The hope of Burkinabes to see a new democratically elected government was dashed on the 17th of September 2015, when news spread of the occurrence of a coup d’etat. According to BBC news Africa, the coup, led by General Diendere was born out of the displeasure of members of the presidential guard (RSP),a unit set up by former President Compaore, over the new electoral law banning candidates linked to last year’s bid to extend the president’s time in office. The RSP anticipates that the election of a new president will mean an end to their existence as a unit, thus causing them to revolt via the coup.
The African Union, Africa’s continental international body, has renounced the actions of the RSP. Being a body which has promoting democratic principles and institutions in Africa as one of its core objectives, it is no surprise that they have been quick to lash out against the RSP. They have suspended Burkina Faso’s membership status and the coup leaders have been given a 96 hour grace period to restore civilian rule lest sanctions be placed on them. Considering that this is not the first of such occurrences in Africa, one question that may be bugging the minds of the continent’s citizens is whether or not the AU has made any progress or improved on it’s ability to appropriately handle such phenomena. Nora McKeon, in her paper African states and the OAU tells of how the series of coups that ravaged West Africa right after the formation of the OAU (parent group to the AU), and how these weakened the institution. More than 5 decades afterwards, has the African Union gained enough technical know how to better handle the coups in Africa?
Maybe not. It must be said that the union has put a fair amount of effort into dealing with coup d’etats in Africa. In 2000, the Lome Declaration was drafted by the African Union, spelling out clear guidelines on the AU’s line of action should an unconstitutional change of government occur. These guidelines include public denouncement of the coup d’etat by the leader of the AU, suspension of the country in question’s AU membership, and sanctions on the coup leaders. These guidelines were intended to be a deterrent to any attempt to stage a coup d’etat. However, historical records show that the African Union has been woeful in dealing with the spate of coup d’etats on the continent. Since the Lome Declaration was put into force, there have been no less than 12 coup d’etats on the continent with General Diendere’s seizure of power in Burkina Faso being the latest. This is no different from their inability to handle the coup d’etats that occurred in the onset of post-colonial era. In several cases such as the Congo crisis and the West African coup d’atat epidemic of the 1960’s, the OAU at the time showed serious deficiencies in their capacity to curtail these instances of military seizures of power. At that point in time, several salient reasons could be used to explain why the OAU couldn’t deal with the spate of coup d’etats. For one, it could be said that the union and the leaders of the member countries were only just getting the hang of democratic rule and its complexities and as such, they lacked the know-how to deal with these problems. However, those reasons do not hold anymore. The union’s inability to handle these issues cries out that they have always been and probably always will be unable to deal with coup d’etats in Africa.
With this knowledge, it wouldn’t be too surprising to find that General Diendere and his men are taking the African Union’s threats and remarks with a pinch of salt. The possibility of and implication of sanctions on them may be the least of their worries. After all, if the AU turns out to be ineffective once again, General Diendere and his men will only make the AU seem like a large, restrained, toothless dog barking away at a band of thieves. We wait to see the outcome of events and sincerely hope that the AU will prove us wrong.
Written By: Anna Addei and Mawuli Adjei.