Unconstitutional Changes of Government: The Democrat’s Dilemma in Africa

Image: Flickr, PROAndrew Smith
Image: Flickr, PROAndrew Smith

Since 2002, a well-established principle and practice of the African Union (AU) has been the rejection of unconstitutional changes of government.

The use of this instrument of democracy promotion has set the AU apart from its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity. In Madagascar, Togo, Guinea, Niger, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire and other member states, suspension from the AU and sanctions have been applied against coups d’état; ‘counter-coups’ (when one military junta topples another); assumption of power without holding elections; suspension of constitutional term limits to stay in power; and the refusal of incumbent leaders to step down after electoral defeat. Yet the application of this rule is seldom straightforward. In 2011, popular uprisings in North Africa highlighted the democrat’s dilemma: how to establish democracy by democratic means? When and why should this principle be applied by the AU?

22 Mar 2011