Ambassadorial views on coups

PSC Report sought the opinions of Council chairperson for September 2023, Ambassador Churchill Ewumbue-Monono, about coups, their causes and the Peace and Security Council's (PSC) stance.

Africa has experienced a notable uptick in coups since the Chad crisis. To what extent does the PSC acknowledge its role in this situation?

First, it is debatable whether the situation in Chad in April 2021 was a coup d’état. The PSC did not qualify it as such after its informed field mission of May 2021. It is, therefore, difficult to link Chad's situation to subsequent coups in Mali (June 2021), Guinea (September 2021), Sudan (October 2021), Burkina Faso (January 2022), Niger (July 2023) and Gabon (August 2023).

In fact, these countries witnessed coups several times before April 2021, and, therefore, the causes are more structural and deeply rooted in their national political governance. I believe the causes of coups on the continent must be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Citizens perceive that the African Union (AU) has faltered in effectively responding to unconstitutional changes of government (UCGs). Does the PSC concur and how relevant are frameworks such as the Lomé Declaration?

The AU's response to UCGs is prescribed in a series of normative instruments. These include the 2000 Lomé Declaration, 2002 Constitutive Act of the African Union, 2002 PSC Protocol, 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, 2009 Ezulwini framework and 2022 Accra Declaration.

Causes of coups must be addressed case by case rather than on one event

These instruments are usually complemented by instruments of regional economic communities (RECs) and regional mechanisms when responding to UCGs. The problem is that we are dealing with independent, sovereign nations and people. The AU is not a supranational organisation and its instruments can be implemented only by negotiated agreements with military regimes.

PSC responses to recent coups have included 'carrot-and-stick' measures. The carrot responses include direct negotiations with the authorities of the regions and mediations between special envoys and representatives and military authorities to return to constitutional order. They may also include providing coup-affected countries with governance-related assistance to manage transition.

The stick approach has been packaged through condemnations, suspensions and sanctions. The PSC has long been involved in policy development to respond to UCGs. At its Ezulwini retreat of December 2009, for instance, it adopted the Ezulwini Framework for the Enhancement of Measures of the African Union in Situations of UCGs. On 27 January 2022, the Council called for a brainstorming reflection forum with other stakeholders on the problem.

This took place in Accra, Ghana in March 2022 under Lesotho chairship and led to the Accra Declaration on UCGs in Africa. Finally, the PSC, under Cameroon's chairship, contributed to the 16th Extraordinary Summit on Terrorism and UCGs in Malabo of May 2022. There it presented its position on the issue, which was factored into the Malabo Declaration.

AU instruments can be implemented only by negotiated agreements with military regimes

However, I still think we need to review the Lomé Declaration because of the changes in context and new challenges. We need also to revive the PSC sub-committee on UCG, which existed in the Organisation of African Unity central organ between 1995 and 2002, to provide a policy oversight mechanism on UCGs.

The principles of complementary and subsidiarity appear to cause tensions between the AU and RECs in the management of UCGs. Is this tension real and, if so, how does the AU intend to navigate and mitigate it?

The cooperation between the AU and RECs in managing UCGs based on complementarity and subsidiarity has been a mixed bag. Generally, the AU has relied on the comparative advantages of RECs in its response to individual cases. They are distinct organisations with distinct legal personalities in international law. Each has its statutes, instruments and principles. RECs are not subordinate to the AU but are partner organisations. Their relations are based on negotiation, cooperation, collaboration and coordination with the AU.

It is hoped that ongoing AU institutional reforms will create a more conducive framework for collaboration and coordination. This is notwithstanding AU and REC joint mediation and fact-finding missions using joint high-level representatives and special envoys. They have also cooperated through co-mediators and have been involved in joint cooperation arrangements to provide assistance to countries restoring constitutionalism.

It is suggested that PSC sanctions against UCGs may have lost their deterrent effect. How will the PSC counter this?

A major outcome of the extraordinary summit in Malabo was the creation of an AU ministerial committee on sanctions. The PSC Committee of Experts and the AU Commission are currently working on the mandate, composition and functioning of the committee, to be presented to the policy organs.

The PSC respects states' sovereignty and independence, including the right to amend constitutions

It is hoped that this new mechanism will provide policy oversight and develop strategies to restore and strengthen PSC capabilities. But as I stated earlier, it is necessary to revive the sub-committee on UCGs that existed between 1995 and 2002, to endow the Council with a policy and oversight mechanism. It is due to this structure that we have, for instance, the Lomé Declaration.

Many have argued that the focus on coups neglects major constitutional precursors to their occurrence. How is the PSC dealing with constitutional manipulations on the continent?

Constitutionalism is a recurring theme in the PSC indicative annual work programme. Moreover the PSC engages annually with AU governance institutions such as the Peace and Security Department, the African Peer Review Mechanism and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. Since August 2022, the PSC has also interacted with all members of the African Governance Architecture platform through the Permanent Representatives Committee Sub-committee on Human Rights, Democracy and Governance.

The PSC respects the sovereignty and independence of AU member states, including their right to amend their constitutions according to their laws. It also acknowledges that AU member states have the right to their own political systems and usually condemns foreign intervention in African crises.

Finally, to the best of my knowledge, no item on constitutional manipulation in a member state has been tabled since 2004. The Council cannot deliberate and decide on an issue not tabled on its agenda.

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