‘Subsidiarity' and the spatial ordering of African Peace and Security

In a similar manner, although this time ‘within’ APSA, ECOWAS actors have tried to fend off a more dominant AU involvement in conflicts in West Africa - once more arguing spatially, emphasizing ‘proximity’. Since the West African organization was much ‘closer’ to conflicts in the region, with a much more intimate understanding of them (e.g., regarding society, culture and politics), ECOWAS as an organization was best positioned to be in charge of interventions in that space. Moreover, since ECOWAS member states were the first to feel the consequences of conflict, they should be leading responses. ‘The AU’, on the other hand, was ‘far away’ in Addis Ababa and should therefore rather take charge of conflicts in Eastern Africa, or in other regions that did not have ROs boasting as much capacity as ECOWAS.36

Up to this point, spatial de/legitimization in this story works very similarly to what I have described above concerning the ECOWAS-CPLP relationship. What makes it different, though, is the nesting of the regional spaces of ECOWAS and the AU respectively, as well as their formal inclusion and position in the ongoing process of constructing and, as I argue here, contesting of a spatial order of ‘global’ and ‘continental peace and security’ (often referred to as ‘security architecture’; cf. Döring 2018). This process and respective efforts by different actors have centered on the concept of ‘subsidiarity’. The meaning and interpretation of this concept has been essentially contested, in simple terms boiling down to the question of ‘who is in charge of what space’ within APSA.

The clash of actors at ECOWAS and the AU, following the coup d’état in April 2012 in Guinea-Bissau, illustrates this point. While in principle the stated positions of the AU and ECOWAS on the issue of UCG are not that different - basic documents of both organizations contain similar formulations and provisions - during the 2012 conflict in Guinea-Bissau a struggle over different interpretations and proper application led to serious tensions between the two African regional organizations. After an initial consensus, widely shared among international actors, which rejected any authority emanating from the coup, ECOWAS heads of state decided to break out of it, entering into negotiations with the self-appointed ‘military command’, thereby de facto legitimizing it (see Chapter 1). This largely pragmatic move, seeking to contain the situation, allowed ECOWAS representatives to renegotiate the transition agreement proposed by the ‘military command’ and to exert pressure on the coup-makers to accept the deployment of the ECOWAS Standby Force to Guinea-Bissau (ECOM1B). According to this deal, a transition authority was appointed, which for ECOWAS meant that ‘constitutional order’ was restored. The AU PSC, however, did not concur. While acknowledging ECOWAS’ efforts to deal with the situation in Guinea-Bissau in principle, it did not recognize the transition authorities and kept Guinea-Bissau suspended until the elections in 2014 (see Chapter 5). This position upset ECOWAS leaders at least for two reasons. First, in line with the informal AU PSC rules, they were expecting AU actors to support whatever decision they took, since Guinea-Bissau was part of the West African region (see Chapter 3). Second, the AU’s position further complicated ECOWAS’ efforts to mobilize diplomatic and financial support for the transition in Guinea-Bissau as well as for ECOM1B (see Chapter 4).

Therefore, competing views of how the relationship between ECOWAS and the AU should be organized have repeatedly clashed during conflicts in West Africa - a relationship that both in principle agree to be structured around the concept of ‘subsidiarity’. While it is generally agreed that ECOWAS, as the officially recognized West African REC and pillar of APSA, should be the first responder when it comes to dealing with regional conflict, what this should actually mean is much less consensual (cf. Momodu 2017; Desmidt and Hauck 2017; Dôring and Herpolsheimer 2018). In Guinea-Bissau, as in various other conflict situations (e.g., in Côte d’Ivoire in 2010/11 and in Mali in 2012/13), it has become apparent that roles and relationships between RECs and the AU are continuously contested and renegotiated, despite more recent efforts to clarify and regulate their interactions. Thus, ECOWAS actors tried to assert their ‘subsidiary’ role as REC within APSA, leading the process in Guinea-Bissau because they saw themselves as better positioned to act (i.e., being ‘closer’). AU actors, on their part, interpreted that role differently, trying to maintain and exert control over specific interpretations and coherent implementation of AU core principles linked to its UCG policy. This put both organizations into difficult positions. On the one hand, as already mentioned, it blocked financial support that actors at ECOWAS needed. On the other, actors at the AU ran the risk of further alienating ECOWAS as a powerful bloc within the AU.37

What is important to highlight, once more, is that, beyond a contestation of competences, the struggle between actors at ECOWAS and the AU needs to be understood as a struggle over the spatial organization of APSA - opposing an imagination of nested hierarchical scales with one of complementary blocs. Whereas the former positions the AU PSC at the very top of APSA, authorizing and directing actions taken by the RECs, the latter imagination identifies the ECOWAS security organs and mechanisms as APSA in West Africa, making decisions and taking action as they see fit. AU actors may -or, in fact, should - support these decisions and actions.38 In this regard, the respective claims by ECOWAS and AU actors about what space they are in charge of (formally or de facto) are also tied to certain symbolic and material resources. Just to give one example, actors at the EU support the idea of a hierarchical organization of spatial scales within APSA, with the AU at its top and the RECs below. This has also translated into specific funding logics of EU support to the African Peace and Security Architecture, which I now turn to in the following section.

 
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