Reading history and the West African Coups

The latest drama unfolding in West Africa looks like a retro remix of the 60s or 80s coups and counter-coups. Except it’s not a #ThrowbackThursday, but the roaring 2020s that feels like déjà vu, and we are diving into the tumultuous sea of coups, chaos, and awakenings that are shaking up the region. Beyond similarities in culture, language, and identity, it feels like countries in the region are caught in a vicious cycle, where the ghosts of past coups have resurfaced, with a vengeance. Leaders democratically elected by the people are now being tossed aside like old rags by the military, and those same people are rolling out the drums and blowing their trumpets in support of military takeover in GuineaMaliBurkina Faso, and now Niger with attempts foiled in The Gambia and Guinea Bissau.

It feels like history is on repeat and we’re stuck in a time loop. Whatever you think about what’s going in the Sahel region, it is the masses – you, me, and everyone else –  trying to eke out a living – who always get caught in this crossfire. From the chaos of political instability to the hardships of economic turmoil, it is always the regular folks who must bear the brunt of it all.

Making sense of these events is complex for anyone and this is where turning to history books can make a difference, lighting our path out of this mess. You see, history is like a breadcrumb trail that helps us to decipher the motivations behind great events and power struggles. A reoccurring conversation in the Team Cassava Republic group chat is the need to return to our backlist titles and all the better when these titles help us understand our present day.

Take Formation: The Making of Nigeria from Jihad to Amalgamation by Feyi Fawehinmi and Fola Fagbule, which rewinds the clock to chart the series of events and characters that led to the creation of what we now know as Nigeria. From a Jihad led by Usman dan Fodio in 1804 to colonial interference by the British, and from politics and religion to slavery and violence, this one-of-a kind history book sets the stage for both the woes and triumphs of the modern Nigerian state.

Soldiers of Fortune by historian, Max Siollun is a meticulously researched account of the 80s and 90s, a period of  military rule, political upheaval, and intrigues that could outperform any Nollywood melodrama. Siollun delves into thorny issues of corruption, human rights abuses, and political manoeuvring under the military leadership of Buhari and Babangida between 1984 to 1993. It is a crash course in the complexities that fuelled the flames of history.

As West Africa sits on the edge of uncertainty with the rising coups, these historical books are more than just relics of bygone eras. They are maps to guide us through the twists and turns of history, of unchecked power, economic and geo-political inequalities and the choices made long ago. Through the pages of books like Formation and Soldiers of Fortune, we gain a deeper understanding of the complexities that continue to influence the region today. By understanding the historical context that gives rise to contemporary events, we are better equipped to ask the right questions, demand thoughtful solutions, and address the root causes rather than just addressing the symptoms.

So, why should we read history books? Because they are the secret weapon that allow us to see the world more broadly, sharpen our mind and help us to untangle today’s mess. Be sure to pick up that history book, rummage through its pages, and unlock the keys to understanding what’s happening around us.

Tell us, Cassava fam, in recent times, which history book has lit up your understanding of contemporary events?


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