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The people of Senegal should have gone to polls today!

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By Madi Jobarteh

Sunday, February 25 was a sad day indeed for not only Senegal but also indeed for the West Africa region and thereby for Africa as a whole that the people of Senegal could not go to voting booths to elect their next president.

It is indeed not only a blow to democracy and good governance in Africa but even more miserable is that only one person, Macky Sall has held the people of Senegal hostage for his own selfish interests. The decision by President Macky Sall to postpone the election unilaterally and illegally is a direct insult to the sovereignty of the people of Senegal and a shameful mockery of democracy for which Senegalese people fought so hard to secure for themselves.

For this reason, Sunday was indeed a day of infamy for which all West Africans must feel remorseful as the voice and will of the people are being sacrificed on the altar of greed and selfishness by people in whom citizens bestowed their trust. But as we lament the undemocratic action of President Macky Sall and his collaborators in the Senegalese National Assembly, we cannot fail to also notice the grossly poor leadership demonstrated by the Ecowas Authority of Heads of State, the Ecowas Commission and the Ecowas Parliament combined. The situation in Senegal, not to mention the overall poor political governance in the region, highlights that the urgent need for the overhaul of Ecowas is now to be replaced by a truly relevant, viable and effective sub-regional bloc.

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It is a shame that the very day that Senegalese people were hijacked and denied their voice was the very day Ecowas heads of state were meeting in their first extraordinary session of the year in Abuja. In their communiqué read by the president of the commission Dr Omar Touray, Ecowas once more shamefully decided to only rain praises on Macky Sall thereby betraying the people of Senegal and West Africa. The communiqué is indeed a betrayal of the instruments of the bloc on governance, elections, peace, and human rights hence aiding and abetting bad leadership and encouraging threats to democracy.

The decision of Ecowas to ignore the unconstitutional behaviour of President Macky Sall and rather praise him, and the further re-admission of military-ruled countries only indicates that Ecowas has lost direction, effectiveness, and legitimacy to exist. This failure should be squarely placed in the hands of the Ecowas Commission more than any. This is because the commission is in the position to prevent every and any civilian and military coup that has taken place in the region. Thanks to its instruments and the resources available to it, the commission has the mandate to ensure that member states abide by community instruments, norms, and standards thereby upholding and strengthening democratic governance in West Africa. As the custodian of these instruments, and the key adviser to the authority and the Ecowas Parliament, it is the duty of the commission to monitor West African governments to ensure that they abide by the protocols they signed up to.

ECOWAS Summit

As a regional bloc, it must be noted that member states are at liberty to join or not. When they do join, they ratify instruments that impose obligations on them to uphold and implement. The role of the commission is to monitor, support and guide these states to fulfill their community obligations. Hence Ecowas cannot pride itself by just intervening when unconstitutional actions erupt. Rather, the success and purpose of Ecowas is to ensure that unconstitutional acts, such as military coups or postponement or rejection of elections and sham referendums by incumbents do not happen in the first place. The Ecowas Commission should have been on top of issues in each and every country and strongly engaging sitting governments such that the possibility of unconstitutionality shall be the exception rather than the rule in West Africa. Hence the Ecowas Commission is the primary regional bloc failing West African thereby calling for the overhaul of the entire bloc.

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Heads of state are governed by their constitution which they are required to abide by. But when member states ratify an Ecowas instrument, then it is the duty of the commission to ensure that heads of states and their governments uphold these instruments. For that matter, what is expected of the commission is to actively and effectively confront presidents and governments to respect community instruments and norms. The commission should be seen providing hard-nosed advice and direction to the heads of state to uphold these instruments and norms. Unfortunately, the commission appears to want to appease heads of state, hence providing them with weak and misguided advice to the Authority of Heads of State which only creates the space for unconstitutionality to prevail across the region. 

On a day like Sunday, February 25, all Africans must stand in solidarity with the people of Senegal to demand that President Macky Sall announced a date immediately to hold elections before his term expires on April 2 when he must step down. It is sad that the Ecowas communiqué failed to make this demand on Macky Sall thereby justifying and defending his unconstitutional act.  It must be clear to all West Africans by today that the greatest threats to democracy in the region are their own presidents, parliamentarians in cahoots with the Ecowas Commission.

In solidarity with the people of Senegal and democracy!

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