African Union leaders said on Tuesday they intended to strengthen the group’s powers to fight a rising tide of coups and electoral fraud on the continent. “We must say ‘never again’ to conflict and war in Africa,” Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, the new AU chairman, said on the last day of its annual summit in Addis Ababa.
Coups in Madagascar last March and in Mauritania and Guinea in 2008 — made some African politicians and international investors fear for a return to the days when revolts were a more regular occurrence on the continent, Reuters reports. The AU is expected to reveal its new measures by next week.
“We have all agreed on a new set of measures to combat unconstitutional changes of government,” AU peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told Reuters. “It will improve our ability to protect democracy.” Lamamra did not say what the measures would be but diplomats at the summit told Reuters they would include the ability to sanction leaders who refuse to hold elections or who engage in electoral fraud.
The summit was dominated by discussion of the coups and the festering conflicts in Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, despite a main theme of developing the continent’s information technology infrastructure. “We must declare war on unconstitutional changes of government on African soil and resolve to take strong and necessary measures against all offenders of coups and those that provide them the means to succeed elected governments,” wa Mutharika said.
The AU in 2002 replaced the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) in 2002, which had been criticised for welcoming dictators and coup leaders into its ranks. The AU tried to distance itself from its predecessor by taking firmer action, including suspending membership and imposing sanctions on coup leaders.
But analysts say the AU is hampered by bureaucracy, under-funding and the fact that some member states are led by presidents who took power in coups. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi — who came to power in a military coup in 1969 — was voted out as AU chairman this year. He frequently clashed with the AU’s top diplomat, Jean Ping, and refused to speak out against coup leaders.
The AU’s founding charter says it can impose sanctions such as travel bans in the case of coups but the proposals to be introduced will be more forceful. Analysts say the move was inspired by Niger, where President Mamadou Tandja last year refused to hold an election, extended his mandate for three years and increased his presidential powers at the expense of parliament.
Niger remains a member and Tandja has not been sanctioned. “There are questionable leaders accepted into the AU,” a Western ambassador to the AU, who did not want to be named, told Reuters. “But they’re from the past, like Zimbabwe’s (Robert) Mugabe. They’re now genuinely freezing out new coup leaders.”
Of the countries that have had coups in recent years, Madagascar and Guinea are still suspended from the AU. Mauritania is still a member because the body says that “constitutional order has been restored”. Lead AU diplomat Ping said there would be unspecified consequences for parties that ignore AU power-sharing proposals as a means of solving Madagascar’s political impasse. They have been given 15 days to accept. The body has demanded elections in Guinea within six months.
Pic: Guinean soldiers