Africa Notes: ECOWAS acts in aftermath of coups

Regional cooperation in West Africa is such a unique thing. Where else do you see cooperation on economic matters appear to be so much more difficult that you switch to cooperating on security? Wasn’t the EU built on precisely the opposite logic?

BBC News – Ecowas to send troops after Mali, Guinea-Bissau coups.

Anyway, BBC (and others) are reporting what we have known would likely happen: ECOWAS is sending troops to deal with the aftermath of coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau. Doing this in Mali makes a lot of sense to me. The situation is such a mess (political struggles over both regime transition and secession). And we can hope, based on its past, that Mali could return to a peaceful and democratic path once these issues get sorted. Not that this will be easy!

But I wonder if Guinea-Bissau might be a harder case. On the one hand, G-B’s problems are a little more straightforward: this is “just” a coup. But on the other hand, the prospects for a peaceful and democratic path are really pretty bad here. No president has ever finished their term in office. And, as Lesley Anne Warner notes, G-B is indeed quite coup-prone. The country has had twice as many coup incidents (10, including failed and alleged plots) as any other country in Africa since 2000. And that doesn’t even include the assassination of President Vieira in 2009! Reuters has a nice timeline of just a few of the events in their violent past.

All of that leads me to wonder: how will ECOWAS gauge success here? What is the exit strategy? Or are West African leaders trying to send some sort of hard signal to the elites in G-B that business-as-usual (coups every few years) cannot be tolerated? I just don’t quite know at this point.

By the way, in case you are wondering whether Africa has gone “coup-crazy” this year, Jay Ulfelder has a nice analysis that shows that, statistically, we are still within the norm (Dart-Throwing Chimp).

News and comment: Madagascar and the African Union

The BBC and others have been reporting over the past day or so that the African Union has suspended Madagascar’s membership since the coup earlier this week.  This echoes the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) decision not to recognize the new “interim” president, Andry Rajoelina.

Alistair Thomson, at Reuter’s Blogs, notes that between starting in 2005, there was a period of three years without coups in Africa, a trend that changed in 2008. I believe he is likely referring to a period bookended by the bloodless coup in Maurtiania in August of 2005 and the more recent coup there in August of 2008.  However, the relevance of that stastic is probably undermined by attempted coups during this period (alleged attempts in Cote d’Ivoire and the Gambia, for instance) and major election fiascoes in places like Kenya and Zimbabwe. Nonetheless, it is clear that 2008 and 2009 (so far) have not been great years for Africa’s political systems.

The consequences of this? Alistair rightly mentions that the recent spate of political instability does not help Africa’s investment climate.

Will this change?  Alistair also rightly notes that the recent financial crises are only likely to increase the pressures current governments face and the disatisfaction of opposition groups within the countries. And while the AU is clearly on the right side in condemning the coup, its current leader, Gaddafi, is unlikely to promote the kind of democratic stability in Africa most Western observers would like to see.  And we can wonder about the future of African leadership on these issues. Mbeki, for all his faults, could at least be credited with having a vision for responsible African leadership on the continent, but he is no longer in a position to promote his African Renaissance.

BBC NEWS | Africa | Africa rejects Madagascar ‘coup’.