Despite a long and rich history of African-led conflict interventions, very little is known whether regional organizations (RO) such as the AU and ECOWAS are considered legitimate authorities in today’s conflicts. There is hardly any interest on the reaction, perception and contestation of RO’s conflict management by those directly affected – citizens, civil society, local authorities etc. Whereas a growing literature deals with the legitimacy of the UN’s peace operations as well as with grassroots perceptions of their blue helmets, similar studies relating to African RO’s are scarce.
Working Paper No. 42 “African Regional Organizations Seen From Below: Theorizing Legitimacy Beyond the European Nation-State” by Simone Schnabel argues that a bottom-up perspective on legitimacy of regional organizations could feed into novel theorizing of the meaning and function of legitimacy beyond the nation-state that deliberately draws on and theorizes from non-Western experiences.
What unites the existing literature is either a functional understanding of legitimacy, such as Scharpf’s in- and output legitimacy, or a subjective conception of legitimate order inspired by Max Weber. Recent scholarly debate has highlighted the importance of different audiences, sources and practices of legitimation understood as a dynamic process rather than an attribute. However, they all relate to a theoretical background that is embedded in concepts of legitimate (democratic) order and thus limit our grasp of eventually other ‘benchmarks’ of legitimacy as perceived, shaped and contested by those directly affected by interventions. Studying the legitimacy of African RO’s might inspire theory building as 1) African RO’s have a larger authority to intervene in domestic conflict compared to other regional organizations, thus directly affect state-society relations. 2) The latter are – in contrast to the European nation-state – hardly characterized by democratic representation and legitimate authority but by the fluidity of power relations as well as a constantly changing set of actors in times of conflict.