Democracy and regional co-operation in West Africa are losing ground


In Africa, regional organisations undertake important tasks in the economic field. They lead developments such as the removal of barriers to trade between member countries, financial cooperation, free movement of capital and labour. Democratic principles such as the protection of constitutional orders and free elections are also among the priorities of regional organisations. In the event of a coup d’état or an armed attack, there are also experiences of members of the organisation mobilising troops, establishing legitimacy or repelling the attack. The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), headquartered in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, has been unable to solve the problems it has been facing for the last 2-3 years and has been losing credibility. In addition to this situation, the political turmoil that started with the postponement of the elections that were supposed to be held on 25 February in Senegal, which is considered to be the model country of democracy in West Africa, proves that West Africa, which has been shaken by coups, has stumbled in the race for democracy.

Postponement of elections in Senegal leads to crisis

Let’s start with Senegal: Senegal stands out as the only country in this part of Africa, which has been subjected to the most military coups, where the army has not seized power. It is repeated on every occasion that this country is the most advanced democracy in the region. At a time when the number of coup d’état regimes is increasing and ECOWAS is finding it very difficult to cope with juntas, the stumbling of Senegal’s democracy has been a truly unfortunate development.

President Macky Sall, who successfully governed the country for two terms, announced that he would not run for another term, and while the elections were expected to be held on 25 February, the veteran leader postponed the elections to December in early February, a few days before the start of the 3-week campaign period, in line with a controversial decision taken in the parliament, which stirred the country and led to widespread protests. Macky Sall argued that if the elections were held in the current environment, political chaos would prevail in the country and that the elections to be held in a peaceful environment after the elimination of the social and political tensions would eliminate the danger of political instability. For this purpose, he held “National Dialogue” meetings, enacted a political amnesty law and postponed the election date to 2 June in order to reduce the reactions against the 10-month postponement decision.

The Constitutional Council showed Macky Sall a red card

The government’s “peaceful election initiative” did not find favour with the public and the opposition, and the Constitutional Council overturned the Parliament’s postponement decision on the grounds that both the postponement and the current president’s remaining in office after 2 April were unconstitutional. Finally, the “election date puzzle” was solved after 6 weeks of confusion, the executive and the supreme judiciary reached an agreement on 24 March and the 2-week “fast campaign” period started.

The political crisis has worn out politics and damaged the country

I still do not fully understand what lies behind Macky Sall’s dubious attempt to postpone the elections: This exercise would not have been necessary if the candidate of the ruling coalition, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, had a strong chance of winning the elections. One wonders whether the rejection of the candidature of Karim Vad, the candidate of the Senegalese Party for Democracy (PDS), the son of former president Abdelou Vad, who has recently mended fences with Macky Sall and has been pardoned, on the grounds of his French nationality, could have been the reason. On the other hand, could it be that the corrupt political elites feared that Basiru Diomay Faye, the candidate of the party of Osman Sonko (PASTEC), a popular opposition convict who opposes the established order in Senegal, could win the elections? In any case, Karim Vad will not be able to participate in the elections as the Constitutional Council has not approved the modification of the previous final list of candidates, which consisted of 19 candidates. If Basiru Diomey Faye, who is expected to be released thanks to the recent amnesty law, is able to lead his party’s electoral campaign, Macky Sall’s pointless postponement exercise will have played into the hands of the feared political party PASTEC. As the 24 March elections are likely to be a surprise, let us emphasise our hope that the elections will not lead to chaos and instability. It is not difficult to guess that the negative effects of shaking the 60-year strong democratic tradition, of which the Senegalese electorate is proud, due to the controversial 2024 March elections will not remain within the borders of this country. No one should be in any doubt about the serious damage it will cause to the region.

Regional organisation ECOWAS’ reputation in decline

ECOWAS, the prestigious regional organisation of West Africa, has been losing power and blood for the last 2-3 years. While this organisation was talking about bright projects such as the transition to a common currency (ECHO) in the region, the declaration of withdrawal from the organisation by three coupist countries in late 2023 meant that alarm bells were ringing for ECOWAS. Since 2020, as a result of the coups first in Mali, then in Guinea (Conakry) and Burkina Faso, and finally in Niger in the summer of 2023, the organisation suspended the membership of the coup countries, imposed economic sanctions against them and even threatened military intervention. In the face of these pressures, the three coup countries gained public support by claiming that the regional organisation had resorted to pressure and threats under the influence of France and the West and that ECOWAS was to blame for the economic difficulties they were facing, and then announced their departure from the regional organisation by forming a security alliance (Alliance des états du Sahel) in September 2023. The ECOWAS administration is still pretending that it has not heard of the decision of the three putschist governments to leave the organisation and is trying to reverse the decisions through secret diplomacy. The lifting of sanctions on Niger in recent weeks is a new step in this direction. In other words, conditions have changed in favour of the coup plotters, who have gained popular support over time, and it has become imperative to adopt compromising policies in order to bring the three countries back into the organisation, which did not even comply with the election timetable they had committed to. In Senegal, which was in favour of a tough stance against the putschists, it is clear that the political crisis that emerged with the postponement of the elections also helped developments in this direction.

Colonel Asimi Goita twisted the ankle of ECOWAS

The main actor in the arm-wrestling with ECOWAS is Mali’s putschist leader, Asimi Goita. Since 2012, Mali has been subjected to jihadist and separatist (Tuareg) attacks, and the soldiers who took over in 2020 blamed the French troops (Barkhane), the United Nations Peacekeeping Force (MINUSMA) and the G5-SAHEL forces for the lack of security throughout the country over the years and expelled all foreign forces from the country (end of 2023). In the struggle, Colonel Asimi Goita, who had drawn both the street and his two putschist neighbours to his side, strengthened his hand by filling the vacuum left by the Western troops with the Russian Wagner forces, which did not give him any headaches. Then, with the announcement that he and his two neighbours and allies had left ECOWAS, he consolidated his dominance and got rid of all the chains that constituted an obstacle.

Freed from the shackles, the junta had to ensure security in Mali.

We see and observe that Mali has not collapsed with the departure of Western military forces. The capture of Kidal with the help of the Russian Wagner (15 November 2023) is a success for Russia at the expense of the West. It should be noted that Russia’s assistance to Mali will be limited to the military sphere and that Russian support in the economic and social sphere will not be possible. Mali has been ruled by the military for more than three years, and the success of the unelected but popular junta in the fight against local jihadist groups (al-Qaeda’s GNIM and Daesh’s ISGS) in 2024 will determine the fate of Colonel Asimi Goita. At present, in West Africa, we are sadly watching the rise of junta regimes and Wagner on the one hand, and the decline of the western world, democratic values, the regional organisation ECOWAS and the symbol of democracy, Senegal, on the other.

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