A year of coups

In what amounts to another pointless exercise, the Washington Post repeated its 2013 map of countries most likely to have a coup. Of course, African countries are at the top of the list.

Egyptians ride atop a military tank in January 2011. That time it wasn't a coup, but a people's led revolution, since suppressed (Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy, via Flickr CC).

Earlier this week, Max Fisher, The Washington Post’s foreign affairs blogger (and about whose infatuation with colored maps we blogged before here and here) posted an entry: “A worrying map of countries most likely to have a coup in 2014.” It is based on the work of political scientist Jay Ulfelder. The post includes a colored map of the globe with countries shaded from light yellow to dark brown. And as you might guess, the darker the country, the more likely it will see a violent overthrow of the government some time this year.

In Ulfelder’s study he takes a number of variables, such as the political stability and infant mortality rate. But he also took into account variables like how long a country’s been independent or who the last colonizer was. It’s not very clear how and why these could have an effect on the result, but according to Ulfelder’s blog these variables don’t necessarily have to have a significant effect on the risk of a coup.

This being Max Fisher, it’s not the first time he has had fun with maps and with Ulfelder’s research. Last year they did exactly the same thing, only then the headline read: ‘The countries most at risk for a coup in 2013.” At the time, Fisher called Ulfelder “the Nate Silver of coups.” (For the uninitiated that’s a reference to the American statistician who started analyzing elections like he used to analyze baseball and basketball matches.) Egypt didn’t make the Washington Post’s list  in 2013. I wonder what changed in the last three hundred somewhat days that we went from ‘risk’ to ‘worrying’ and ‘most likely’?

Anyway, Africans: brace yourself, because the continent is up for an orgy of coups. From Guinea-Conakry to Madagascar, it doesn’t look very pretty, especially for the Sahel region.

But does the continent really stands on brink of political and civil chaos? Some readers at least seems to have a hard time believing this gospel. One, in my opinion rightfully, comments:

A coup d’ Etat is highly unlikely in the following countries: Mali, Central African Republic, and Guinea.

The two first are already under French and international community supervision; the third could face not a coup , but a lower level of civil unrest (maybe civil war) because of the Fulani ethnic group (financial power of the country) and the people of the forest region marginalization.

Another one writes:

A coup in Somalia seems more like a rhetorical exercise than an actual undertaking. There’s not a heck of a lot of government to overthrow, is there?

And on and on it goes.

And indeed, because when is an overthrow of the government considered a coup? And maybe equally important, when is a coup considered to be successful? As we said, Egypt for example did not even make it to last year’s list. However, some still struggle with what to make of the army’s interference in the country’s politics and deposing of the president. When writing an article with a screaming head as in this case, it would have been nice to at least get some context.

Apart from a failure to explain what exactly is meant by a coup, it is also quite confusing when the article is supposed to be about “countries most likely to have a coup”, but where the research the article is based on looks at the risk of attempts and not actual successful coups. And finally, it’s a bit of a downer if after all the predictions, you read midway through:

[E]ven the most extreme cases are well below a 50 percent likelihood of a coup, meaning that a coup probably won’t occur.

That’s where I stopped reading.

Further Reading

Beyond the headlines

Recent violence across the Eritrean diaspora is being instrumentalized by populists. But the violence is a desperate cry for attention and requires the Eritrean opposition to seize the moment for regime change.

Action required

Held in Nairobi this month, the inaugural Africa Climate Summit is an important step for the continent’s response to climate change. Still, the disasters in Libya and Morocco underscore that rhetoric and declarations are not enough.

The strange non-death of Bantustans

That South African political parties across the spectrum were quick to venerate the politician and Zulu prince Mangosutho Buthelezi, who died last week, demonstrates that the country is still attached to Bantustan ideology.

Shifting the guilt

Even though Israeli novelist Agur Schiff’s latest book is meant to be a satirical reflection on the legacy of slavery and stereotypes about Africa, it ends up reinforcing them.

Banana Republics

Western leftists are arguing among themselves about whether there will be bananas under socialism. In Africa, however, bananas do not necessarily represent the vagaries of capitalism.