Coups From Below: Armed Subalterns and State Power in West Africa

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Coups From Below: Armed Subalterns and State Power in West Africa

By Jimmy D. Kandeh
Palgrave Macmillan, 2004
272 pp. $64.95
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After an initial flurry of research in the 1960s and 1970s, the role of the military in African politics has been largely ignored by academics. This is curious for a region with a recent history of regular military intervention. Kandeh's new book on military coups by junior officers in West Africa is thus welcome, though it is not without flaws. Focusing on takeovers in Ghana (1979, 1981), Liberia (1980), Burkina Faso (1983), Sierra Leone (1992), and Gambia (1994), Kandeh argues that coups by junior officers are rendered likely by a combination of low levels of military professionalism and poor performance by civilian governments. In turn, these coups are likely to result in high levels of violence and corruption, since the coup-makers are typically driven by class envy and are without programmatic ambitions. This argument is well illustrated by the case studies, which provide a useful introduction to the recent history of these countries. The more recent material on Sierra Leone and Gambia is not well known and constitutes the book's most interesting contribution.