*By Paul Ejime
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has held several Summits and undertaken a series of missions on the political crises in two member States, Guinea and Mali, with the latest extraordinary summit in Accra, Ghana on September 16, the second within eight days, after the military seized power in Conakry on September 5.
Rich in highly prized minerals, including gold, diamond, bauxite and iron ore, both countries are not zero-poor. But like most nations in Africa, they have been impoverished by a combination of factors. These include bad leadership, corruption, ethnicity, cronyism, religious intolerance, some members of the political class conniving with external forces to plunder and pillage their nations, rigging of elections and ‘constitutional coups,’ compounded by high youth unemployment and chronic insecurity.
Mali, the home country of Mansa Musa, arguably, one of the richest Kings that ever lived, has been plagued by instability since the military coup of 2012. Between 2020 and May this year, the country witnessed two putsches and is now under a military-run transition government, following the first coup in August 2020 that toppled the government of elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) have suspended Mali’s membership, while Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan, the Chief regional Mediator, has visited Bamako half a dozen times on peace missions. But regrettably, ECOWAS, at its September 16 Summit, expressed concerns that the ongoing 18-month political transition programme in that country is not making the desired progress with the potential consequence of missing the deadline set for military handover to civilians.
Meanwhile, France, the former colonial power over Mali, has also suspended military support and cooperation with the Col. Assimi Goita-led transitional government in Bamako. Paris has also announced plans to reduce its 5,100-strong Barkhane forces in Mali and the Sahel and voiced concerns over Mali’s government apparent closeness with Russia. It has emerged that Mali and Russia signed a Defence Pact, under which Russia-linked private security agency, Wagner might be sending some 1,000 mercenaries to support the government in Bamako.
As if the problem in Mali was not enough, the military struck in Guinea on September 5, ousting President Alpha Conde, who in 2020 forced constitutional changes for his third term mandate through a violence-marred presidential vote last October.
In response to these political and security challenges, ECOWAS leaders, at their September 8 first extraordinary summit held virtually, suspended Guinea’s membership and dispatched a high-level mission for talks with the Col. Mamady Doumbouya-led junta. Deposed President Conde and some of his regime officials have remained in military detention since the coup, even as the junta launched a national consultation to draw up a transition Charter.
But unimpressed with developments in both countries, ECOWAS leaders at their Accra summit, slammed sanctions (including travel bans and freezing of financial assets) on members of the Guinea military junta and their families.
The 18-point Summit Communique also reiterated ECOWAS’ demand for the immediate and unconditional release of Conde, while the ruling National Committee for Reconciliation and Development (CNRD) was urged: “to ensure the conduct of presidential and legislative elections within six (6) months” to restore constitutional rule in Guinea.
The regional leaders further resolved that no member of the CNRD should be allowed to contest in the presidential election.”
The effectiveness of the travel bans and asset freeze is debatable; hence the ECOWAS leaders’ call on “the African Union, the European Union, the United Nations, and other multilateral and bilateral partners to support the implementation of these sanctions.”
A day after the ECOWAS Accra summit, Ghana’s President Nana Akufur-Addo, the summit host and Chair of regional bloc’s Authority of Heads of State and Government led another delegation to Conakry for talks with the junta leaders.
On Mali, the Accra summit reiterated ECOWAS’ “demand for strict adherence to the transition timetable leading to the effective conduct of elections within the non-negotiable deadline of February 2022.” It also called “on the transitional authorities to submit, by the end of October 2021 at the latest, the timetable, for setting out the essential steps to be taken for the February 2022 elections.”
The ECOWAS Authority also decided “to impose targeted sanctions against persons or groups of persons whose actions have a negative impact on the transition timetable, as decided by the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government.”
The sanctions would include a travel ban on such persons and their family members and the freezing of their financial assets. “To this end, the Authority instructs the President of the ECOWAS Commission to compile and submit a list of such persons and groups of persons.” In an apparent reference to the controversy over external military support to the Mali government, the ECOWAS “Authority strongly condemns the decision of the transitional authorities to hire private security companies in Mali,” warning about its consequences on the security situation in Mali and the region. But the Bamako regime says Mali as a sovereign nation should decide its military partners.
The ECOWAS Authority, meanwhile, “reaffirms that the consolidation of democracy and good governance is crucial for the development, peace and stability of the region. Consequently, it instructs the President of the Commission to initiate the process for the review of the 2001 regional Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
But how did the region get to this sorry state of apparent democratic regression in the past decade? Partly to blame are the glaring leadership deficit at national and regional levels; limited interventions by civil society organizations and the docility or acquiesce of the electorate, who cheer the political leaders, even when the latter violate national constitutions, instead of demanding accountability from them. The result is that the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) risk losing relevance and the people’s trust.
For instance, on Friday, the motorcade of the Akufor-Addo-led ECOWAS delegation to Conakry was heckled by angry Guineans with some of them shouting: “CEDEAO (ECOWAS) Zero,” and with placards saying: “Guinea will decide,” in response to ECOWAS’ insistence that elections be held within six months for return to civilian rule. Also in Bamako, some Malian protesters have voiced support for extension of the ongoing transition programme, against ECOWAS’ position that the February 2022 deadline for presidential election is non-negotiable.
The better reality is the worrying disconnect between the political class and the people in many African countries today.
Malians and Guineans seem to be asking those now condemning military coups, what they did when President Conde illegally changed the national constitution or when his counterpart in Mali muzzled opposition, with security forces using weapons acquired for anti-terrorism campaign to kill protesters demanding good governance.
Also, the ritual of rushing political transitions to civilian rule after military putsches has not provided the desired solution. Any genuine attempt at addressing the governance challenges in these countries must involve concrete political and institutional reforms for democracy to take root and thrive.
The question is not so much about a lack of legal instruments, but the character, orientation and quality of leadership at national and regional levels. We recall that not long ago, Nelson Mandela, after serving 27 years in the Apartheid jail in South Africa, only served one term as president in spite of the constitutional provision that allowed him more than one term.
ECOWAS has more than enough legal instruments to deal with the unconstitutional behaviours of the political class, what is lacking is the application. For instance, Article 1b and c of the ECOWAS 2001 Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, which the organization relies on to condemn or sanction military coups state as follows:
- b) Every accession to power must be made through free, fair and transparent elections.
- c) Zero tolerance for power obtained or maintained by unconstitutional means.
Political leaders, who carry out ‘political coups,’ by altering national constitutions or who rig elections to obtain or retain power, ought to be sanctioned under provisions of this same Protocol.
Regarding the national sovereignty argument, all 15 ECOWAS member States, having signed up to the organization’s Constitutive Treaty and other instruments, have subjugated themselves to the principle of Supranationalism – the idea or practice of separate national governments coming together to form institutions and/or create policies that have authority or jurisdiction over the member nations.
In 2009, ECOWAS applied the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance to reject then Niger President Mamadou Tandja’s move to dissolve parliament for an unlimited term limit before the military toppled him. Similarly, ECOWAS, in 2011, refused to observe flawed elections organized in the Gambia by later-deposed President Yahya Jammeh. The ECOWAS Commission cited “lack of enabling democratic environment” for its decision.
These are the type of principled tough decisions expected from the AU and RECs to serve as deterrents against abuse of power by politicians.
Granted, the military has no business in political governance, but the political class must also not provide soldiers with the excuse to derail democracy. Therefore, the three arms of government – legislature, executive and the judiciary – must work with the civil society, non-state actors, the media and the electorate themselves, to arrest the worrisome democratic slide on the continent.
Merely condemning military coups while ignoring or endorsing “political/constitutional coups;” rigging of elections, blatant violation of citizens’ rights, widespread corruption, nepotism, oppression, and incessant clamp down on the opposition, is not only undemocratic but constitutes an affront to democratic principles, and therefore, an open invitation to anarchy and instability.
*Paul Ejime, an Author and former Diplomatic/War Correspondent, is a Consultant on Communications, Media, Elections and International Affairs.
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