Reconsidering AU/ECOWAS Responses to UCGs: The recent wave of coups d’état in Africa

On 28 April 2022, the newly established ANCIP research project kickstarted its work with an insightful roundtable discussion on the recent wave of unconstitutional changes of government in Africa. The panelists were the principal investigators of the newly founded ANCIP project, Prof. Dr. Ulf Engel (Leipzig University), Dr. Antonia Witt (senior researcher at PRIF, Frankfurt) and Prof. Christof Hartmann (director of INEF, Duisburg-Essen University), and Ambassador Said Djinnit. The roundtable was part of the annual conference of the ReCentGlobe at Leipzig University and was followed by an international audience both online and in-person with great interest.

Since August 2020 the African continent has witnessed serious setbacks in its collective efforts to strengthen principles of democratic rule, good governance, and human rights, especially in the West African region. Successful coups d’état were staged in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, and twice in Mali. Military efforts to seize power failed in Benin, the Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, and Niger, while Sudan saw both a failed and a successful coup. The African Union and the relevant Regional Economic Communities (RECs) invoked their respective policy scripts on so-called unconstitutional changes of government (UCGs) and suspended these countries from their organizations. However, in none of these cases did a return to constitutional order occurred. The newly founded ANCIP project took this development as a call to initiate a roundtable at the ReCentGlobe annual conference and discuss the policy options at hand.

Besides the three principal investigators of the ANCIP project – Ulf Engel, Antonia Witt and Christof Hartmann –, Ambassador Said Djinnit took part. The latter played a key role in the reforms transforming the OAU into the AU, has more than 30 years of experience in intergovernmental organisations, and served as the first commissioner for peace and security of the AU. Based on this career and first-hand knowledge, the Algerian career diplomat shared his profound insights into the management of UCGs and the challenges they bring with them.

After a short introduction of the panelists, the recent state of affairs as well as a concise history of UCGs in Africa, provided by Ulf Engel, Ambassador Said Djinnit gave an overview on the policies concerning UCGs by the OAU and the AU and addressed possible revisions, which could improve the legal framework. These included the extension of the current definition of UCGs to explicitly include the manipulation of constitution to retain power and the dynastic succession of power and a limit on the terms in office.

Said_Djinnit

Ambassador Said Djinnit currently serves as special advisor at ACCORD (African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes). (Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, CC BY-SA 2.0 )

In the ensuing discussion between the panelists several challenges in dealing with UCGs were elaborated on. Christof Hartmann pointed out the juristic challenges of revising the legal framework in a way that allows to deal with UCGs effectively and the potential conflict between the AU and other RECs. The revision of legal frameworks may be a challenge on its own, as Ulf Engel noted, since it requires enough political momentum and impetus for change. Antonia Witt raised the issue that the AU needs to solve complex socioeconomic problems in order to maintain peace and security through its interventions that are perceived very differently by citizens and require more consideration and research. These interventions will be the subject of investigation within the ANCIP project funded by the BMBF (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung).

After this fruitful discussion, the floor was opened to the audience, which made full use of the opportunity to engage in dialog with the panelists. A recording of the whole panel is available as video on ReCentGlobe’s YouTube-channel.