Briefing on Civil Military Relations: A Factor for Peace and Security in Africa

Popular Uprisings and Unconstitutional Changes of Government

Date | 18 May 2022

Tomorrow (18 May), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will receive a briefing on civil-military relation as a factor for peace and security in Africa, as one of the agenda items of its 1085th session. The briefing takes place ahead of the Extraordinary Summit on Unconstitutional Changes of Government (UCG) scheduled to take place on 28 May, presenting the opportunity for Council to contribute to policy proposals to be presented at the Summit.

Following opening remarks by Churchill Ewumbue-Monono, Permanent Representative of Cameroon to the AU and the Chairperson of the PSC for the month of May, Bankole Adeoye, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS), is expected to make a statement. Representatives from respective Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms (RECs/RMs) may also take part in the discussions.

While the PSC is convening a session dedicated to the specific issue of civil-military relations for the first time, many of its previous sessions addressing UCG in concerned member States have been instrumental in highlighting the importance of clear separation of powers, roles and functions between the military and civilian leadership. For instance, at its 996th session addressing the situation in Chad which ensued following the death of President Idriss Deby Itno and subsequent power grab by the military, Council emphasised the imperative of clear separation of roles between the State’s military body and the transitional government, with the former focusing on ensuring the country’s defence and security, while the later concentrates on political and other public policy issues.

Moreover, at its other sessions on UCG such as the 1000th session convened following the 24 May 2021 coup in Mali and the 1030th session addressing the 5 September 2021 coup in Guinea, Council has urged the militaries of each of these concerned member States to refrain from interfering in political processes, clarifying that political affairs fall outside of the scope of military powers. Council’s request at its 1041st session for the Sudanese military to respect their constitutional mandate following the military takeover of power on 25 October 2021, as well as the requests at its 1016th session on the situation in Chad and 1064th session on the situation in Guinea for the members of the militaries of these member States to abstain from taking part in elections at the end of the transition periods have also been essential in defining the nature of and limits to military power.

Despite these important remarks which have been critical in highlighting the limits and boundaries to the powers exercised by the military and in underlining the separate roles and responsibilities of civilian and military organs of government, the nature of civil-military relations in African member States, which is at the core of problems leading to UCG and other political instabilities, hasn’t received the needed attention from the PSC or concerned RECs/RMs. Tomorrow’s session therefore presents the opportunity for Council to discuss this crucial issue and reflect on how it has contributed to the spike in UCG witnessed in the continent throughout 2021 and well into 2022, as well as its implication to broader governance challenges in the continent.

One of the features of civil-military relations in Africa which may draw the Council’s interest is the prevalent politicisation of the military. Such politicization entrenches the army deep into politics, thereby depriving it of its independence from and impartiality to political power struggles. This also creates the interests of members of the army in being involved in politics as a means of advancing particular political ambitions. Similarly, the engagement of the army in economic activities also leads to its embeddedness in pursuing economic gains.

The first source of challenge to civil-military relationship is the heavy reliance of the civilian political leaders on coercion and the use of security institutions including the army for purposes of deepening their grip on power. Not only do such practices blur the lines of military mandates and lay a fertile ground for oppression of citizens and violation of basic human rights and freedoms, they also can lead to the fragmentation of the army by giving rise to different factions. To ensure therefore that civil-military relations are not guided by political interests, it is imperative that civilian oversight on the military is subject to and is conducted in strict compliance with constitutionally established rules that ensure full guarantee both the constitutionality of the orders that the army is expected to follow from civilian leadership and maintain its integrity and impartiality. As important is the adoption of minimum legal standards properly outlining the type and scope of law enforcement activities which fall within the mandates of the military and identifying the circumstances upon which armies may be deployed for managing internal security challenges.

Another key issue for properly functioning civil-military relations in the continent include the weakness of civilian institutions and the lack of democratic governance and constitutional rule, which result in the absence of efficient mechanisms for transparency and accountability, making it impossible to create a functional structure for civilian oversight.

In some cases, as demonstrated in the recent coups in Mali and Chad, there is also the issue of the loss of confidence of their militaries in civilian leaders when they fail to provide them with the necessary material and morale support, which in the context of heavy casualties suffered by members of the army due to terrorist attacks leads to deepening frustrations and resentment against the civilian leadership. This can easily boil over when the civilian leadership is also perceived to be engaging in or tolerating corruption that divert resources away from supporting the work of the army. For example, in the case of Burkina Faso, the lack of effective leadership by the democratically elected leaders in addressing terrorism, insurgency and instability that has gripped the country and reports of corruption were presented as justification for the military’s intervention through overthrowing the elected civilian leaders.

Management of security sector reform (SSR) processes in member States undergoing transitions in a manner that permits genuine and effective reflection on security governance and challenges is also an essential part of averting potential relapse as experienced in member States such as Mali and Sudan. While the speedy restoration of constitutional order in member States undergoing transitions is well within the spirit of AU norms banning UCG, restoration of constitutional order without the necessary SSR that tackles the security sector governance issues that precipitated the coup would lead to a repeat of the coup, as the experience in Mali after the 2012 coup aptly illustrates. The importance therefore of implementing and making use of the AU SSR Policy as critical instrument for achieving constitutionally sound civil-military relationship cannot be overemphasised.

The management of civil-military relations is of importance not only in the context of UCG and to member States in transition, but also with respect to broader governance issues. The implementation of codes of conduct that are in line with the constitutional obligations and the international human rights and international humanitarian law standards is key. Also of significance is the need for regularly updating the professional standards, the provision of the requisite supplies and benefits and the technical competence of the military is critical. It is therefore critical to consider crisis in civil-military relations as part of AU’s framework for early warning and conflict prevention.

The outcome of tomorrow’s session is expected to be a Communiqué. Drawing from the deliberations on civil-military relation as a core factor contributing to the occurrence of coups in the continent, Council may emphasise the intricate link between democratic deficit, State fragility and instability. Council may also call for the updating by member States of existing military codes of conducts to make them up to date and compliant with standards of impartiality and independence from politics, and basic human rights and international humanitarian law standards. It may also highlight the importance of reviewing existing AU norms banning UCG with a view to address conditions that provide the pretext for military intervention in politics, including the politicisation of militaries and security forces. The PSC may call for the use of the AU SSR Policy formwork in countries that experienced military coups as a basis for ensuring successful SSR to prevent recurrence of coups. Council may also seek advice from the Military Staff Committee (MSC) on how AU norms and policy instruments can be utilised to provide guidance in addressing issues relating to civil-military relations in the continent.


Open Session on Promoting Constitutionalism, Democracy and Inclusive Governance to Strengthen Peace, Security and Stability in Africa

Popular Uprisings and Unconstitutional Changes of Government

Date | 27 January, 2022

Tomorrow (27 January), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to hold its 1061st meeting. The open session will take place under the theme ‘Promoting Constitutionalism, Democracy and Inclusive Governance as a Means of Strengthening Peace, Security and Stability in Africa’.

Following opening remarks by Permanent Representative of Ghana to the AU and Chairperson of the PSC for the month, Amma Adomaa Twum-Amoah, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS), Bankole Adeoye is expected to make a statement. Emma Birikorang Deputy Director of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Centre (KAIPTC) and Paul Simon, the East Africa Regional Representative and Representative to AU of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) are also expected to deliver presentations. Representatives of the Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms (RECs/RMs) as well as members of the international community represented in Addis Ababa are also expected to participate in the session.

Tomorrow’s session comes against the backdrop of the resurgence in unconstitutional changes of government (UCG) and related challenging political transitions witnessed in the continent throughout 2021. During the year, the continent has seen the occurrence of four successful coups (in Chad, Guinea, Mali and Sudan). As 2022 commences, another coup has taken place in Burkina Faso following the detention of President Kabore by mutinous soldiers. In light of this concerning trend, the upsurge in UCG formed part of the key issues addressed at the Eight High-Level Seminar on Peace and Security in Africa convened from 2 to 4 December 2021 in Oran, Algeria. As a key recommendation, participants of the seminar proposed the review of the African Governance Architecture (AGA) as well as the 2000 Lomé Declaration on Unconstitutional Change of Government, in order to ensure that these frameworks are more suitable to the contemporary peace and security landscape of the continent. The sessions is expected to reflect on the concerning resurgence in UCG and its implication on constitutionalism and democracy as well as its impact on peace and security in Africa.

The AU already has developed various norms promoting democracy and constitutionalism and banning UCG in the form of key instruments including the AU Constitutive Act, the PSC Protocol, the 2000 Lomé Declaration, the Ezulwini Framework, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter). There is however lack of consolidated approach in the implementation of these instruments. Further to condemning UCG and imposing applicable sanctions whenever they take place, it is important to ensure that the underlying root causes which lay a fertile ground for the occurrence of coups are also addressed. As observed in various previous cases, some of the key underlying causes of UCG in Africa relate to democratic deficits, mainly the extension of term limit through contested constitutional amendments and the absence of transparency and credibility in the conduct of elections. The importance of adhering to basic democratic principles as a way of averting the risk of UCG is also clearly captured in the 2000 Lomé Declaration. One of the points worth reflecting at tomorrow’s session is therefore the importance of adopting a consolidated approach in implementing AU norms on democracy and constitutionalism in order to prevent the very occurrence of UCG by addressing the root cause as well.

Over the years, the PSC has convened various sessions dedicated to the theme of UCG and popular uprising which are essential in informing tomorrow’s session. The latest of these sessions was the 871st session convened on 22 August 2019, where the PSC noted governance issues as one of the underlying root causes of conflicts and crises in Africa. Studies also indicate that coups experienced in Africa between 1960 and 2000 have had devastating impact on the continent’s stability. Another important PSC session on the topic was the 432nd session convened on 29 April 2014 which served to adopt some key decisions including the establishment of a sub-committee which could undertake an in-depth review of AU’s relevant normative frameworks to develop a consolidated approach in responding to UCG and popular uprising in Africa. Tomorrow’s session may serve to follow up on the progress in the establishment of this sub-committee.

In addition to ensuring coherence in the implementation of AU norms on democracy and constitutionalism, it is also important to address how the AU should approach cases of popular uprising. The AU is yet to develop a norm on popular uprising and elaborate its correlation with UCG. It is noteworthy that while condemning violent uprisings, the PSC has at various occasions affirmed the legitimacy of peaceful popular uprisings. For instance, at its 432nd session the council underscored some of the circumstances which would justify popular uprising, underscoring the oppressive nature of regimes; systematic abuse of human rights; and failure of governments to fulfil their responsibilities as the conditions which could trigger “the right of the people to peacefully express their will against oppressive systems”. In responding to the military takeover of power in Sudan in 2019 at its 840th session, the PSC also made a clear distinction between its condemnation of the military’s power grab and its recognition of the aspiration of the Sudanese people “to the opening of the political space in order to be able to democratically design and choose institutions that are representative and respectful of freedoms and human rights”.

Another critical issue which warrants the Council’s attention is the growing concern over security challenges, particularly terrorist insurgency and the lack of effective government response which has in multiple cases served as the central justification given by militaries for staging coups. Notwithstanding the manipulation of such justification as a means of legitimising suspension of constitutions, there is indeed a growing frustration over the lack or inadequate government response to security challenges. In addition to its immediate security related impact therefore, the absence of an effective government response to security threats endangers not only the stability of a country but also democratic rule. Hence, as the rate and complexity of security threats in the continent increase, governments role remains important in the way it handles and responds to such threats.

Incorporating indicators related to human rights and governance within AU’s continental early warning system could also be an important aspect which the Council may consider. Closely monitoring situations in individual member States which are at risk of experiencing disruptions to constitutional rule could play a crucial role in averting UCG by setting the stage for the deployment of AU’s preventive diplomacy. Lack of inclusive governance, political confrontations, highly contested elections, constitutional amendments to extend presidential term limits, and grave violations of human rights and democratic principles are some of the major warning signs of disruption to democratic rule as well as peace and security in Africa.

The expected outcome of tomorrow’s session is a communiqué. The Council may condemn all acts which endanger constitutionalism and democracy and threaten the continent’s peace and security. It may express concern over the increasing trend of UCG in Africa and it may underline the importance of enforcing and advancing the relevant AU norms to curb this trend. In this respect, it may urge all AU member States to sign, ratify and implement relevant AU norms on human rights and democracy. It may also follow up on the implementation of its previous decisions on the theme, particularly the request made at its 432nd session for the AU Commission to finalise the draft AU framework on responses to popular uprisings and to submit the draft for Council’s consideration. Council may also request the AU Commission to propose modalities for the review of AGA and the Lomé Declaration as well as other relevant AU instruments including the Banjul Charter.


Brainstorming Session on “Popular uprisings” and its Impact on Peace and Security on the  Continent

Popular Uprisings and Unconstitutional Changes of Government

Date | 22 August, 2019

Tomorrow (22 August) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will hold its 871st meeting. This is designed to be a brainstorming session on the concept of “popular uprisings” and its impact on peace and security on the continent.

International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) are expected to brief the PSC. The Department of Political Affairs that has been engaged on the subject of popular uprisings and unconstitutional changes of government (UCG) is also best placed to provide insights on the subject. Ambassador Albert Chimbindi, chair of the month, is expected to make a statement highlighting the issues that need to be interrogated during the session.

While recent events in Algeria and more specifically Sudan reignited policy interest in the subject, it was the popular uprisings that erupted in North Africa in 2011 that first brought the issue of popular uprising to the fore of continental peace and security agenda. The AU responded to those events, particularly the precedent setting events in Tunisia, in relation to its norm banning unconstitutional change of government (UCG). Although in a strictly legalistic interpretation the ouster through street protest of Tunisia’s then President Ben Ali in early 2011 could have been deemed an UCG on account of the fact that it was not constitutionally envisaged, the PSC did not consider the lack of stipulation of changing government through popular uprising in Tunisia’s constitution as an UCG. Instead, it expressed its respect for the democratic aspiration and the will of the people, implying that the demand for constitutional rule is not simply about respecting constitutional processes for their own sake but about safeguarding the will of the people.

Clearly the issue of popular uprising has since that time become recurrent, it was in 2014 that the PSC looked specifically into the question of the relationship between popular uprising and UCG. Under Nigerian chairmanship in April 2014, the PSC dedicated its 432nd session to the theme ‘unconstitutional changes of government and popular uprisings – Challenges and lessons learnt’. In the statement issued at the session, the PSC affirmed the legitimacy of popular uprisings. It in particular held that ‘[i]n circumstances where governments fail to fulfill their responsibilities, are oppressive and systematically abuse human rights or commit other grave acts and citizens are denied lawful options,’ it ‘recognized the right of the people to peacefully express their will against oppressive systems.’

At the same time, the PSC in this statement also underscored the need ‘for developing a consolidated AU framework on how to respond to situations of unconstitutional changes of government and popular uprisings’. It in particular noted that such a framework ‘should include the appropriate refinement of the definition of unconstitutional changes of government, in light of the evolving challenges facing the continent, notably those related to popular uprisings against oppressive systems, taking into account all relevant parameters.’ Indeed, this is important since the AU norm on UCG as it stands offers no clear and systematic guidance on how to differentiate legitimate popular uprising from acts that can be considered as UCG and on how to respond to such popular movements. The PSC accordingly tasked ‘the Commission to prepare the elements of the framework and to submit to it for consideration.’

While there has been efforts within the Department of Political Affairs to undertake the review process, there has been no follow up on this subject from the side of the PSC. Instead, the issue featured as part of the final report of the AU High-level Panel on Egypt in June 2014. Observing the lacuna in the AU norm on UCG, the Panel proposed the elaboration of a guideline for determining the compatibility of popular uprisings that result in a change of government with the norms on UCG. According to the proposal, for popular uprisings to be compatible with existing AU norms, consideration should be had to the following five elements: ‘(a) the descent of the government into total authoritarianism to the point of forfeiting its legitimacy; (b) the absence or total ineffectiveness of constitutional processes for effecting change of government; (c) popularity of the uprisings in the sense of attracting significant portion of the population and involving people from all walks of life and ideological persuasions; (d) the absence of involvement of the military in removing the government; (e) peacefulness of the popular protests’.

As can be seen from these considerations, rather than being completely new the Panel built on the press statement of the PSC from its 432nd session as the references to failure of the government or its descent into repressive authoritarian rule and the lack of any effective constitutional means for changing the government (the principle of last resort) make it clear.

In a measure that illustrated an emerging norm affirming the legitimacy of popular uprisings, the PSC reiterated the language it used in its press statement of 432nd session in the case of Burkina Faso. The PSC in the communique of its 465th session relating to the situation in Burkina Faso of made reference to “the recognition of the right of peoples to rise up peacefully against oppressive political systems”. Even more recently in relation to the situation in Sudan, the PSC clearly stated its recognition of the ‘legitimate aspirations of the Sudanese people to the opening of the political space in order to be able to democratically design and choose institutions that are representative and respectful of freedoms and human rights’. The PSC accordingly made a distinction between the popular protests in Sudan and the military takeover of power, which it condemned as being contrary to the AU norm on UCG.

Clearly, AU’s treatment of the popular uprisings in North African, Burkina Faso and most recently in Sudan vis‐à‐vis its  norm  on  UCG  has  signaled  a  new  approach  in  interpreting legal frameworks that provide justification and  legitimacy  for  popular  uprisings  in  ousting  authoritarian regimes. Yet, although the considerations elaborated in the final report of the AU High‐level Panel on  Egypt  offer  the  framework  for  establishing  the  framework for distinguishing those popular uprisings that  constitute  UCG  from  those  that  do  not,  there  has  been no follow up to the Panel’s useful foundational work. Accordingly, there remain lack of clarity including on  the  question  of  what  makes  an  uprising  or  protest  movement popular and hence consistent with the AU norm on UCG.

The  most  recent  background  to  the  agenda  of  this  session is the surge of protest events on the continent. While  these  events  have  been  witnessed  in  many  parts  of the continent, they have been notable, among others, in  Burundi,  Congo,  DRC,  and  Ethiopia.  Indeed,  some  of  the conflict data sets notably the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) noted that, accounting for a total of 5660 events in 2017, protests and riots have become  the  leading  conflict  or  crisis  events  on  the  continent.

This session affords the PSC an opportunity for clarifying a  number  of  questions  related  to  popular  uprisings  including vis‐à‐vis the list of considerations developed in the  June  2014  AU  High‐Level  Panel  report.  Apart  from  the question noted above, these questions include who makes  the  determination  of  when  an  uprising  becomes popular,  what  sets  ordinary  protest  events  apart  from  popular uprisings and whether there is a threshold that should  be  met  for  making  such  determination.  While  these questions are important, it is worth recognizing that  there  can  be  no  full  proof  and  mathematically  precise formula for making determination on these questions.

What  these  questions  rather  highlight  is  the  need  for  following up on the outstanding tasks stipulated in the press statement of the 432nd session of the PSC. The PSC is  holding  tomorrow’s  brainstorming  session  five  years  after its landmark meeting on UCG and popular uprising in 2014. This presents it with the opportunity for making such follow up to the outcomes of its 432nd session.
As  a  brainstorming  session,  the  expected  outcome  of  the session remains unclear. Yet, irrespective of whether the  outcome  takes  the  form  of  a  communique  or  press  statement, it is expected that the PSC would reiterate its 432nd session on the need for addressing the gap in the AU normative framework. More specifically, the PSC may also task the AU Commission to establish an ad hoc body composed  of  the  PSC  Committee  of  Experts  and  legal  experts who have studied the issue to produce and submit  to  it  a  proposal  with  objective  guidelines  on  determining popular uprisings based on the various PSC outcome documents and the outline set out in the report of the AU High‐Level Panel and with the support of the Department of Political Affairs and the AU Legal Counsel. The PSC may also call on for addressing the root causes of  popular  dissent  highlighted  in  its  432nd  session  including through the expansion of the democratic space, respect for constitutional term limits, ensuring the credibility of elections as the normal avenue for changing governments  and  by  addressing  socio‐economic  grievances and inequalities.