Unconstitutional changes of government (UCGs) in Africa are again in the spotlight following a second coup d’état in Burkina Faso. This has renewed concern across the continent about the threat of coups. It has also focused attention on African Union (AU) instruments and processes to deal with coups and other UCGs. Last month, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) dedicated its maiden meeting with African civil society organisations (CSOs) to discussing greater cooperation in advancing recent decisions to address UCGs.
The meeting, convened by the Ghanaian chair of the PSC for September, was a follow-up to the March 2022 Reflection Forum in Accra, which was a precursor to the extraordinary AU summit in Malabo in May 2022. The summit decided, among others, to activate the PSC sanctions committee, address underlying root causes of UCGs and implement frameworks adopted to address insecurity on the continent.
Discussing the involvement of CSOs in fulfilling recent decisions on UCGs is, therefore, important and praiseworthy. To take it forward, however, momentum generated against UCGs since last year must be sustained and the role of CSOs in implementing the Accra and Malabo declarations has to be explored.
A cursory look at data on UCGs, particularly coups, and regional and continental responses suggest that the continent has witnessed two major resurgences since the promulgation of the 2000 Lomé Declaration. The first was in 2008, when military interferences in Guinea and Mauritania, and a failed coup attempt in Guinea-Bissau caused enormous unease in policy circles. Policy responses included the resolve to react ‘firmly and unequivocally’ to UCGs and the 2009 establishment of the PSC sanctions committee.
The second resurgence was in 2021 to early-2022. The policy momentum spurred by this has rekindled the debate about the cause-effect relationships surrounding UCGs. It has also prompted discussion about the extent of implementation of decisions and policies to manage insecurity in Africa and how to prevent relapse in cases where commendable progress has been made. The central question currently, however, is whether momentum since 2021 will be sustained in a way that prevents another surge in the near future.
Three major interrelated factors are indispensable to sustain the current momentum, translate decisions into outcomes and, ultimately, contain relapse in the years ahead. First is the need for sustained leadership among member states in dealing with UCGs.
Since the surge in coups in 2021, successive PSC chairs, including Ghana and The Gambia, have persisted in tabling the issue for discussion. The need for a lead state or champion in this conversation cannot be overemphasised. As has become clear over the years, the AU is more robust when its capable member states champion particular issues in the context of collective continental commitments.
The second way to sustain momentum is to ensure that the current policy debate on UCGs places accountable governance at the centre of both entry points and policy solutions. UCGs are a pathology; a symptom of ill-governance.
Over years, the AU has developed strong and sophisticated norms and frameworks that complement the African Peace and Security Architecture and African Governance Architecture. It is essential to use existing continental structural risk and fragility assessment frameworks and tools. Tools such as the African Peer Review Mechanism, and the AU’s structural vulnerability assessment and country structural vulnerability and resilience assessment processes are crucial and often underestimated.
The next factor is to ensure collective commitment and consistent political will to implementing decisions and frameworks on UCGs. No matter how well commitments and responses are framed in discussions and consultations, actual progress can be made only through sustained implementation.
This is probably one of the most important entry points for CSOs' support for continental progress in managing insecurity. Civil society is a strong partner in the implementation of policies and decisions. CSOs have a near-ubiquitous presence across Africa and at all levels on the issues policy actors seek to address. They, therefore, need to be strategically harnessed and positively engaged to help translate policy into effective outcomes.
Role of CSOs in declarations
How will CSOs best provide much-needed support to realise the Accra and Malabo declarations and maintain current momentum? CSOs’ value in the latter is manifold. They can hold governments accountable for agreed constitutional provisions and organise resources to implement milestones. They are often innovative in creating awareness to enhance the population’s contribution to achieving a stable and prosperous Africa.
For various reasons, the potential of CSOs in Africa has been only marginally exploited. But the trend is positive. The recent engagements by the AU Commission and the PSC are welcomed. The role of CSOs and thinktanks in providing evidence-based knowledge that informs policymaking is key. Research is essential, and rigorous ongoing analysis is paramount in generating informed policy options and breaking down barriers between policymaking and knowledge generation.
All this implies that the way forward should be built on a partnership among CSOs, between the PSC and CSOs and with the involvement of all other actors. Efforts to enable CSOs to interact with the PSC and among themselves need to be upheld to solve security challenges and achieve the Africa we want.
Image: © John Wessels/AFP