The mid and late 20th Century….
Ethiopia (1960): Military officers Germane and Mengitsu Neway (commander of Ethiopia’s Imperial Guard) plot to capture Addis Ababa while Ras Tafari – Emperor King Haile Selassie I – is out of the country.
They manage to capture and hold hostage the crown prince and several government officials for a few days. Selassie however outmaneuvers them and take back control of the capital.
Kenya (1982): A group of Kenyan air force officers make a move against President Daniel Arap Moi. They seize the airport, three airbases, the post office, and the all-important radio station which they use to proclaim the formation of a new government. After intense fighting the radio station is recaptured, Moi returns to the city and the rebels are defeated.
Malawi (1995): Lieutenant Colonel James Njoloma organizes a few soldiers to topple Bakili Muluzi. He is however betrayed by his fellow soldiers who alert the authorities eventually leading to his arrest. He is tried and sentenced to fifteen years for incitement to mutiny.
the above are examples of violent military coups. Now let’s fast forward a few
Pakistani (2012): The Pakistani Supreme Court dismisses Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from office.
United States of America (2019): Democrats impeach Donald Trump on two charges. He is, however, acquitted by the Senate and isn’t removed from office.
What a time to be alive huh? Ah. Gone are the days when a coup meant soldiers shooting each other and blood all over the streets. BANG! BANG! KABOOOM!!! The Che Guevara style of coups. We are now in a new era. An era of the soft coup.
A soft coup is a strategy attributed to the American political scientist Gene Sharp who studied the potential to spark, guide, and maximize the power of sometimes short-lived mass uprisings, as he tried to understand how unarmed insurrections have been far more politically significant than observers focused on military warfare care to admit.
Want to topple a democratically elected president? You don’t need guerillas, grenades and fighter jets anymore. There are more indirect ways of doing it. I can’t seem to put my finger on it, but something has made traditional coups more difficult to carry out – which is good news, in a way, for everyone I guess. What has replaced these violent coups is the soft coup.
Antidemocratic leaders now have more silent methods of increasing their power and are more than willing to execute power grabs under the guise of defending democracy. This is exactly what the Malawi opposition is trying to do by having the court nullify the 2019 Presidential election.
Soon after the court ruling, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leadership held a celebratory rally in Nsundwe, Lilongwe, as a token of thank you and appreciation to the infamous Nsundwe ‘barracks’. Nsundwe ‘barracks’ is MCP’s paramilitary wing, who through terror are threatening and intimidating judges to ensure the success of their attempted soft coup.
The opposition controlled Parliament hastily amended our electoral laws but thanks to President Mutharika these were not assented to. Now the Speaker of Parliament has gone back to the Constitutional Court ‘for guidance’.
At the same time, UTM President Saulosi Chilima has sued the President on the same. It’s like a script written for a Hollywood blockbuster – yet it isn’t. It’s actually happening here in Nyasaland.
The whole country is now waiting to see what the courts are going to determine but I wouldn’t be surprised if they ruled against APM. Remember that The Chief Justice himself admitted that the judiciary is very rotten.
While less dramatic than the guns-blazing type, this attempted judicial coup – carried out on the pretext that His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika was illegally elected in the second term – perpetuates the cycle of unelected entities ‘rescuing’ Malawians from their own chosen leaders.
They failed to unseat APM during the election and they’re now trying to unseat him using the judiciary. A textbook judicial coup which, if left unchecked, risks setting a very dangerous precedent here.