Combating Coups d’état in Africa, 1950–2014

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    France has been known to intervene to help prevent a coup or attempt reversal. However, these efforts were linked more to personal arrangements with the leader rather than a clear condemnation of anti-regime activity. Further, while French intervention has succeeded in some cases, such as in 1963 Gabon, implementation of such responses is historically inconsistent, as seen with inaction in 1974 Niger (see, for example, Higgot and Fuglestad 1975).

  2. 2.

    Another criticism of Pape’s is that economic sanctions rarely succeed in the absence of an accompanying threat or use of force. While we focus primarily on economic sanctions and believe Pape’s concern is overstated, we consider both economic and military coercion to be mutual parts of an IO’s anti-coup arsenal. Consequently, Pape’s economic versus military sanction distinction is not problematic for our argument.

  3. 3.

    The principles of the Lomé Declaration were reiterated in the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, passed in 2003 and implemented in 2006. While it is not knowable if the Lomé Declaration could have successfully worked within the OAU apparatus to bring about changes in coup activity, it was one of the first clear signs that the regional organization was serious about curbing the practice.

  4. 4.

    We also consider the sum of democracies within 1000 km, extend the range to 5000 km, all of Africa, and in line with prior efforts to assess the role of the global democratic community, the global proportion of democracies (e.g., Kadera et al. 2003). Substantive results for the variable do not change.

  5. 5.

    Predicted probabilities are computed using Clarify (Tomz, Wittenberg, and King 2003).

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Powell, J., Lasley, T. & Schiel, R. Combating Coups d’état in Africa, 1950–2014. St Comp Int Dev 51, 482–502 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12116-015-9210-6

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Keywords

  • Africa
  • Coups
  • African Union
  • Regional Organizations
  • Leverage