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Research Report

GOOD COUPS AND BAD COUPS: The limits of the African Union’s injunction on unconstitutional changes of power in Africa

Francis Nguendi Ikome
Garth le Pere
Copyright Date: Feb. 1, 2007
Pages: 60

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-2)
  2. (pp. 3-3)
  3. (pp. 5-7)

    Africa’s liberation elite, keen on wresting political power from the continent’s colonisers,³ created the impression among their followers that life would be ‘just rosy’ after the departure of the colonial powers. African peoples’ support for liberation and independence struggles therefore became anchored in expectations of a better life after the attainment of sovereign statehood. Unfortunately, however, shortly after independence the soaring expectations of economic, social, and political well-being were replaced by disappointment and frustration in a majority of newly independent African countries.⁴ This was aggravated, in a number of cases, by disenchantment with politicians, and the spectacle of corruption, waste,...

  4. (pp. 7-15)

    ‘Coup’ is the French word for ‘a sudden blow or strike’. A coup d’état, or simply a coup, is the sudden overthrow of a government against the general will (volonte generale) formed by the majority of the citizenry. It is usually carried out by a small, but well-organised group that threatens, or effectively uses, force to replace the top power echelons of the state. It may or may not be violent in nature, and it is distinguishable from a revolution, which is usually staged by a larger group and radically alters the political system.12 Usually, a coup involves the control...

  5. (pp. 15-18)

    Despite the popularity of pan-Africanist ideology among Africa’s immediate postindependence leaders, most of them remained predisposed to guard jealously their newly won national sovereignty and independence. This predisposition first found concrete expression in the manner in which they structured the continent’s premier pan-African organisation, the OAU, which was established in 1963. The charter of the OAU paid little attention, if any, to issues of governance and human rights; and how collectively to promote them. Rather, it celebrated the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the domestic affairs of members’ states – raising these principles to the status of axioms of...

  6. (pp. 18-29)

    The African state has been characterised variously as artificial, underdeveloped, dependent, weak, predatory, and neo-patrimonial. While characterisation in these terms is biased and overstated, however, the truth of the matter is that the ‘African state’ has, from its inception, been a misnomer. To begin with, African states, including Ethiopia and Liberia, that were not formerly colonised, are not products of internal evolution. Rather, they are products of colonial and neo-colonial power configurations.60 Understandably, African states are, in their structures and behaviours, largely the reflection of the dynamics of world politics as defined by European powers and political history. The overriding...

  7. (pp. 29-33)

    Africa’s post-independence culture of impunity and complacency was partly tamed by the demise of the Cold War, and the removal of the protective shield it provided African governments against meaningful external scrutiny of their domestic politics. In the post-Cold War environment, democracy emerged as the most popularly accepted form of government, generating an increased propensity, even among Africa’s not-toodemocratic leadership, to enshrine democratic principles in their regional agreements. Regional organisations also became lead actors in efforts to prevent, and respond to, the ever-threatening prospects of democracy being subverted through coups d’état and other forms of illegal acquisition and exercise of...

  8. (pp. 33-34)

    There are two sides to the issue of unconstitutionality of governments – the one relating to the conduct of incumbent governments, and the other relating to those aspiring to grab power. In its enunciation of principles, the Lomé Declaration recognises the fact that a key source of political instability on the continent had to do with the undemocratic conduct of African leaders (poor governance). However, in mapping out its practical responses to unconstitutionality, it is painfully silent on the omissions and commissions of sitting African governments.

    The declaration appears to be deliberately narrowly cast, with the weight of the four...

  9. (pp. 34-42)

    From the adoption of the Lomé Declaration in July 2000, to the AU heads of state summit in The Gambia in July 2006, the continent witnessed many attempts at, or effective, unconstitutional changes of government, beginning with Madagascar in January 2002, to Mauritania in August 2005. In all these instances, the AU has been faced with what could be rightly described as a response dilemma over coup situations. It has had to choose between electing to uphold the letter and spirit of Lomé, or alternatively treating each coup according to the specific circumstances surrounding it, in what many have come...

  10. (pp. 42-47)

    The recurrent violations of the Lomé Declaration, and the rather non-uniform application of its prescriptions by the AU, suggest that the framework in its current form is inadequate to stamp out the scourge of political instability on the continent. Although the Lomé Declaration has been generally accepted as an important political initiative that has added much value to democratisation on the continent, AU technocrats have equally recognised that there was an urgent need to broaden and strengthen it beyond simply frowning at unconstitutional changes of government, to addressing the principal sources of instability, which include, among others:

    weak democratic institutions;...

  11. (pp. 48-49)

    This paper has examined the phenomenon of coups d’état on the African continent. Although its main thrust has been to appraise the promise that the Lomé Declaration has held for the continent, and the extent to which African governments have been able to uphold it, our analysis placed the declaration in a historical context. Our analyses were also anchored in key theoretical and empirical literature on coups d’état. In this regard, a preponderance of reviewed theoretical literature has presented coups as illegitimate and unfortunate events that are usually in violation of national constitutions. However, the paper has demonstrated that some...

  12. (pp. 50-57)
  13. (pp. 58-58)