent analysis of conditions which can promote a coup détat and the proper role of the security apparatus in a democracy. The national government may thus diffuse dangerous conditions and apprise the military class of their constitutional role in democratic Namibia.

The actual technicalities of coup strategising, planning and execution enables the government to enact legislation, which counters such moves and keeps mercenary work or citizens with coup détat ambitions at bay.

Security apparatus reform and democratising the sector, as well as a clear way of handling disputes, such as the land question and citizens’ grievances’ in Namibia are options, which can be availed by a deeper analysis of the current situation. Most importantly, the government would be provided with robust policy options and response to coup détat, which will enhance people’s power and democracy.

* Charles Siyauya possesses a Master of Arts Degree in Security and Strategic Studies from the University of Namibia’s School of Military Science.


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