Military coups in Africa

Military coups were a common occurrence all over the world especially in the1930’s till 1990’s (Ken and David, 8). This was the most common form of ch

This is a study into the way in which the military coup in Brazil in 1964 mirrored the dilemmas and fears of American foreign policy during the Cold War years. It is a view of the American foreign policy’s difficulties in dealing with the perceived threat of communism; a perceived threat that was brought about by tensions resulting from the Cold War after World War II. This study looks into Brazil’s domestic policy in the years of the Cold War and how the internal turmoil culminated in a military coup in 1964 that was influenced by the Cold War tensions. The coup in Brazil was military in nature, and a military dictatorship with a deep hatred of communism ruled for the next 21 years and was supported by the American government. It is imperative to note that Brazil’s case was not singular – the United States often had to make compromise its allegiance to democracy in an attempt to contain communism. For this reason, it is not only a worthy topic to explore, but also has international ties and adds to a global understanding of international comparative politics.

World War II, The Cold War, and the threat of communism

The victory of the allied coalition at World War II did not end all tensions that had plagued the international scenario of the first half of the 20th century. The US emerged from World War II as a main world power; having joined the war at its end, the US did not suffer the war’s effects to the same extent as Europe. The US did not have as many casualties, there were no destroyed American cities, and the country’s social fiber did not experience the same demoralizing blows that affected Europe. The war effort had been fuelled to a considerable extent by American industries and agriculture and this provided a long lasting boost to the American economy. The prevailing perception in the Western front was that the military victory, together with the economic gains, should entail the continuation of world political supremacy, as well as the prevalence of their ideals of democracy and a capitalist economy (The Cold War).

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However, one of the allies did not share the same ideas. Since the Communist Revolution in 1917, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had been engaged in the construction of communism, a political ideology that clashes head on with capitalism. Whereas capitalism supports a free market and relies on the ingenuity of the individuals as the main factor of economic prosperity, soviet communism required that all economic factors should be under state surveillance, foreign industries and banks be nationalized, and that trade and agriculture fall under the guidance of trade unions. The USSR contributed decisively in the war against Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Well over 20 million Russian men and women were killed, many of them civilian. In fact, the Soviets considered that they had contributed more than the Americans did, and consequently demanded larger compensations for their military efforts (The Cold War).

The US and its Western European allies reacted with growing concern to the perceived Soviet threat. To stall Soviet expansionism, many areas of the world were considered as under direct American ‘hold’ or ‘spheres of influence’. Latin America fit in this category. When Fidel Castro ousted the government of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba in January 1959 and progressively moved towards a single party regime, self-declaring itself a socialist republic, tensions heightened (The Cold War). Cuban families who had their businesses nationalized or simply confiscated migrated to Florida and began to actively oppose any diplomatic compromise with Fidel’s regime. Soon Cuba gravitated towards the soviet orbit of influence, and tensions escalated. When the USSR placed missiles in Cuban territory in 1962, US President John Kennedy threatened Nikita Krustchev with military retaliation in the form of nuclear weapons. The world, and the Latin American region in particular, experienced a critical stage of alarm. Nikita Kruschev, then Premier of the USSR, withdrew the missiles and the crisis subdued, but it was clear that the so-called Cold War between the two extremes of international power was there to stay (The Cold War).

Brazil and the Cold War

From the Brazilian perspective, the years that immediately followed World War II had been a period of relative economic prosperity. Brazil had had the opportunity to export raw materials and to enter a stage of rapid industrialization, based on the principle of import substitution – that is, the government encouraged economic sectors to develop products that would otherwise be imported. Not unlike other industrializing countries in history, the emergence of new industries therefore strengthened the role of labor unions, which soon requested social benefits and reforms. As always in Brazil’s history, European ideas were treated with importance and discussed vigorously. The clash between American capitalism and Soviet communism engendered heated debates (Stepan).

There were three major political parties in Brazil at the time. The União Democratica Nacional (National Democratic Union – UDN, in the Portuguese initials), was linked to the incipient middle class, and represented the traditional values of the country’s ‘old’ money. This party was conservative in nature and generally considered as the right wing in Brazilian politics. Conversely, the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro, (Brazilian Workers Party – PTB), was on the left wing. Mainly integrated by trade union members, this party interested itself in social reforms that would, at least in theory, attempt to extend certain benefits enjoyed by the rich to the poorer segments of the Brazilian population. It was not an entirely socialist party, but was definitely considered on the left. The Partido Social-Democrático (Social-Democratic Party – PSD), was the largest party of all. PSD tried to provide the middle ground between the two extremes of the other political parties. It was a central party with a great amount of influence (Skidmore).

It is important to note that the Brazilian population was mostly rural and agriculturally based at the time (Skidmore). Thus, many of the rural leaders wanted the benefits enjoyed by the urban workers extended to the countryside. Against the prevailing background of capitalist versus communist tensions, this sounded to many people’s ears as dangerously communist and consequently revolutionary. The cold war rhetoric strengthened the perception that workers’ demand was excessive and contrary to society’s best interests.

Brazil’s internal political structure

In 1955, Juscelino Kubitschek was elected President of Brazil with the pro-development slogan “50 years in 5”. To keep his campaign promise, the plan was to move the capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia, in order to bring economic prosperity to the Brazilian heartland, a huge area mostly neglected until then (Gaspari). Kubistchek’s presidency had a profound impact in all sectors of the Brazilian society. When he left the government in 1960, right after the formal inauguration of the new capital, the country experienced one of the most exciting phases of its entire history. The fifties became known as the ‘golden years’. Brazil was then undergoing a spurt of economic growth with widespread reflections.  The national team had won the World Cup in 1958, a new musical beat, the bossa nova, was becoming popular in the whole world, literary classics were being published, a promising movie industry released a series of national hits, while an unprecedented wave of optimism prevailed throughout the entire nation. But there were signs of political turmoil beneath the rosy surface (Gaspari).

On the one hand, the creation of Brasilia generated millions of jobs, stimulated many industrial sectors and created a number of new important industries, such as the automotive one. On the other hand, however, it also brought many imbalances to the economic and political scene. The cost of moving the political centre to a new area and financing the construction of a brand new city subjected the economy to unprecedented pressure, generating problems such as federal debt and inflation. The economic prosperity of the cities had enlarged the urban populations. Although this brought an increase in labor union membership, their leaders were somehow obedient to the political guidelines of the PSD-PTB coalition put together by Kubitschek (Gaspari). But populist politicians were prepared to promise the urban masses a larger share in economic prosperity. Their language often implied radical changes in the political power structure. The Kubitschek presidency also witnessed the beginnings of political radicalization in the countryside. Taken together, the signs of awakening mass politics in the urban and rural sectors were bound to frighten those groups which had most to lose if the power equilibrium should be disturbed by the populist left-wing politicians: the rural landowners, never before threatened; the urban middle class, still linked by many personal ties to the rural landowners and deeply uncertain over their future status in a period of rapid change; and the military officer class, whose distaste for populism stemmed partly from their own disagreements over the proper strategy for Brazil’s economic development (Stepan).

Brazil: communist or independent?

It was in this effervescent political scene that Janio Quadros was elected president in 1960 (Gaspari). Quadros was a populist newcomer from Sao Paulo, the most industrialized state of the country. He rose to the presidency on a coalition led by UDN and a number of smaller parties (Gaspari). In the economic sphere, Quadros hoped to ease Brazil’s financial ills by simultaneous negotiations with three power centers: the United States, Western Europe, and the Soviet bloc. But it was an awkward moment to launch an independent policy in the western hemisphere. The Cold War had become hot in the Caribbean, where the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion made the US government, under President John Kennedy, all the more intent upon ensuring the diplomatic isolation of Cuba.  From the Kennedy administration standpoint, there remained a question: why would Brazil pursue a quixotic policy towards the communist world? (Stepan)

On the Brazilian front, however, many influent leaders considered an independent foreign policy as a natural consequence of a post-Brasilia assertiveness. A number of diplomatic initiatives underlined this new assertiveness: Brazil supported the United Nations debate over the seating of communist China, and announced that a resumption of relations with the Soviet Union (severed since 1947) was under study. These political gestures were not well received in Washington. The situation became intolerable after the President’s decision to award the Cruzeiro do Sul Cross, Brazil’s most prestigious political award, to Cuba’s Che Guevara. For the first time in the Brazilian modern history, a foreign policy question originated a controversy that would only end when Janio Quadros, on August 25, 1961, submitted his resignation to the Congress (Walters).

The Brazilian constitution at that time established that the President and the Vice-President were elected in two separate elections. Quadros’ vice-president was João Goulart, the top leader of the PTB party (Celso). Goulart was closely linked to labor unions, and was considered in conservative sectors of the Brazilian elite as cryptically communist. Quadros’ eventual resignation caught the population by surprise and unsettled those political leaders who did not accept the idea of having the leader of PTB as president of the country. Political and military leaders declared that should Goulart be named president, the country would be “on the road to civil war” (Celso). Finally, a compromise was reached: Congress voted an amendment to the constitution and the country became a parliamentary democracy, with Goulart as president, and the Speaker of the Senate as Prime Minister. As such, Goulart would be figuratively the head of state, but with limited powers. Later, however, a national referendum reinstated his full presidential powers. This only prolonged the deadlock (Celso).

The US government was paying close attention to political developments in all South America, and particularly to Brazil. Immediately after Quadros resigned, the U.S was reported to have a navy fleet ready to deport in Brazil and resist any communist force present in Brazil (Gaspari). Furthermore, American president President Lyndon B. Johnson urged taking “every step that [the U.S] can” to support the overthrow of João Goulart and helping the Brazilian military authorities against Goulart’s “left-wing” government (Gaspari). Thomas Mann was Johnson’s advisor on Latin American affairs. Mann consolidated what became known as the Mann Doctrine, a plan that essentially aimed to influence Latin America against the Soviet Union – in a nutshell, “no more Cubas” (The Cold War). It was this Mann Doctrine that allowed the U.S government to “[approve] and [support]” the military coup against Goulart simply because he was a “nationalist reformer who favored good relations with Castro and wanted to limit U.S corporate remittances” (The Cold War). It is also known today that the American Embassy in Brazil developed close links with the political leaders who opposed Goulart, and encouraged the military to take a stand against his presidency (Walters). American interference in Brazilian domestic affairs was a direct consequence of the Cold War and the political perception of the time. It would be unthinkable that Brazil might follow Cuba’s footsteps. In such a case, the US would suffer a blow, as if it had lost a “battle” in the Cold War.

Goulart’s government was thus in serious trouble. The role of foreign capital and the question of land structures were emotionally discussed, while the perennial problems of inflation and deficits in the balance of payments offered ready arguments to political radicalizers of both right and left. To complicate matters even further, there were deep political disagreements within the military. There were clear signs that normal constitutional processes could fail in Brazil (Gaspari).

The coup d’etat

General Olímpio Mourão Filho, who was a Commander of the Brazilian army, ordered his troops to start moving towards Rio de Janeiro during the night on March 31, 1964. The coup began in Rio because that was where he predicted the army would remain loyal to the current Goulart government (Gaspari). This news reached Goulart, who was in bed at the time. His decision was to leave Brasília and flee the country. Goulart had explicitly fled the role of presidency, leaving the country open for anyone to take the position. On April 11th, just 11 days after the troops occupied Rio de Janeiro, General Humberto Castello Branco was elected as president by Congress and the coup d’etat had been successful. The American government quickly retaliated by formally supporting the new Brazilian government. This declaration made it clear to the entire world which side the United States was on (Gaspari).

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Nine days after, on April 20th, this so-called Supreme Revolutionary Command, composed of the commanders-in-chief of the three military services, unilaterally issued the First Institutional Act. This act stated that the military had  “deposed the previous government and had the capacity to form a new government”. It went on to say that the “revolution” did not seek to legitimize itself through Congress because “the revolution legitimizes itself” (Gaspari). Under the authority it had decreed itself by this Act, the Supreme revolutionary Command took the first of what were to be many steps to purge the political system. On April 10, it issued a list cancelling the mandates of 100 politicians, trade union officials, intellectuals, and other political actors (Gaspari). The military detained the government for the 21 subsequent years. It is interesting to note that the coup was declared in an attempt to contain the perceived communist threat of Goulart and his independent foreign policies. The act had been supported by the epitome of democracy, the United States. The Supreme Revolutionary command, however, in essence is abolishing democracy. It is not an elected body representative of the country, and instead a self-proclaimed legitimate government. This is where the root of the American contradiction in Brazil begins. The American government was forced to compromise their commitment to a democratic society in order to support the abolishment of communism. For the United States, the optimum government would be democratic and capitalist. However, in the event of having to choose between the political democratic system and the economic capitalist system, their support of the coup in Brazil makes it clear that it is more beneficial to support the economy of capitalism, because it clearly obliterates the core of the communist threat. The fact that in doing so might compromise democracy is a sacrifice that in Brazil in 1964 they were willing to make.

Was the United States responsible or just supportive?

What was the role of the United States in the political upheaval that shattered the democratic regime for over two decades, from 1964 to 1985? There are two opposed views in contention over this matter. The first holds that the US was the major force behind the military coup. This is, for instance, Edmar Morel’s evaluation in a book whose title can be translated as “The coup began in Washington” (Edmar Morel, O Golpe Começou em Washington, Editora Civilização Brasileira). Morel argues that the US had changed its Latin American policy since its inception, in 1961, of the assistance program called Alliance for Progress, instituted by President John Kennedy. He sustains that Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Mann, in contrast to his predecessors, had adopted a policy that was more sympathetic to military governments in Latin America, replacing the ideals of social reform by a policy of obsessive anti-communism. At its most extreme, this explanation claims that the Brazilian conspirators who overthrew Goulart were acting under direct instructions from the US government (Gaspari).

The opposite view is condensed in the congressional testimony of the former American ambassador to Brazil, Lincoln Gordon: “The movement which overthrew President Goulart was a purely 100 percent – not 99.4 percent – purely Brazilian movement. Neither the American Embassy nor I personally played any part in the process whatsoever” (Gaspari).

American scholars who developed exhaustive research on Brazil contend, however, that the US did play a role in the boundary change. ‘Brazilianists’ like Alfred Stepan and Thomas E. Skidmore admit that US pressures were rendered more influential because, to a significant extent, American policies were congruent with and found reinforcement in some powerful conservative domestic political and military trends (Stepan).  It can also be added that those trends in Brazil and the policies adopted by the US were highly influenced by the international situation. In other words, the coup that shattered the democratic order in Brazil in 1964 was inevitably connected with the cold war between the US and the USSR. Stepan argues that the record is clear that it was Washington official policy to weaken the Goulart government and to strengthen the military government of General Castello Branco. He contends that, by mid-1963, the US government moved from a position of mild support to one of opposition to the Goulart regime. Political opponents of the president received preferential treatment, a policy that was known by State Department officials as one of strengthening ‘islands of sanity’ in Brazil (Stepan). Skidmore reminds us that one important fact brought about a similarity in aims and outlook between Brazilian officer corps and the military attachés to the American embassy, and that was the participation of Brazil in World War II (Skidmore). Brazil was the only country in Latin America to send ground combat troops to fight in the war, and a Brazilian Expeditionary Force of divisional strength fought in Italy as part of the US-commanded Fourth Corps. From this experience arose a whole set of personal friendships. An especially close tie existed between the operation officer for the Brazilian force, then Lieutenant Castello Branco, and the liaison officer between the US Fourth Corps and the Brazilian force, Vernon Walters. Years later, in 1964, Colonel (later promoted to General) Walters became an exceedingly knowledgeable liaison with the Brazilian officer corps. Skidmore also points out that, by early 1964, the US government had become preoccupied with the possibility of a sharp leftist turn in Brazil. Ambassador Lincoln Gordon later made no secret of his own belief that Goulart was on the verge of attempting a populist solution to the Brazilian cul-de-sac. According to Skidmore, this view was also held by Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who explained soon after the coup of 1964 that he had been concerned about leftist infiltration in the Goulart regime (Skidmore).

The American government made clear that it was delighted with Goulart’s overthrow when President Lyndon Johnson, within hours after the Brazilian head of state left the presidential palace, made public a message on April 7th on the New York Times expressing “warmest good wishes” and stating that “the American people have watched with anxiety the political and economic difficulties through which your great nation has been passing, and have admired the resolute will of the Brazilian community to resolve these difficulties within a framework of constitutional democracy and without civil strife” (Gaspari). Arthur Krock, the New York Times columnist of conservative views, was dismayed at such a rapid recognition. On April 7, he stated, “another lesson of experience is that it is best to await the development of the policies of the new Latin American governments before praising them” (Gaspari). In retrospect, that was a good word of advice, considering the facts that led to the Institutional Acts of April 9 and those that followed over two and a half years. Born out of a military coup, the revolution of 1964 could not be contained within normal constitutional limits. During his ambassadorship in Brazil that lasted until early 1966, when he was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Lincoln Gordon continued to defend the Brazilian regime against its critics abroad. He expressed faith in the Castello Branco government’s commitment to restore democratic procedures. He regarded the government as compatible with the principles of US-Latin American policy as outlined by President Kennedy. Ambassador Gordon’s attitude was fully endorsed in the policy statements and actions of official Washington (Walters).

For the US, the great size of Brazil contributed to a sort of ‘attraction-fear relationship’. The fear, especially pronounced at the height of the cold war, was that since Brazil borders with every country in South America except Ecuador and Chile, a pro-communist Brazil would serve as a sanctuary and training ground for guerrilla operations throughout the sub-continent. The same strategic position of Brazil was later a point in favor of massive assistance to the military government in Brazil, for it could perform an anti-communist hegemonic role for the US in South America. The ally relationship between the US and Brazil contributed to another special feature in the military relations between the two countries. A US advisory mission helped in the establishment of the Brazilian War College, where, for many years, the only foreign country with a liaison officer with faculty status was, precisely, the US (Cardoso).

The evidence clearly suggests, therefore, that there was an unusually close relationship between the US government and the Brazilian military. Although it does not necessarily support the argument that the Brazilian military coup was orchestrated in Washington, some recently released data confirms, at least in part, that the events that led to João Goulart’s demise were not contrary to Washington’s wishes. That is what the records of President John Kennedy’s conversations clearly show. John Kennedy was the first American President to record extensively his conversations at the Oval Office. In “The presidential recordings – John Kennedy”, vol 1: July 30- August 1962, edited by Timothy Naftali,  28 minutes of a conversation between the President and Lincoln Gordon are reproduced. The ambassador tells Kennedy that a military coup was a possibility not to be dismissed. He conceded that the deposition of João Goulart was not the only strategy available, but he wanted to persuade the President that he should be allowed to keep that ace up his sleeve (Gaspari). The following dialogue is then registered:

Gordon – I believe that one of our most important tasks will be to reinforce the military connections. We must make it clear, although we must also be discreet, that we are not necessarily hostile to any kind of military action, as long as the motive is clear…

Kennedy – Against the left…

Gordon – He is delivering the country to…

Kennedy – The communists.

Gordon – Exactly. There is enough evidence that Goulart, against his will, or not, …(inaudible).

Two days later, in a conversation with the assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Richard Goodwin, Kennedy comments:  “The way things are going, in three more months the military might be the only thing we are left with… We might very well want them to take over before the end of the year, if they can” (Gaspari).


The years of the Cold War brought about a climate of dilemma for the American government. Their allegiance to the ideals and values of democracy intrinsically caused them to uphold these ideals and values all over the world. In relation to Brazil, the political structure there had significant importance to the United States because Brazil borders all of the other countries on the South American continent, and is thus very influential in that continent. In 1964, when a coup d’etat was orchestrated in order to overthrow the perceived communist threat of Goulart, the United States supported it. It then becomes important to analyze just how involved the United States was in the military coup, and the evidence clearly suggests that there was a close relationship between them. In this way, then, the United States strongly supported the coup in 1964 in Brazil and thus the coup reflected the contradictory nature of the American foreign policy in the Cold War years. It is most important to note that this was not a unique experience; 1964 was just before the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam, where Johnson and his successors faced similar dilemmas to their one in Brazil.


ange in regime. Some of the military coups were successful while others were not. Some were led by the military while others were initiated by civilians. Most of the past military coups were bloody and resulted to loss of lives. Only a limited number of them were bloodless. Today, most military coups are bloodless as they are well executed.

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History has it that earlier military coups were as a result of power. Those who led the violent attacks were mainly focused on gaining control and power (authority) of the nation. This is why most of the military coups then were bloody and resulted to lose of life. The focus of the military coups has changed today. Due to human civilization and development, military coups today are mainly driven by the need to improve the livelihood of people. The usurpers do so not for personal gain, but for the benefit of many.

The purpose of this case study is to look at the public opinion after military coups. Public opinion involves the citizens’ acceptance or rejection of the new regime. It may also include passive or active participant in the affairs of the new regime.

The objectives of the study are to determine the extent to which citizens of a nation approve or disapprove military coups. From the objectives of the study, the paper came up with three hypotheses:

  • There will be significant public approval of the new regimes after the military coup.
  • The public will be happier with the new regimes after the military coup.
  • The public will openly accept the new regimes after the military coup.

It should be noted at some point in the lives of citizens of a nation they feel like their leaders are not considerate of their basic needs. This case study will try and express such disparities and how the occurrence of a military coup may be a blessing to citizens of a nation. Although some military coups have negative short term effects, the long term effects are beneficial and may overwrite these negative ones.

In the first phase, it is assumed the nation has just participated in democratic elections. As a result of the elections, they got a new government. The new regime performs well until phase two when its performance stagnates. Due to bad governance and corruption, the performance of government stars to depreciate as shown in phase three. The depreciation continues till the ation reaches where it was before it got the new gorverment.

Phase four is the initiation of a military coup. The main reason for the given by the ursurpers will be widespread corrution and bad governance. All though the military coup is meant to rectify the situation, it ennds up making the situation a little bit bad as shown in phase four. Phase five depicts the nation is now trying to overcome the effects of the military coup.

Literature review:

Ken and David define a coup is the unexpected and unlawful deposition of a regime, usually done by a group of the existing state organs to replace the ousted regime with another. The replacing regimes can a civil or a military one. A military coup, on the other hand, is a planned action by the military of a nation meant to bring down and replace its administration.

Military coups can be successful (the former regime is replaced by a new one) or not (the regime stays in power). Military coups succeed when the usurpers ascertain their legality, if the attacked regime fails to prevent them by permitting their consolidation and then receiving the ousted regime’s surrender. It can also be said to be successful if the usurpers get the backing of the public and the non-participant armed forces.

Military coups can also be temporary (the usurpers hand over power quickly) or permanent (the usurpers remain in control for long period of time). They may be temporary where the purpose of the military coup was to rectify a prevailing situation. They may also be permanent in nations where civil order may has been non existence hence the need of the military to restore it. Some military coups are bloody while others are bloodless.

Military coups are different from revolutions and civil wars since they are a top-down action, initiated and controlled from an existing formation of the state against another. Revolutions are a bottom-up action of revolt against the whole regime originating from non-government actors. A civil war is where two factions (usually a governmental and non-governmental) battle for power in a bloody war for lengthy periods of time.

History of coups:

Military coups in America:

North America has not experienced any significant military coups in the recent past. The same cannot be said for the south and Latin America. Military coups are a common occurrence in these nations. Honduras is the latest nation to experience a military coup. The Honduran military staged a military coup against President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. The leader of the parliament was appointed as transitional head of the nation.

Venezuela, Haiti, Fiji, Ecuador, Trinidad & Tobago and Panama have also experienced military coups in their history. Some of the military coups were successful while others were not.

Military coups in Europe:

Military coups in Europe have been very minimal as compared to other continents. Some of the examples of military coups in Europe include the 1981 attempted military coup in Spain. The budding democracy of Spain nearly came to a shuddering halt. This occurred when rebellious civil guards stormed the congress of the nation and held assistants at gunpoint for almost 24 hours. The attempted military coup only ended when King Juan Carlos said he would not support it. Another military coup in Europe occurred in turkey. It was led by Kenan Evren, who later became the president. The military coup was in the year 1980. Other nations include Germany, France, Portugal and Poland.

Military coups in Asia:

Military coups are common in Asia. Not a year will go by without the occurrence of a military coup. Of special mention include Pakistan which has experiences several military coups. It is worth noting that the nation of Pakistan usually shifts its leadership from civilian to military regimes. Another nation that has experienced a military coup is Bangladesh. Other nations which have followed in the same path include Thailand, Korea, the Philippine, Indonesia and Burma.

Military coups in Africa:

From the time of the Egyptian revolution in 1950’s, Africa has experienced over ninety military coups, though a number of them have been unsuccessful. This number is not inclusive of the numerous occurrences where individual administration leaders were removed by force without a change in regime. Cases in point include the killing of General Mohammed in Nigeria resulting in General Obasanjo succeeding him. Vice-President Mubarak succeeded Egypt’s President Sadat after his assassination. More than thirty prime ministers and presidents have lost their lives in successful and unsuccessful military coups and various types of power struggles. Nevertheless, most of the military coups were relatively bloodless affairs.

In the rest of Mediterranean and in sub-Sahara Africa, the first military coups occurred a few years after previous protectorates had become independent, namely in Togo, Sudan, Congo and Benin. One regime has been overthrown every year in Africa ever since. The years 1966 and 1979 saw the most military coups, six in both years. All successful violent change in regime and armed revolts were staged by military officers and armed rebels. Only in Seychelles and in Sudan were civilian leaders behind the power grabs. The Sudan case was from military regime while the Seychelles one was from a civilian regime. In Lesotho and Uganda, civilian presidents launched pre-emptive military coups in order to hold on to power and stay in office. Recent military coups in Africa include coups in Mauritania, Madagascar, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Central African Republic and Togo.

Military coups in Australia:

Over two hundred years ago, the first and only military coup to rock Australia was experienced. Members of the NSW Corps walked up Sydney’s Bridge Street to the then government domicile, detained and deposed Captain William Bligh. Captain William Bligh was the governor by then. This event was nicknamed as the Rum Rebellion. Apart from this event, no other attempted military coup has ever been reported in Australia.

It should be noted, however, that military coups as a change-of-government method incidences have declined globally. This is because the threat of one is sufficient to produce the change of regime. In cases of military coups, the armed forces do not usually assume power, but they inaugurate a civil leader acceptable to them.

Reasons why military coups occur:

A common explanation for the occurrence of a military coup is the economic backwardness made by the leaders of these nations. Thus the people comply with military regimes expecting it would steer them to economic progress quickly. Corruption led by politicians had become so extensive that the citizens were willing to substitute democracy for military rule. The military coup is seen as a way to end the corrupted ways of the leaders.

Another reason why military coups take place is the fact that the institutions of democracy of these nations have been abused, misused and exploited by the leaders of the nation.

There is also the misuse of the processes of the law in courts of justice by prominent persons to defeat justice. Those in authority indulge in shameful acts of unabashed abuse of power.

Leaders of the nation usually engage in tribalism and nepotism. These acts, at the expense of other citizens, can be a determining factor in the occurrence of a military coup.

Types of coups:

A military coup is categorized according to the armed forces’ rank of the lead usurper. Some are lead by the army’s commanding officers while others are lead by junior officers (colonels or lower rank) or non-commissioned officers (sergeants). If the junior officers or non-commissioned officers take hold of power, the military coup is seen as a rebellion with severe implications for the organizational and professional integrity of the military. The three categories of military coups are breakthrough coups, guardian coups and veto coups.

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Breakthrough military coups:

This is where radical armed forces remove from power a traditional regime and creates new bureaucratic elite. These types of military coups are usually led by junior officers or non-commissioned officers. Examples of such military coups that have occurred in the past include the 1980 military coup in Liberia, the 1944 military coup in Bulgaria and the 1967 military coup in Greece.

The main reason for the breakthrough military coup is where the senior military officers apply authoritarian/dictatorship management style. The junior officers will usually feel offended hence the rebellions to show their seniors that the juniors can even rule the nation. This type of military coup usually ends up being bloody because the senior military officers will try to defend themselves and the government.

Guardian coups:

They are usually referred to as the musical chairs coups. This is because their main aim is to improve public order, squashing corruption and demanding efficiency in government. They are initiated by the army’s commanding officers. The power structure of the regime is changed a little bit or left untouched. The leaders of the coup depict their actions as a temporary and unfortunate obligation.

An example includes a recent instance in which General Pervez Musharraf deposed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on grounds of widespread civil disorder and impending civil war in the nation. Another example is in 1977 when Chief of Army Staff General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq overthrew Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s on the same grounds as above. Other nations that have experienced this type of coup include Thailand, Argentina and Turkey.

From the guardian coup usually arise bloodless coups. Nations with guardian coups can repeatedly shift back and forth between civilian and military regimes.

Veto coups:

They are also initiated by the army’s commanding officers. Veto coups occur when the armed forces prohibits the people’s collective participation and social mobilization in governing themselves. In such a case, the armed forces confront and stifle large-scale, broad-based civil opposition, tending to oppression and killings.

A famous example is the 1973 Chile coup by the Chilean armed forces against President Salvador Allende Gossens. An example of a failed veto coup was against Adolf Hitler in Germany by a section of the German armed forces.

Post coup regimes:

The armed forces are usually faced with the issue of what type of regime to set up after the coup. In Latin America, it was widespread for the post-coup regimes to be led by a junta. A junta is defined as a committee of the chiefs of staff of the armed forces. In the African context, the common form of post-coup regime was the revolutionary assembly. This was a quasi-legislative institution elected by the armed forces. In Asia and in particular Pakistan, the armed forces’ leader normally assumes the title of chief martial law administrator.

Most coup leaders act under the concept of right orders. It is their belief that the best resolution of the nation’s problems is merely to issue correct orders. This view of administration underrates the difficulty of putting into practice regime policy and the extent of political resistance to certain correct orders. It assumes that each person who matters in the nation shares a single, common interest and that the only query is how to pursue that single, common interest.

Military coups and the economies of these nations:

In the wake of a military coup, many businessmen and foreign investors ask themselves whether they should be alarmed of the new administrative intrusions into their business interests. Even if the answer is that they should not fear, we know it will be without success to calm down those who already packed and booked tickets to fly out.

When the military takes power each person is usually scared. Military regimes are closely associated with deliberate arrests, human and constitutional rights abuses and missing without trace people. So it is understandable why everyone wants to get out of a nation experiencing a military coup. It is not just an issue of personal disgusting seeing vicious force taking power, it is also a basic trepidation for own life. This trepidation is the one that tells people to go away as soon as possible until the dust settles down.

Because of this fear, businessmen and investors will tend to close their establishments. Some might even sell them because they do not know what will happen next. This fear of the unknown will make them dispose the businesses at throw away prices. Investors will hold their investments or invest them somewhere else. This will have a negative effect on the economy of the nation. Many of the citizens will loose their source of lives. The gross domestic product (GDP) of the nation will definitely go down. Other nations will not want to be associated with the military regime. The cross border trade between the nation and its neighbors will also be affected. Nations which are landlocked will be more affected in terms of trade. If situations do not change quickly enough, the nation and its citizens will suffer.

Research design:

As stated above, the research design to be used is a case study. A case study is an in-depth investigation of an individual, group, institution or phenomenon. Most case studies are based on the premise that a case can be located that is typical of many other cases. The case under study is viewed as an example of class of events or a group of individuals.

Case studies involve qualitative analysis of data. Qualitative analysis of data refers to non-empirical analysis. Several case studies will be applied to this study. The case studies will be from all over the global with references to different locations (continents).

The case studies will consider both the latest and earlier occurrences of military coups. It will also take examples from different nations and continents. The nations will be considered in terms of population, economic status, location (land locked or have a port) and government structures and policies. This will help in coming up with a conclusive conclusion that will be a representative sample of similar situations.

The sampling technique to be used is that of purposive sampling. Purposive sampling is a sampling technique that allows a researcher to use cases that have the required information with respect to the objectives of his or her study. Cases of subjects are therefore hand picked because they are informative or they possess the required characteristics.

The required data (the case studies) will be collected mainly from books, journals, newspaper articles, magazine articles, documentaries, cinema clips and the internet. The data collected will be analyzed and presented mainly in form of slides (Microsoft power point application).


Connor, Ken, and Hebditch David. How to Stage a military Coup: From Planning to Execution. Chicago: Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 2008.


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