Studies in Comparative International Development

, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 482–502 | Cite as

Combating Coups d’état in Africa, 1950–2014

  • Jonathan PowellEmail author
  • Trace Lasley
  • Rebecca Schiel


Recent years have seen African militaries attempt coups in virtually every geographic region, from Egypt to Lesotho and Guinea to Madagascar. They have targeted established democracies, infantile democratic experiments, increasingly authoritarian executives, power vacuums brought on by leader death, and—most recently in Burundi—leaders attempting to circumvent constitutional limitations on their tenure. These continuing acts perpetrated against regimes with such varied backdrops suggests that coups still afflict a wide range of states and remain a continuing threat to leader tenure. This is in contrast to the African Union’s emphasis on curbing the practice. This paper explores the African Union’s effectiveness to combat military coups, primarily focusing on the potential for sanctions to act as a deterrent to would-be coup plotters. The paper also considers potential limitations on the African Union’s (AU’s) ability to project power against certain states. Analyses for the years 1950–2014 indicate Africa has in fact witnessed a meaningful decline in coup activity, an impact even more pronounced than the end of the Cold War. Results also indicate that the AU’s effectiveness in deterring coups is not constrained in cases where they are expected to lack leverage.


Africa Coups African Union Regional Organizations Leverage 


  1. Acemoglu A, Robinson J. A theory of political transitions. American Economic Review 2001;91(4):938–63.Google Scholar
  2. Allen S. Political institutions and constrained response to economic sanctions. Foreign Policy Anal. 2008;4(3):255–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bapat N, Morgan TC. Multilateral versus unilateral sanctions reconsidered: a test using new data. Int Stud Q. 2009;53(4):1075–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bapat N, Heinrich T, Kobayashi Y, Morgan TC. Determinants of sanctions effectiveness: sensitivity analysis using new data. Int Interactions. 2013;39(1):79–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barbieri K, Keshk O, Pollins B. Trading data: evaluating our assumptions and coding rules. Conflict Manage Peace Sci. 2009;26(5):471–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barbieri K, Keshk O. Correlates of War Project Trade Data Set Codebook, Version 3.0. Online: 2012.
  7. Boniface DS. Is there a democratic norm in the Americas? An analysis of the Organization of American States. Glob Gov. 2002;8(3):368–81.Google Scholar
  8. Brambor T, Clark W, Golder M. Understanding interaction models: improving empirical analyses. Polit Anal. 2006;14(1):63–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brambor T, Clark W, Golder M. Are African party systems different? Elect Stud. 2007;26(2):315–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brinks D, Coppedge M. Diffusion is no illusion: neighbor emulation in the third wave of democracy. Comp Pol Stud. 2006;39(4):463–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brooke J. A few potholes on the road to democracy. New York Times. 7 January 1995.Google Scholar
  12. Buhaug H. Relative capability and rebel objective in civil war. J Peace Res. 2006;43(6):691–708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carothers T. The end of the transition paradigm. J Democr. 2002;13(1):5–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carter D, Signorino C. Back to the future: modeling time dependence in binary data. Polit Anal. 2010;18(3):271–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cheibub JA, Gandhi J, Vreeland JR. Democracy and dictatorship revisited. Publ Choice. 2010;143(1):67–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clark JF. The decline of the African military coup. J Democr. 2007;18(3):141–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Collier P. The bottom billion: why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2007.Google Scholar
  18. David S. Third World Coups d’état and International Security. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1987.Google Scholar
  19. Decalo S. Coups and army rule in Africa: motivations and constraints. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1990.Google Scholar
  20. Doxey M. Economic sanctions and international enforcement. New York: Oxford University Press; 1980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Drezner DW. Bargaining, enforcement, and multilateral economic sanctions. Int Organ. 2000;54(1):73–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Drezner DW. The hidden hand of economic coercion. Int Organ. 2003;57(3):643–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. First R. The barrel of a gun: political power in Africa and the coup d’état. London: Penguin Press; 1970.Google Scholar
  24. Galetovic A, Sanhueza R. Citizens, autocrats, and plotters: a new model and evidence on coups. Econ Polit. 2000;12(2):183–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gleditsch K. Expanded trade and GDP data. J Confl Resolut. 2002;46(5):712–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gleditsch K, Ward M. Diffusion and the international context of democratization. Int Organ. 2006;60(4):911–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hakim P. Good news from Paraguay: a coup d’état falls flat. Christian Science Monitor. 30 May 1996.Google Scholar
  28. Higgot R, Fuglestad F. The 1974 coup d’etat in Niger: towards an explanation. J Mod Afr Stud. 1975;13(3):383–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jing C, Kaempfer W, Lowenberg A. Instrument choice and the effectiveness of international sanctions. J Peace Res. 2003;40(5):519–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kadera K, Crescenzi M, Shannon M. Democratic survival, peace, and war in the international system. Am J Polit Sci. 2003;47(2):234–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Karns M, Mingst K. International organizations: the politics and processes of global governance. Lynne Rienner: Boulder; 2004.Google Scholar
  32. Krustev V. Strategic demands, credible threats, and economic coercion outcomes. Int Stud Q. 2010;54(1):147–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lam SL. Economic sanctions and the success of foreign policy goals: a critical evaluation. Japan World Econ. 1990;2(3):239–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lebow R, Gross-Stein J. Deterrence: the elusive dependent variable. World Politics. 1990;42(3):336–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Leon G. Loyalty for sale? Military spending and coups d’état. Public Choice. 2014;159(3–4):363–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Levitsky S, Way L. Linkage versus leverage: rethinking the international dimension of regime change. Comparative Politics. 2006;38(4):379–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Levitsky S, Way L. Competitive authoritarianism: hybrid regimes after the Cold War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Li R, Thompson W. The Coup Contagion Hypothesis. J Confl Resolut. 1975;19(1):63–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lindberg S, Clark J. Does democratization reduce the risk of military interventions in politics in Africa? Democratization. 2008;15(1):86–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Londregan J, Poole K. Poverty, the coup trap, and the seizure of executive power. World Politics. 1990;42(2):151–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mansfield E, Pevehouse J. Democratization and international organizations. Int Organ. 2006;60(1):137–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Marinov N. Do economic sanctions destabilize country leaders? Am J Polit Sci. 2005;49(3):564–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Marinov N, Goemans H. Coups and democracy. Br J Polit Sci. 2014;40(4):799–825.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McLean E, Whang T. Friends or foes? Major trading partners and the success of economic sanctions. Int Stud Q. 2010;54(2):427–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Meldrume, A. Coups no longer acceptable: OAU. Africa Recovery 1997;11(1).
  46. Miers A, Morgan TC. Multilateral sanctions and foreign policy success: can too many cooks spoil the broth? Int Interactions. 2002;28(2):117–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Morgan TC, Schwebach V. Fools suffer gladly: the use of economic sanctions in international crises. Int Stud Q. 1997;41(1):27–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Morgan TC, Bapat N, Krustev V. The threat and imposition of economic sanctions, 1971–2000. Conflict Manage Peace Sci. 2009;26(1):92–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Nooruddin I. Modeling selection bias in studies of sanctions efficacy. Int Interactions. 2002;28(1):59–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Omorogbe EY. A club of incumbents? The African Union and coups d’état. Vanderbilt J Transnational Law. 2011;44:123–54.Google Scholar
  51. Pape R. Why economic sanctions do not work. Int Secur. 1997;22(2):90–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Pevehouse J. With a little help from my friends? Regional organizations and the consolidation of democracy. Am J Polit Sci. 2002;46(3):611–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Piccone T. International mechanisms for protecting democracy. Washington, DC: Democracy Coalition Project; 2004.Google Scholar
  54. Powell J. Determinants of the attempting and outcome of coups d’état. J Confl Resolut. 2012;56(6):1017–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Powell J. An assessment of the ‘Democratic’ Coup Theory: democratic trajectories in Africa, 1950–2012. Afr Secur Rev. 2014;23(3):329–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Powell J, Thyne C. Global instances of coups from 1950 to 2010: a new dataset. J Peace Res. 2011;48(2):249–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Ravenhill J. Regionalism. In: Ravenhill J, editor. Global political economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2005. p. 116–47.Google Scholar
  58. Shannon M, Thyne C, Dugan A, Hayden S. The international community’s reactions to coups. Forthcoming: Foreign Policy Analysis; 2015.Google Scholar
  59. Singer D. Reconstructing the correlates of war dataset on material capabilities of states, 1816–1985. Int Interactions. 1987;14(2):115–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. SIPRI. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 2014.Google Scholar
  61. Souaré I. The African Union as a norm entrepreneur on military coups d’état in Africa (1952–2012): an empirical assessment. J Modern Afr Stud. 2014;52(1):69–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Thyne C. Supporter of stability or agent of agitation? The effect of US foreign policy on coups in Latin America, 1960–1999. J Peace Res. 2010;47(4):1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Thyne C, Powell J, Hayden S, VanMeter E. The influence of post-coup signals on regime survival. Manuscript. 2016.Google Scholar
  64. Tomz M, Wittenberg J, King G. CLARIFY: software for interpreting and presenting statistical results. Version 2.1.” Stanford University, University of Wisconsin, and Harvard University; 2003.Google Scholar
  65. Valenzuela A. Paraguay: the coup that didn’t happen. J Democr. 1997;8(1):43–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wobig J. Defending democracy with international law: preventing coup attempts with democracy clauses. Forthcoming: Democratization; 2014.Google Scholar
  67. World Bank. World development indicators. Available: 2014.
  68. Wright J. How foreign aid can foster democratization in authoritarian regimes. Am J Polit Sci. 2009;53(3):552–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Central FloridaOrlandoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Justice, Law, and CriminologyAmerican UniversityWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations