The core principles of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU, 1963–2002) were based on the sovereign equality of all member states; non-interference in the internal affairs of states; respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each state; and the peaceful settlement of disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation or arbitration. In contrast the OAU’s successor, the African Union (established in 2002), developed a slightly different normative basis – including “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”.1 In her book African Peace, Kathryn Nash argues that this move represents a “complete break from the OAU era” (p. 6). Importantly, norm creation was home grown, and not imposed by external actors. Basically, her monograph is about the role of regional African organisations in shaping international norms, by adapting existing international norms (such as the Responsibility to Protect, R2P) and creating new norms in the field of peace and security. In doing so the author follows a rather common understanding of the term “norm” in International Relations theory, based on the literature of the late 1990s (i.e., Acharya; Finnemore and Sikkink; Klotz; Risse) according to which “norms are collective expectations for appropriate behavior” (p. 1).
The book is developed from the author’s 2018 PhD in politics and international studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Today, Nash is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Political Settlements Research Programme (PRSP, now PeaceRep) at the University of Edinburgh School of Law. The programme is funded by UK Aid from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). Nash also holds a MA in Conflict Resolution, Georgetown University, and a BA in International Affairs from George Washington University. Prior to her doctoral thesis, she worked for the US Department of State, first in the Bureau of African Affairs and Office of the Special Envoy to Sudan, and then in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations.
In 12 chapters the book follows the claimed change of norms adopted by O/AU. The main thrust is on the shift from the OAU’s policy of “non-interference” to the AU’s policy of “non-indifference” (a trope that has been developed, among others, by Paul D. Williams). The theoretical argument Nash puts forward is that norm changes in the Global South are not necessarily developed internationally but are produced “locally”. This insight may be a great step forward for IR mankind, but certainly doesn’t come as a big surprise for people working in areas studies and anyone doing empirical work on the O/AU. While the book certainly offers a perspective from the O/AU in the Global South to enrich the conversation between debates on norm development in IR and regionalism, I take issue with the analysis for four reasons.
First, Nash’s monograph lacks a perspective on actors and practices. Declarations, communiqués, and other key documents (collected for the methodological purpose of “process tracing”) are often equated with what the African Union has deployed “on the ground”. There is very little insight on who actually did these things in the first place, and how. Nash conducted three interviews with people closely involved in AU affairs. But both the OAU and the AU appear to be homogenous actors, without any debates among the various agents which constitute these entities in the first place (e.g., what have been the positions by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, the Council the Permanent Representatives Council, the Peace and Security Council, and others? How did various departments contribute to the debate? What is the role of external African players – collective as well as individual?). Thus, the important argument on “African agency” is somehow not followed through.
Second, in terms of norm development the transformation from the OAU to the AU is less dramatic than claimed. Apart from an emphasis on human security and the right to intervene, the bulk of OAU principles were kept. Nash also admits that the change from non-interference to non-indifference was “incremental” (p. 2). Nowhere in the book article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act is quoted in its entire length. And it seems, that the author is not aware of the 2003 amendment of article 4(h). At least this is not discussed, nor referenced.
Third, Nash does not allude to the fact that none of African Union conflict interventions post 2002 were based on article 4(h) of the Union’s Constitutive Act, but on some other legal constructs. Article 4(h) on the Union’s right to intervention in grave circumstances simply has never been invoked in real life; it was only used as a threat once – in the case of Burundi in 2015. And although Nash refers to this case (one of only two concrete examples discussed in the book, the other is Libya 2011), she somehow misses the point. This is because she relies on an interpretation of the sparse literature and has not engaged in further analysis of accessible documents, such as communiqués adopted by the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) or decisions adopted by either the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, or the AU Executive Council. Nash somewhat gives the impression (p. 32f.) that deployment of human rights observers in Burundi was based on article 4(h). This was not the case. The decision was simply taken by the PSC at the level of heads of state and government without reference to any legal instrument. 2 Also, the decision to deploy a military and police force of 5,000 men, the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU), was not taken with reference to the norm on non-indifference. 3 However, in December 2015 the PSC for the first time threatened to invoke article 4(h) when it decided “in the event of non‐acceptance of the deployment of MAPROBU, to recommend to the Assembly of the Union, in accordance with the powers which are conferred to Council, jointly with the Chairperson of the Commission, under article 7 (e) of the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council, the implementation of article 4 (h) of the Constitutive Act relating to intervention in a Member State in certain serious circumstances.4 Anyway, because of firm resistance by the government of Burundi (and support from neighbouring states), the mission was never deployed.
And fourth, the research literature has only been taken note of very selectively. While Nash nicely develops her argument on the basis of selected documents from the AU Archives in Addis Ababa (most of which are available online by now, anyway), her references to the academic debate are somewhat arbitrary. On the one hand most of the relevant authors are referred to, but on the other in many cases not regarding their most relevant publications on the topic (e.g., look up Thomas K. Tieku or Tim Murithi, to name but a few).
To conclude, while Nash’s argument that “the role of the regions in the international order, particularly the Africa region, has been undertheorized and under-acknowledged” (p. 192) is an important, though late, contribution to the overall debate on the African Union, she could have provided more thorough and systematic empirical analysis on her very topic.
1 Organisation of African Unity, “Constitutive Act of the African Union”, Lomé 2000, para. 4(h).
2 AU Peace and Security Council, “Communiqué” adopted at the 515th PSC meeting held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 13 June 2015, para. 10.
3 AU Peace and Security Council, “Communiqué” adopted at the 565th PSC meeting held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 17 December 2015, para. 13(a)i.
4 Ibid., para. 13(iv).