ECOWAS WHITHER DIRECTING YOUR COURSE?

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By: Winstanley. R. Bankole. Johnson

The military putsch of 27th July in Niger inflamed democratic passions globally, but more severely within the sub-region and Western democracies. But I suppose that – in addition to their penchant for meaningless ultimata without meaningful deadlines in the event of a failure of compliance – was where their similarities ended. Observe the variances in their separate rhetoric (purportedly in good faith) to restore democratic normalcy.

Dissimilarities

Western democracies have varied strategic and economic interests in Africa under focus. In Niger it is two-fold: (1).To preserve and protect the supply chain and access to the second largest Uranium deposits in the world and (2). A political presence, with up to 27th July Niger being the last bastion of Western influence in the entire Sahel region. So the Westerners being more ingrained in matters of peace building, safeguards for national cohesion coupled with proven antecedents for good governance, respect for human rights, the rule of law and the privileges attendant upon them for their citizens, were tactful to urge for restraints and the unconditional release of 63-yers old President Mohammed Bazoum.

The ECOWAS and AU states leaders on the other hand – empirically lacking in all of those accolades I have lavished on Western democracies, and in whom total disrespect and disregard for their citizens welfare are normal, rather disingenuously opted for belligerence by requesting the plotters to desist from their “treasonable acts”, and to hand power back to the constitutionally elected government. That was enough of a disincentive to strengthen the Junta’s resolve not to budge, because no African Head of State would substitute the gallows with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist for the ring leaders among those who attempted to usurp power from them by force in the name of reconciliation. 

Such glaring dissimilarities between the ECOWAS/AU and Western government approach to rapprochement should be a steep learning curve for the former. The result of which will mean that after expiry of their 15 days ultimatum – and this is based on past experiences – the less politically matured AU and ECOWAS block will (not unexpectedly) run out of ideas, except for their occasional facts finding forays in between ECOWAS Headquarters in Abuja and “Ground Zero” in Niamey for the next three or four years leaving the junta leaders remain properly ensconced in power. Contrast the ECOWAS/EU approach with that of the more politically savvy Western democracies who, to avoid such a lame duck situation were careful enough to have only couched their own rhetoric with threats of unspecified sanctions, but without committing themselves to implementation deadlines.

Suspicions

As we anxiously await the outcomes of both approaches in the coming weeks (or months and possibly years) and either of which is likely to impact the citizens more adversely than the junta, questions have begun to be asked why – in the interest of peace – the same flexibility accorded to the Juntas in Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea wasn’t now being extended to General Abdurahmane Tchiani of Niger, that  would also enable him to enjoy the sweets of power for another three (3) years minimum, before handing over power to a democratic civilian regime based on the same democratic principles for which he overthrew Bazoum? These questions have deepened suspicions that the condemnations so far by the West are more in the interest of using the ECOWAS/AU to protect their continued exploitation of mineral resources in Niger– particularly by France – than in the safeguarding of the welfare, human and democratic values of the average Nigerien.

It is such suspicions that have elicited a joint statement of condemnation (by Burkina Faso and Mali to be precise), against anyone threatening the military junta in Niger with external military interventions, and committing their national security forces’ tacit support to join Nigerien forces in robustly defending same should that happen. A part of that joint statement to which Col. Mamadu Dumbuya the military leader of Guinea has also subscribed to reads: “The transitional government of Burkina Faso and Mali are deeply indignant and surprised ……..about the adventurous attitude of certain leaders in West Africa wishing to use force to restore constitutional order in a sovereign nation……….and on the other hand the inaction, indifference and passive complicity of these organizations and political leaders in helping states and peoples who have been victims of terrorism for a decade and left to their fate…………The transitional governments stand ready and mobilized in order to lend a hand to the people of Niger in these dark hours of Pan-Africanism”  

If that adage: “What is good for the Goose should also be good for the Gander” holds true, then that statement of solidarity to me sounded the death knell for any expectation of a restoration of Mohammed Bazoum back to power.  Meaning further that after a lull exceeding fifteen years, politics within the West African sub-region is looking like a “back to square-one” scenario of periodic interchanges between civilian and military governments – unless the ECOWAS/AU quickly clarify and re-direct their course and start focusing on the root causes for Coups than on the event itself.  Out of sixteen states within the ECOWAS sub-region, four are now under sober Junta rule (Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Niger) whist the political leadership in another two – Sierra Leone and Nigeria – are plodding on with inarguably stolen governance mandates. In the event the volatility of the west African sub-region cannot be understated, leaving the very big brother Nigeria as the next most likely candidate for an insurrection.

Traits

Given African leaders’ new found hope for quick economic bailouts and recovery in Russia, Turkey and China – this trend is unlikely to change for as long as we continue to have leaders who once in power soon begin to manifest traits akin to the characteristics of the traditional Chieftaincy background from which most of them emerged such as:

  1. Insatiable thirsts for power through a manipulation of the National Constitution to extend their tenures interminably
  2. Total disrespect and disregard for the entrenched rights and freedoms of their citizens as guaranteed by their Constitutions – particularly the rights and freedoms of expression, association and unfettered accesses to justice and the Rule of Law – through a manifestation of the Pa-O-Pa mentality and systemic “tribalization and polarization” of the entire national political and administrative fabric within Government Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs)
  3. Consistent manipulation of MDAs  – particularly the Security Sector, the Judiciary, the Electoral Commission (EC) and Political Parties Regulations Authorities (PPRA) to bring them under State Capture and ensure they only do the bidding of rigging electoral outcomes in favour incumbent Heads of States – no matter how unpopular – through announcements of a fraction of globally discredited elections results.
  4. Palpable disregard for the welfare of the majority of their citizens even where more than three-quarters of the population continue to wallow in poverty and squalor on account of gross mismanagement of their natural resources. For example at the time of executing the Coup in Niger and against a backdrop of that country’s huge and untapped Uranium mineral resources, World Bank indicators point to three million of Nigeriens desperately needing emergency food rations with another four million feeling shelter insecurity. 
  5. Raise parallel security brigades under an acronym of “Elite Presidential Guards”, whose only track record for bravery is evidenced not from war fronts, but by a brutalization of peaceful and unarmed civilians, mainly the leaders and office structures of opposition parties.

Rather interestingly as was evident in neighbouring Guinea (twice), Mali, Burkina Faso – and even dating back to the olden days of Haile Selassie, Mobutu Sesse-Seko, Laurent Kabila, Sylvanus Olympio, Muamarr Ghaddafi etc  the actual ring leaders of all military coups within the African continent have always been members of those same “Elite Presidential Guards”.

As President George Opong Weah of neighbouring Liberia aptly puts it (paraphrased): “As long as ECOWAS (AU?) tolerates institutional coups that allow lifetime presidencies or a manipulation of the electoral systems to favour such perpetuities, there will always be military coups in Africa. And we cannot be condemning military coups when we fail to condemn those who carry out institutional coups”.

And I support George Opong Weah’s conclusions that the ECOWAS/AU have to start working more for the interests of the peoples than in promoting the peace-broker ideals of those organizations.  For the ECOWAS/AU to start redirecting their course at the basis for coups than on the event of coups taking place it because as at now it is not really clear in whose interests the ECOWAS/AU are working. Perhaps a starting point would be for the ECOWAS/AU to consider whether an Independent African Elections Supervision Authority should not be created to be conducting elections throughout the sub-region so as to give credibility and meaning to the term of “a level playing field” for all intending candidates, and to avoid the kind of stalemate Sierra Leone and Nigeria are currently experiencing.

For now (and particularly from recent experiences in Sierra Leone) it is looking both unrealistic and impossible for future elections within the sub-region to be ever conducted on “a level playing field” under an incumbent President that wields absolute constitutional control over a Judiciary, an Electoral Commission, a Security Sector and a Political Parties Management Authority – and all of whose heads were appointed by him.   That undeniably, is a clear recipe for chaos.

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