By Francis Otucu
The most recent coup in Guinea is strong a reminder (if the powers-that-be forget, anyway), that whoever will stage a coup to end what in their thinking and belief is a dictatorial government, will not come from the top nor the bottom but in the middle. Col. Mamady Doumbouya is the name right now.
He is the new man in charge of Guinea after he led a unit of elite soldiers to seize power at the weekend. But, I notice he is not the only army officer at the rank of a Colonel to stage a coup. In fact, Col. Assimi Goita of Mali may have inspired Col. Doumbouya to make a move. In about 9 months, Col. Goita led Mali’s second coup in June 2021, and went on to name a new cabinet in the country’s transitional government. But why Colonels? Arguably,
throughout modern history, it seems that it is often junior military officers (groups of captains, colonels, lower ranking generals) that attempt to commit a coup, or succeed in doing so. There are obviously plenty of coups committed by high ranking generals, but just looking through a history of coups and coup attempts and you can find tons committed by junior officers.
This includes, among others: Colonel Reza Khan’s 1921 coup that brought the Pahlavi dynasty to power in Iran; 1931 coup attempts by the Japanese Army (led by Lieutenant Colonel Kingoro Hashimoto); 1967 coup by a group of colonels in Greece that established the military junta and the 1969 Libyan coup d’état in which Colonel Muammar Gaddafi took power. These are just a few.
Why do these more junior officers seem to be more inclined to take power in coups than high ranking generals or defense ministers? Are generals simply more satisfied with the status quo, and junior officers have more to gain? I put these questions on Quora.com, a popular question-and-answer website. I found the answers ready. The question was answered in October 2020.
Jim Wayne, B.A. from Duke University (1967) says that in most nations, generals are very few, and most are politically well connected. Usually, he says, there are many colonels for each general, and the colonels will not be promoted until an opening is created by the retirement or death of an existing general.
To this, he argues, there are therefore two reasons colonels might organize a coup: First, led by ambition, they may seek to take power away from a group that blocks them from achieving their goals. Second, they perceive that the nation is corrupt, and the general officers are part of the corruption. And sometimes, both reasons.
Jan Meyer, an enthusiast of History, Psychology and Engineering argues that a colonel tends to be a person who has enough sway to do a coup but is not so close to the regime that he was made a general (which is always connected to politics).
In Uganda, you could talk about Col (Rtd) Kizza Besigye and Col. Samsom Mandy. But then, one is retired and another is in exile in Sweden. After falling out with the government they both helped bring to power, Besigye and Mande fell out with the ruling government between late 90s and early 2000s.
They all went into exile. Only Besigye returned to continue the struggle through the ballot. 4 times now, he is yet to succeed. For Mandy, in an interview with the Daily Monitor in 2015, he pledged to return after 13 years to carry on the struggle.
But just for the record, Col. Mandy is one of the first 100 original fighters of the NRA (now UPDF) during the 1981-86 guerrilla war while Col. Besigye was President Yoweri Museveni’s physician during their bush days. That’s how close the pair was to the ruling government.
But with coups (mainly in Africa of late) being led by Colonels, maybe it is okay (depending on whichever side you look at it) for Mandy to remain in exile and Besigye in retirement.