Maintaining Political Stability in West Africa: Has the ECOWAS Parliament Fulfilled Its Mandate?


President Akufo-Addo (middle) interacting with Mr. Alexander Afenyo-Markin (2nd from right), Member of Parliament for Effutu, during the opening session of the extraordinary session of the ECOWAS Parliament. With them is Dr Sidie Mohamed Tunis, President of the ECOWAS Parliament

The extraordinary session of the ECOWAS Parliament opened in Winneba, Ghana earlier this month, with a focus on how lawmakers in member states will examine the issues surrounding electoral practices and the growing attempts by leaders to avoid overtaking current presidents.

The focus was very critical as it enabled the 115 parliamentarians (deputies) of the regional bloc to assess the electoral system in the member states in order to identify the challenges facing the peaceful conduct of the elections and to make proposals for possible solutions to the various shortcomings observed in the conduct of the polls.

However, it is expected that any failure by the bloc’s lawmakers to come up with proven solutions to the challenges facing democratic governance could result in ECOWAS being seen as a set of failed states, even if since 2017, 14 of the 15 Member States had remained democratic.

Instability triggers

Today, the regional body’s reputation for upholding democratic standards faces a serious crisis as a growing number of West African leaders begin to engage in what the President of the ECOWAS Parliament , Dr Sidie Mohammed Tunis, described as the “phenomenon of amending the constitution” or rules to consolidate power and resist resignation at the end of their term.

We have had a few examples in the recent past which have continually threatened to erode democratic gains in the region.

For example, on September 5, 2021, the Guinean army, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, overthrew the country’s president, 82-year-old Alpha Condé, accused of having advanced a constitutional referendum to extend for five years. the duration of the presidential mandate. at six.

The fear was that Mr. Condé would use this amendment as a pretext to justify a candidacy for a third term, without taking into account the repeated calls from citizens and civil society organizations to stop such a process.

In Togo’s 2020 presidential elections, President Faure Gnassingbé claimed a first-round victory and a fourth term, despite widespread popular discontent that sparked massive protests over the previous two years.

Similarly, in 2016, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh refused to step down after losing the December 2016 elections, while in Côte d’Ivoire the country was plunged into crisis when the former President, Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, refused to surrender. power after losing the October 2010 elections to Mr. Alassane Ouattara.

In September 2015, ECOWAS sent a high-level delegation to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, after military leaders loyal to ousted President Blaise Compaoré staged a coup against a transitional civilian government. This mediation led the putschists to withdraw, allowing the resumption of the democratic process.

Again in 2009, ECOWAS refused to recognize the legitimacy of Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja after his second term expired, although Tandja held a contested referendum and election in favor of a third term.

Is the block inactive?

In almost every one of these political upheavals, ECOWAS has been widely accused of standing idly by as established democratic processes are left to the hounds. The bloc’s inaction is widely blamed for allowing these political instabilities to occur despite the bloc having adopted what it described as the revolutionary 2001 protocol on democracy and good governance.

This protocol enshrines democratic norms as the norm for the region and defines the collective responsibilities of regional members to maintain democratic processes when they are under attack.

It is against all these past triggers of political instability and insecurity in the region that the appeal of the President of the ECOWAS Parliament, Dr Sidie Mohammed Tunis, during the high-level parliamentary seminar in Winneba, Ghana, for that the legislative body of the bloc pays serious attention to the new phenomenon of amending the constitution before an election or before the expiration of the term of an incumbent president is welcome.

The four-day seminar organized on the theme “Two Decades of Democratic Elections in ECOWAS Member States: Achievements, Challenges and Way Forward”, enabled 115 members of the Non-Legislative Assembly to take stock of the systems. elections in the Member States. , identify the challenges and put forward proposals for possible solutions to the various shortcomings observed in the organization of elections and other threats to democracy in the region.

Now is the time for more severe punishment

To be sure, while the leaders of the bloc had often imposed sanctions on some authoritarian leaders, including their suspension from the bloc, the practice of amending the constitution to further their cause continues today, undermining constitutional democracy in the region.

In Dr Tunis’s opinion, the practice has eroded the gains made as a community, plunging the region into even greater chaos and creating a serious risk to the reputation of ECOWAS as an institution.

It is for this reason that members of the ECOWAS Parliament must support his call that “it has become necessary to move beyond statements which simply condemn these actions and to consider imposing harsher sentences on the victims. potential authors ”.

“If we do not take firm and very decisive action against this ugly trend, ECOWAS will not only be seen as a collection of failed states but will indeed fail,” he warned.

Election of deputies

Given the important role an elected parliament plays in facilitating citizen participation in regional governance, which is essential to address some of the challenges facing democratic governance in the region, many believe that it is time for representatives to participate. of ECOWAS are elected by the people rather than against the practice of national assemblies of member states appointing deputies to ECOWAS, which was established under Articles 6 and 13 of the 1993 Revised ECOWAS Treaty.

The election of deputies by direct universal suffrage should allow citizens of member states to directly elect those who are to represent them in the bloc’s parliament in order to promote governance in the region.

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