African Union Struggles to Tackle Unconstitutional Changes in Member States


The African Union faced many problems with member states and failed to solve them. Image from Al-Jazeera

In the wake of the latest coup in Niger, the African Union (AU) finds itself at a critical crossroads as it grapples with the persistent challenge of unconstitutional changes of government in member states. Since the turn of the millennium, the continent has witnessed an alarming 22 coups, marking a concerning trend that threatens democratic stability. As leaders gather for an extraordinary summit to address these issues, the spotlight is on the AU’s powers and mechanisms to curb the dilemma and promote a path towards sustainable governance and peace.

Despite being in existence for six decades, the African Union has struggled to forge a coherent response to the issue of unconstitutional changes. The organization has been plagued by internal divisions, wavering commitment, and the influence of personal and external interests. This has raised questions about whether the problem lies in the legislative framework, implementation mechanisms, or the leadership’s resolve.

The AU’s Efforts to Address Unconstitutional Changes

The African Union’s attempts to address the challenge of unconstitutional changes date back to the Algiers Summit of 1999, where the issue was first formally acknowledged. Subsequent efforts led to the adoption of the Lomé Declaration in 2000, which outlined the definitions of unconstitutional changes and the various forms they could take, including military coups, mercenary interventions, and more.

The AU has established a range of mechanisms to prevent and respond to unconstitutional changes, including the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, the African Peer Review Mechanism, the African Peace and Security Council, and the Committee of the Wise. These bodies are tasked with oversight and intervention when necessary.

Dealing with Unconstitutional Changes

In the event of an unconstitutional change, the African Union employs a series of procedures outlined in the Constitutive Act. These include immediate condemnation of the change, suspension of membership, sanctions against leaders of the coup, trade embargoes, and the granting of a period for the restoration of constitutional order. In extreme cases involving war crimes or crimes against humanity, military intervention can be considered, although this has faced challenges due to lack of consensus among member states.

Historical Examples and Current Challenges

Over the years, the AU has confronted instances of unconstitutional changes with a mix of non-military measures, often suspending membership and pressuring for a return to constitutional order. Instances such as Togo, Mauritania, Madagascar, and Mali have showcased the AU’s attempts to navigate the delicate balance between maintaining stability and upholding democratic principles.

The recent coup in Niger, however, has presented a particularly complex challenge. After tensions escalated between the military council and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the AU’s regional partner, mediation efforts were initiated. This has sparked debate over whether suspending membership remains the most effective approach or if alternatives such as the Military Intervention Protocol should be activated.

Looking Ahead: Strengthening the AU’s Role

As African leaders gather for an extraordinary summit to discuss the AU’s role in combating unconstitutional changes, there is a growing consensus that urgent action is needed. Many experts and observers emphasize the need for a renewed commitment from member states to uphold democratic values, reinforce the AU’s mechanisms, and potentially explore new legislative frameworks that address the evolving challenges facing the continent.

Ultimately, the ability of the African Union to effectively address the dilemma of unconstitutional changes will hinge on a cohesive and united effort from member states, a commitment to democratic principles, and the willingness to adapt and strengthen mechanisms in the face of emerging threats. The world will be watching as the continent’s leaders strive to chart a path towards a more stable and democratic future.

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