Norms, self-interest and effectiveness: explaining double standards in EU reactions to violations of democratic principles in Sub-Saharan Africa

Afrika Focus. 2012;25(2):109-120


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: Afrika Focus

ISSN: 0772-084X (Print); 2031-356X (Online)

Publisher: Gents Afrika Platform, Afrika Brug

LCC Subject Category: Agriculture | Social Sciences

Country of publisher: Belgium

Language of fulltext: English, French

Full-text formats available: PDF



Del Biondo, Karen


Double blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 20 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

We found historical and security interests play a role in explaining double standards, while commercial interests do not. The influence of historical interests is surprising, given that many African countries broke away from their former colonizers, while the interest of the latter in ex-colonies has diminished. However, historical interests still seem to play strongly in some former French colonies, including Chad and Ivory Coast. Historical interests can lead to a stronger or weaker preference for sanctions: in Ivory Coast, France was the main driver behind the sanctions imposed on President Gbagbo after he refused to cede power to Raila Odinga following the November 2010 elections. This should be seen in the light of the deterioration of relations between Gbagbo and France in the preceding years. A similar pattern can be observed in Zimbabwe, where tense relations over land reform resulted in the UK’s insistence on strong sanctions in 2002. By way of contrast, earlier intentions by the EU to impose sanctions on Ivory Coast as a reaction to violations of democratic principles were blocked by the French, who hoped to improve relations with President Gbagbo during the first years of his rule. Equally, in Chad, sanctions were `off the table´ because of the close relations between President Déby and France. Commercial interests, on the other hand, were not a good predictor for EU’s preference for positive or negative measures. This could be due to the fact that commercial interests were of limited importance in most cases. Furthermore, when commercial interests were important, for example in Nigeria and Niger, they did not conflict with democracy promotion. In Nigeria, EU’s preference for positive measures even ran counter to its commercial interests as Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan were increasingly displaying nationalistic policies. In Niger, a new exploitation contract had been granted to France, but this did not prevent the EU from imposing sanctions a few months later (Grégoire, 2011). Security interests were found to play a role. In most countries where the EU took negative measures, except for Kenya, the EU received scant cooperation on security issues. Furthermore, Ethiopia and Nigeria, where the EU was reluctant to use negative measures, were crucial allies of the EU in security affairs. Equally, however, there were cases where the EU did not use negative measures despite the lack of security cooperation (Eritrea) or where the EU threatenedcrucial security allies (Kenya) with negative measures. Finally, we found strong evidence of the importance of the position of other actors and the domestic position of the government, but not for EU leverage. Indeed, the EU is more likely to take negative measures when other actors adopt a similar stance, and is reluctant to ‘go it alone’, even if it could have some individual leverage, such as in the case of Chad or Ivory Coast. Moreover, the EU is more likely to take negative measures when domestic conditions are conducive to democratic change and international pressure can help ‘tip the balance’ in favour of democratisation. Such situations take place when elections are strongly contested (e.g. Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast 2010-2011) or when there is protest from civil society (e.g. Niger, Guinea). When such opposition is absent, sometimes as a result of repression (e.g. Ethiopia, Rwanda and Eritrea), there are fewer possibilities for the EU to use negative measures to encourage democratisation. On the other hand, the governments of Chad and Nigeria were weak, yet the EU preferred dialogue to negative measures.