I have been following the post-election constitutional crisis in Cote d’Ivoire over the last month, and saw something interesting today that I thought was worth pointing out. The BBC has reported that the latest round of talks between the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and the delegates from ECOWAS and the AU have made some progress, at least to the extent of lifting the blockade on challenger Alassane Ouattara’s hotel (Ouattara was declared the winner in the November 28 election by UN election observers, but Gbagbo disputes the result and refuses to step down).
What caught my eye was the following:
On Monday they were joined by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, representing the African Union (AU).
Mr Odinga said he had told Mr Gbagbo that power-sharing was not an option and would “actually hamper the democratisation process on the continent”.
(Those of you who follow Africa know that Mr. Odinga had an experience somewhat similar to Ouattara’s following the Kenyan elections of 2007) What caught my eye was this “democratisation on the continent” language. The two regional organizations appear to be looking beyond simply restoring domestic or regional order and considering the impact of this crisis’s outcome on domestic political events in the other countries of sub-Saharan Africa. This is the latest development in a gradual erosion of the doctrine of non-intervention, which is particularly interesting in the context of Africa. Due to the legacy of colonialism, African countries were historically very jealous of their sovereignty. And yet now we see two major African (not Western) regional organizations actively getting involved with the domestic politics of one of their own member states.
The reason is not entirely clear, at least to me. It’s probably that the disruption that could result from a renewed Ivorian civil war is great enough that the region sees this primarily as a threat to international security. However the question remains why they are backing Ouattara and not Gbagbo – this would have been the easiest way to attempt to calm the situation, and would be more consistent with previous responses to strongmen in the region. But then both the AU and ECOWAS have treaty requirements calling for the non-recognition of governments that come to power by extra-constitutional means. Could it be that international law is *gasp* actually working?
My dissertation is on these international regimes for defending democracy, so let me offer up a few reasons why they could be effectively leading state behavior here. One reason is that the collective decision of regional states to decide which candidate to support is a form of assurance game, and the democracy rule “solves” the game by operating as a “focal point.” (This is based on Thomas Schelling). States are relatively indifferent as to which leader comes to power, they just want order, and the existence of the rule gives them an easy way to all come to the same decision promptly and thereby get on with applying pressure to resolve the crisis.
The second is that these international treaty obligations exist only because of an increased commitment to democracy on the part of IO member-states, and that commitment has continued on past rule-formation into rule-execution. This might be due to constructivist norm adoption, Goodman&Jinks-style acculturation, or because domestic publics demand compliance with the international rule. Whatever the underlying mechanism, the gist of this possibility is that norms have increased their influence over African foreign policy-making.
The third possibility is that democratic leaders in the region see the events in Cote d’Ivoire as a direct threat to their own power. In this case, regional leaders are enforcing the agreement not because of a commitment to democracy (as in a human rights treaty), but out of concern for contagion effects that could arise when would-be authoritarians in the countries of the region see a success in Cote d’Ivoire. Democratic leaders therefore have good reason to enforce these rules because doing so enhances their own power vis-a-vis domestic anti-democratic opponents. Thomas Ginsburg and Jon Pevehouse have each argued that this is the most likely reason these international legal documents exist in the first place. Odinga’s statement quoted above lends some credence to this third viewpoint. Thus the blog post. This is obviously pretty thin evidence, but it’s probative nonetheless.
If this is correct that democratic leaders in the the region are seeing the Ivorian crisis as an issue involving their own security, it means several very interesting things. First, it means that democracy has reached a very important threshold where a significant portion of the continent’s leaders are committed to democracy in a non-superficial way. Remember, by calling foul on Gbagbo, they are delegitimizing the easiest way for a sitting democratic leader to retain power: election fraud. Condemning coups in Niger or Madagascar might be a different thing, but here we’re talking about elections.
Second, if the domestic-threat hypothesis is correct, then an important shift has occurred in the way some African leaders think about sovereignty. Pevehouse argues that these democracy regimes make the most sense when internal threats loom larger in the mind of sitting leaders than do external threats. In other words, the possibility of external interference in internal affairs appears to have diminished in priority for these leaders. This has interesting implications for human rights and perhaps also for the African Peer Review Mechanism. That might be a way down the road yet, but at least the glimmerings of increased acceptance of a transnational role in governance and human rights issues can be found in the regional response to the Ivorian crisis.