ECOWAS: Time to defend democracy in sub-region, help turbulent Mali

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Although the ECOWAS leaders are expecting the Malian crisis to be resolved soon in view of its perceived consequences to the peace and stability in the sub-region, but some analysts believe that any form of imposition against the wishes of the people may not yield the desired result.

By Goddy Ikeh

FOR many citizens of the member countries of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, the just concluded 57th ECOWAS Summit in Niamey, Niger on Monday, September 7, 2020 was to discuss the crisis in turbulent Mali. But the meeting had among others elected President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana as the new Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the sub-region body.

Other significant deliberations at the meeting included the appeal by President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria to the ECOWAS leaders not to elongate their tenure in office beyond the constitutional limits.

In his General Statement at the meeting, the Nigerian leader urged his colleagues to respect constitutional provisions and ensure free and fair elections. “It is important that as leaders of our individual Member-States of ECOWAS, we need to adhere to the constitutional provisions of our countries, particularly on term limits.

“This is one area that generates crisis and political tension in our sub-region. “As it is, the challenges facing the sub-region are enormous; from socio-economic matters to security issues, the ECOWAS sub-region cannot therefore afford another political crisis, in the guise of tenure elongation.

“I urge us all to resist the temptation of seeking to perpetuate ourselves in power beyond the constitutional provisions. “I commend those in our midst that have resisted such temptations, for they will be deemed exceptional role models in their respective countries and the sub-region as a whole.

“Related to this call for restraint is the need to guarantee free, fair and credible elections. This must be the bedrock for democracy to be sustained in our sub-region, just as the need for adherence to the rule of law,” Graba Shehu, the presidential spokesman quoted Buhari as saying in a statement after the meeting.

On the political situation in Mali, Buhari described it as serious concern to ECOWAS and commended President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger Republic and out-going Chair of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government and the Leadership of the ECOWAS Commission, as well as the Chief Mediator, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, “for effectively demonstrating commitment in handling the political situation in that country.”

“Nigeria remains resolutely committed to ECOWAS decision for a civilian-led Transition Government not exceeding 12 months.

“This is important because of the circumstances surrounding Mali where violent non-state actors and other negative tendencies reside and who can take advantage of the unstable political situation to overrun the country, thereby plunging it into greater danger that will affect the political stability of the whole sub-region.

“While Nigeria understands the current political realities in Mali, the sub-region’s commitment to the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, must never be compromised.

“An early return to democratic governance which is transparent and civilian-led, will commend itself for Nigeria’s support for progressive relaxation of sanctions against Mali,” Buhari said.

On security in the sub-region, the Nigerian leader noted that terrorism had continued to be the greatest security threat in the sub-region, complicating other national security challenges.

Buhari, therefore, stressed the need for the sub-region to collaborate more by working hand in hand with each other, to combat the root causes of the different security-related manifestations in their respective countries.

“Nigeria is concerned with the rapidity at which terrorist groups in the Sahel and West Africa are working together against all of us.

“We must urgently review these ugly developments to guarantee the safety and survival of our sub-region.

“Our national security apparatus and the relevant Units of ECOWAS must urgently be seized with these unfolding events across our sub-region and act decisively on the emergence of early warning signs,” he said.

While dwelling on the long-standing single currency issue for the sub-region, the Nigerian President said: “Nigeria remains committed to the implementation of the action plan towards the actualization of the monetary union and single currency programme of ECOWAS.’’

He called on member states to show support to the resolution of the Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS on this matter.

The Nigerian President said the member states should remain collectively focused and resolute in working to achieve the objectives of the ECOWAS monetary union as a project for the sub-region.

“Cognisanst of the likelihood that many ECOWAS member states may not meet the convergence criteria over the next few years due to the impact of COVID-19 on our economies and which as a consequence, will affect the take-off date of the single currency.

“Notwithstanding this envisaged delay, we must remain collectively focused and resolute in working to achieve the objectives of the ECOWAS monetary union as a project for the sub-region,” he added. 

While insisting that the premature adoption of the “ECO” has unnecessarily heightened disaffection and mistrust among members of the emerging monetary union, Buhari encouraged “UEMOA (French acronym for the West African Economic and Monetary Union) to return to the road-map on the common currency in the sub-region”.

He also urged all stakeholders to “bear in mind that those economic convergence criteria must be based on sound and sustainable macroeconomic fundamentals.”

He noted that some key unresolved issues still remained such as delinking the CFA franc of the UEMOA from the Euro; whether the UEMOA countries join as a bloc or individual countries; design of the exchange rate mechanism; Stabilization Fund; policy harmonization and exit strategy and reserve pooling among others,

The Nigerian leader called on his colleagues to provide “African solutions to African problems” and that foreign interference and the so-called advice may not be in the best sub-regional interest.

He stressed the need for “UEMOA to return to the agreed road-map of the ECOWAS Single Currency by complying with the established framework under the road-map and cooperate with other member countries in achieving the objectives of the programme.”

Speaking on the complex Covid-19 pandemic plaguing the world as well as the sub-region, Buhari said: “Like the rest of the world, our sub-region is witnessing economic downturn with negative growth that is headed towards deep recession and the outlook continues to be uncertain.”

He therefore charged his colleagues to continue to work in concert with each other on several fronts to ease the negative effects of the pandemic.

“We need to demonstrate our collective resolve to harness the opportunities that come with COVID-19, despite its overwhelming negative impact on lives and livelihoods,” he said.

The Nigerian President, who is the ECOWAS Champion charged with mobilising and coordinating the efforts against the pandemic, admitted that the “outlook for our sub-region with COVID-19 hovering over us is gloomy indeed”.

He, however, expressed confidence that “where there are challenges, opportunities are also available to be seized upon through greater collaboration with each other.”

“We must pool our resources together in unity to save our generation and generations to come from multiple challenges, including COVID-19 and related health issues.

“We need to redouble our efforts in preparing our national economies to withstand impending shocks against prospective multi-sector challenges that await us in the sub-region,” he declared.

Certainly, the general statement of the Nigerian leader has clearly x-rayed the challenges facing the sub-regional body, which should be the immediate concerns of the Ghanaian President as he assumes the Chair of ECOWAS. 

Already, some political analysts see the task of the new Chair of ECOWAS as herculean in view of the numerous challenges facing the body. According to Paul Ejime, media and communications strategist, the new Chair of ECOWAS “has his job cut out for him”.

Ejime said in an interview with PlusTV on Tuesday, September 8 that some of the challenges facing the new chair of ECOWAS included the crisis in Mali and Guinea as well as the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger, Burkina Faso, the ECOWAS Single Currency issue, insecurity in the sub-region and the frosty relations between Ghana and Nigeria.

Although some of these issues were articulated in the general statement of President Buhiri, Ejime frowned at the practice of electing a president who has a reelection project in a few months to chair the body. He, however, believes that despite the distraction from his reelection bid, President Akufo- Addo may still be able to tackle these challenges and “quench the fire in Mali” with the cooperation and support of the other ECOWAS leaders.

“ECOWAS is in dire need of leadership. They need to work with their early warning signals and listen to what the people are saying, just like the case in Mali,” Ejime said. He also suggested the adoption of the “carrot and stick” approach for the Malian case since sanctions may not necessarily solve the problem.

Commenting on the fact that the new chair of ECOWAS has barely four months to the end of his first term as president of Ghana, Ejime noted that the office is for the member country and if Akufo-Addo fails in his reelection bid, the former Ghanaian President John Mahama will assume the position and in that case, ECOWAS will benefit from Mahama’s rich diplomatic experiences in regional politics and development.

However, in spite of these enormous challenges facing the Ghanaian leader, it was not surprising that his political party in Ghana, the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) was quick to congratulate President Akufo-Addo on his election. The party in a statement, said that the election was a “testament of the great leadership acumen he has amply demonstrated over the years, particularly in this period of global health crisis occasioned by the Covid-19 outbreak which has shuttered the world economy and destroyed livelihoods.”  

Although the election of President Akufo-Addo as the new Chair of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government may likely improve his chances at his reelection bid at home, but for sure, the ECOWAS Community will be disappointed if he fails to tackle and resolve the enormous challenges facing it at this critical stage of its development.

– Sept. 13, 2020 @ 15:05 GMT |

 

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