Perceptions of Coercion: AU and ECOWAS Interventions in The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau

In the past twenty years, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have demonstrated considerable agency in providing peace and security on the continent thus shaping political orders and life worlds. The literature on intervention pictures those African interventions as less or even non-coercive, hence attest them being more legitimate compared to more contested ‘Western’ interventions.

This PhD project challenges this assumption by arguing that interventions are inherently coercive as they react to a normative crisis in an attempt of order-making. Preliminary field work suggests that coercion is much more ambiguous than its usual negative connotation and that perceptions of coercion do fall apart along parameters of space, positionality and time. In this, there is a flipping point between legitimate and illegitimate coercion that, in effect, shapes the legitimacy of the intervention and the attempt of regional order-making. Based on these assumptions, this PhD project asks: how coercive are African interventions? What constitutes coercion for whom? Why do perceptions fall apart and how does this impact regional order-making?

Drawing on ethnographic elements, such as observation, immersion, (non-)elite interview and focus group research in The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, this PhD project (1) explores perceptions of coercion within those two case studies as a way to demonstrate how those affected by interventions perceive the interventions’ coercive nature and what constitutes coercion for them. In a most similar case design, this project (2) identifies causal factors why those perceptions fall apart and (3) how this shapes the attempt and legitimacy of regional order-making.