Recht in Afrika (Dec 2022)

The African Union Use of Force to Uphold Democracy and Constitutionalism in Practice: How Far Have We Gone?

  • Magdalena Sylister

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 25, no. 1
pp. 84 – 134


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This paper makes an assessment of how far the African Union (AU) has gone in exercising the mandate of use of force as one of tools for upholding democracy and constitutionalism within the continent. The key intention of this assessment is to scrutinize the suitability of the use of force in the AU’s framework as one of the channels for safeguarding democracy and constitutionalism. The work has employed qualitative research methods, relying on both primary and secondary data. Parallel to that, four case studies from selected AU missions in Africa have been relied upon (Burundi twice, Comoros, Mali and the Gambia). Findings reveal that generally the AU has made significant strides in utilizing its mandate in the use of force in upholding democracy and constitutionalism in Africa by restoring peace, rule of law, stability, human security and in safeguarding people’s will. The AU has also proved to be a reliable first responder in African constitutional crises given the fact that intervention by the UN system takes too long to be engaged and that the UN does not deploy peacekeeping forces where there is no comprehensive peace agreement. Despite that encouraging development, critical challenges still exist. The AU has not succeeded in addressing one notorious vice in Africa which largely contributes to recurrent constitutional crises, namely bad governance. Bad governance exists in various forms such as disrespect of presidential term limits, nepotism and willful disregard of the will of the people in general elections. Other challenges include financial constraints to adequately fund large scale operations, excessive reliance of donors for its peace operations, lack of political will from some African states, and difficulties in harmonizing interests of all parties to conflicts. In order to address these challenges, the AU should achieve its financial autonomy. It should explore further on the lead nation approach and put in place a more formal system on terms and conditions of participation of those nations and anchoring peace support operations. The UA should also make more efforts to instill upon African leaders the culture of good governance because it will greatly reduce constitutional crises which necessitate the use of force in addressing them. Lastly, the AU should discourage procuring of peace deals without the free consent of all the key actors in constitutional crises. Free consent is crucial in ensuring that the peace deals will be adequately respected. The overall outcome of this assessment therefore serves as an encouragement of the AU to continue working tirelessly in improving the mechanism of use of force because it has proved to be a potential tool for upholding democracy and constitutionalism in appropriate circumstances.