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After a Coup, Can the Constitutional Order Be Repaired? Adem Abebe on Rebuilding Constitutions in West Africa

Rephrase my Adem Abebe is a senior advisor on constitution-building processes at International IDEA. He supports transitions from conflict and authoritarianism to peace and democracy, generates cutting edge knowledge, convenes platforms for dialogue and advocates for change. Adem is also Vice President of the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers, which promotes democratic constitutionalism across the continent.

This episode was made in partnership with the Constitution Building Programme at International IDEA
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As democracy promoters, we also need to pay a lot of attention to the material needs of people… When these material needs are not satisfied, people will be more willing to give nondemocratic forms a chance.
Adem Abebe

Key Highlights

Introduction – 0:20
Why Military Coups Happen – 4:05
Holding Back Political Institutions – 19:23
Restoring Constitutional Order – 34:31
The Role of Constitutions – 48:54

Podcast Transcript
Over the past few years Africa has seen a rise in successful military coups. We discussed the phenomenon on a past episode with Naunihal Singh. However, in that conversation we did not explore what happens to restore political order afterwards. What does happen is international actors from the African Union and ECOWAS to intergovernmental organizations like International IDEA must decide in what ways they will help to restore constitutional order again.
Recently, we saw how those efforts can go astray. Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger are withdrawing from the Economic Community of West African States known as ECOWAS. All three countries are governed under military juntas after very recent military coups. It highlights the delicate need to balance engagement with the necessity to establish political norms in the region.
Last week we focused on the repair of a constitutional order after an episode of democratic backsliding. This week we discuss the repair of the constitutional order after it is shattered by military intervention. Adem Abebe is a senior advisor on constitution-building processes at International IDEA. I first came to know Adem through his work as a constitutional scholar. He was a coeditor alongside Rosalind Dixon and Tom Ginsburg of a volume called Comparative Constitutional Law in Africa. So, I found him insightful because he was able to blend practical experience within a bigger picture understanding of the larger issues.
Our conversation explores coups from several perspectives. We consider why coups happen, but also how we move past a constitutional breakdown to restore democracy and constitutional order. The answers are complicated, but help us better understand democracy including why it breaks down and what it means to restore it once again.
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