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Ecowas is not “a club of heads of state” or “syndicate des chefs d’etat”

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By Baboucarr Blaise I. Jagne,

Retired international civil servant

Contrary to what some populist-minded pundits claim, ECOWAS is not “ a club of Heads of State”, just because sanctions have been imposed on Mali as a result of the military coups d’état that occurred twice in that country,  within a relatively short space of time. Since then, strenuous efforts have been made by the Authority of Heads of State and Government   of ECOWAS to reason with the Transitional Authorities to come up with a reasonable time frame leading to elections that would restore constitutional rule to the country. Despite the best efforts of ECOWAS and its Mediator, the Transitional Authorities remain recalcitrant and defiant. They are the very ones holding their people hostage, prolonging their suffering. First, they announced that they would remain in power for five years, but when ECOWAS Leaders raised strong objections, they retracted. Shortly after that the military Head of State unilaterally declared a two-year transition, thus putting ECOWAS before a fait accompli. That is simply not serious.  This tongue-in-cheek attitude notwithstanding, the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government should see it as a possible negotiating strategy by the transitional authorities. The proposed 24-month transition might not be cast in stone, and therefore, ECOWAS Leaders could meet them halfway, bearing in mind the proposal already made by the AU PEACE and SECURITY COUNCIL for a transition lasting for sixteen months. Between the 24 months announced by the Malian military ruler and the 16 months proposed by the AU/PSC, a solution acceptable to all parties could be worked out at the next ECOWAS Summit. Could an 18-month long transition be envisaged? This could also constitute a face-saving solution. In any case, it should be possible for ECOWAS Leaders to proceed now with at least a partial lifting of the stringent sanctions in order to give the ordinary people some breathing space. Such a positive move would hopefully serve as an incentive that could encourage the transitional authorities to cooperate fully with the ECOWAS Mediator in their joint efforts to find a lasting solution. It goes without saying that the gradual lifting or softening of sanctions depends entirely on the attitude of the powers that be in Mali. The ball is in their court. Nobody in his right mind would want to see the valiant people of Mali suffer more than they have already gone through and continue to bear the brunt of terrorist attacks and killings, wreaking havoc across the country. This is certainly not the time for populists playing to the gallery. They should instead rally around those making genuine efforts to get the country out of the quandary in which it finds itself. Enough of the massacres and carnage plaguing this great country.

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Once an agreement is reached with ECOWAS on a reasonable time frame aimed at returning the country to constitutional rule, the rest of the international community should provide substantial assistance to Mali in their struggle for survival against these heartless, horrible, heathenish hoodlums, commonly referred to as “ jihadists” or “islamists”.

It is true to state that some members of the international community have been helping Mali in various ways to deal with their predicament, but it should also be recognized that more needs to be done. If a fraction of what is being provided to Ukraine in their own struggle against Russia is given to Mali, it would make a huge difference, and certainly a game-changer in this protracted conflict. {By the way, the use of force by a bigger power to impose its will on a smaller country must never be condoned.} The sad fact is that these terrorists, these monsters, are spreading their toxic tentacles to other parts of West Africa, especially coastal states. The problem affecting Mali is gradually becoming a West African problem. Subsequently, because of geographical proximity, it will also become a European problem. Should the rest of the international community stand idly-by, helplessly and haplessly?

Unfortunately, Mali is not the only country in West Africa under military rule. It is the same in Burkina Faso and Guinea. In Burkina Faso, as in Mali, deadly terrorist attacks are becoming all too frequent. This is why it is important for the said countries to cooperate sincerely with ECOWAS in the common endeavour to return their respective countries to constitutional rule as soon as possible. In that way, they would be contributing constructively to the much-needed conducive atmosphere indispensable for the consolidation of regional integration in West Africa.

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Despite the apparent difficulties to convince the transitional authorities in Mali to cooperate honestly with the ECOWAS Mediator in order to reach an agreement on a reasonable time frame to hold elections, there is still a glimmer of hope that common sense would eventually prevail. In Burkina Faso as well, the proposed duration of thirty-six months for their transition announced by the Transitional Authorities does not go down well with ECOWAS, and rightly so. All hope is not lost, however, following the appointment of the former President of Niger as Mediator.

Likewise in Guinea, the duration of the transition announced by the Transitional Authorities should equally be reviewed. Nonetheless, the channels of communication with ECOWAS should remain open. In this regard, as in the case of Mali and Burkina Faso, ECOWAS should appoint a Mediator not below the rank of former Head of State. That would be in order. It would have the added advantage of giving fresh impetus to the negotiations with the Guinean Authorities.

AU on unconstitutional change of government

As far as we know, the AU is the only Continental Organization that has taken a Decision on the Unconstitutional Changes of Government. It had also adopted a Charter on Democracy, Good Governance, and Elections. Similarly, ECOWAS had also adopted a Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.

For now, it would appear, however, that efforts to adopt an Additional Protocol on Presidential Term Limit are frustrated by a few countries. Fiddling or tampering with constitutions to cling to power causes conflicts and unrest. As for those leaders who dream of dying in power they might as well opt for a Parliamentary System in which there are no term limits. If and when they win elections, they become Executive Prime Ministers. The post of President becomes purely ceremonial. In any case, power is not concentrated in the hands of one person. Those who resist term limits and want to remain as Presidents-for-life have a strange concept of power. Worst still, those who insist on clinging to power by all means possible fail to understand that power itself is like a potent beverage that must be taken in measured doses. Instead of sipping it, they drink it at one go! They gulp it down. This is how they get drunk with power. They surround themselves with sycophants, charlatans, and courtiers.

Efforts to agree on term limits should be pursued vigorously.  It is gratifying to note that ECOWAS is the most dynamic among the existing RECS, by all accounts. Great strides have been made to achieve regional integration. If these gains are to be consolidated, however, a conducive atmosphere is needed, leading to the advent of a common currency, and a market of almost 400 million people. It is not by clinging to power by all means possible that the requisite conducive atmosphere would be created in order to achieve the targets set.It is often heard that the next generation belongs to Africa. The REGIONAL ECONOMIC COMMUNITIES have a great role to play in this process for they constitute the building blocks of the much talked about African unity. There is no shadow of doubt that a successful regional integration in West Africa could serve as a shining example for others to emulate in our collective endeavour to make Africa’s Renaissance a reality beyond all expectations. When that happens, the balance of power in our relations with the rest of the world would change, and Africa would be given the respect that it deserves. We would be taken seriously around the globe and a force to be reckoned with. This could well be Africa’s time, Africa’s turn, to take its rightful place in the comity of nations. No more time therefore for afro-pessimism and self-doubt. It is possible for Africa to claim the next generation provided that there is security and stability everywhere, democracy, the rule of law, respect for human and peoples’ rights, good governance, both political and economic. These goals can be achieved if there is enough political will in addition to enlightened leadership, inspirational and visionary, effective and efficient. The syndrome of unlimited term limit in our governance system must be eradicated. ECOWAS should therefore stay the course in its noble efforts to institutionalise presidential term limits to a maximum of two mandates? It must not relent in this endeavour.

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