Logo Leipzig University

Negotiating Political Order(s): The Politics of Unconstitutional Changes of Government

Antonia Witt (U Leipzig, Germany)
Publication Date 2012
Publication CAS Working Paper No. 2
Publisher Leipziger Universitätsverlag
Language English
Information Link


Since the end of the Cold War, African regional organizations are increasingly mandated to and engaged in interventions within their member states. In contrast to the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was founded on the principle of non-interference in member states, the African Union generally conditions state sovereignty on some, albeit often vague, governance standards. In this sense, the African Union has not only undertaken peacekeeping interventions, but has also become increasingly active in mediating political crises within its member states in instances of election-related violence as well as after coups d’état. Thus, recent reactions to unconstitutional changes of government reflect both the African Union’s fundamental departure from its predecessor as well as challenges related to the formulation of new continental norms.

The central proposition of this contribution will be that in contrast to seeing the AU as a sole ‘translator’ of its norms into policies, what counts as acceptable return to constitutional order, hence what is politically possible, is dependent on both an internal negotiation within the AU as well as negotiations within the wider arena between the African Union, international actors and the local setting. The remainder of this contribution starts from a brief discussion of continuities and discontinuities in reactions to recent cases of coups d’état in Africa. It seeks to make visible the central configurations these reactions displayed relating to institutional mechanisms, actors but also potential conflicts. The third part then turns to the objects of such reactions. The cases of Mauritania and Guinea will reflect the variety of competing propositions for a successful return to constitutional order as well as the major fields of contestation that emerged in the course of these interventions. These overviews are finally brought together with insights generated from different cases. On this basis, three dimensions of a tentative framework for analysis will be proposed, which allow to comprehend the processes and mechanisms that lead to the definition of what constitutes an acceptable political order.