Following the quintile coup d’ etat in the Niger last month, the New York Times has this week, described West Africa as the ‘coup belt’ of the world.

But are they right in their justification of West Africa in such a pejorative language? Whilst Pan-Africanists may be right in positioning the description in the general issue of the West’s disregard for Africa, it is important to recognize that such a description is not without basis.

The last two years have seen the sub-region record not less than six coup d’ etats – two in Mali, one in Guinea, two in Burkina Faso and one in Niger. The situation in Chad and Sudan although not West African countries, is not different as they are both under undemocratic regimes.

Thus, a look at the political map of Africa shows that the continent has been split into two with countries under military regimes from Sudan to Mali to Niger to Burkina Faso and Chad taking the central position.

Since 1963 when West Africa had her first coup d’ etat in Togo led by Sgts Bodjolle and Eyadema which assassinated President Sylvanus Olympio, coups have become normal part of the African political trajectory until the early 90’s when coups were averted and there was general embrace of democracy in West Africa.

There was glimmer of hope and expectation that the democratic culture and ethos will finally take hold of the sub-region and the sub-region will finally shed off its inglorious past.

The past three years, have, however, proved unpredictable for the sub-region as there have been quick returns to undemocratic regimes through nearly half a dozen of coups. Coup d’ etats in whatever form are condemnable and so must not be glorified in any way.

But condemnable as they are, we ought to dissect the causes of the recent coups in the sub-region vis-à-vis the institutional role of ECOWAS.

First of all, unlike five decades ago when most coups were attributable mainly to economic malaise, mismanagement and corruption of the ousted regime, the coups in recent times are fueled mainly by general insecurity and terrorism in the Liptako-Gourma (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) in particular and the Sahel region in general.

There is also rising dislike for France for the over six decades of over exploitation of the natural resources of these countries, but without corresponding growth in these countries.

Then comes the issues of poverty, squalor and suffering in the midst of abundant natural resources such as gold, uranium, crude oil among others in the sub-region; corruption and mis-governance, election and court manipulations.

The Western led ouster and assassination of the former strongman, Muammar Al-Qathafi in Libya has not only thrown that country into turmoil, but it has also led to proliferation of small arms and the emergence of terrorist groups and cells in the Sahel region as recruitment of fighters into these cells became easier because of the availability of former Libyan fighters and renegade Boko Haram members coupled with general state of poverty, unemployment, bad governance, election rigging and regime perpetuation in the sub-region.

Thus, beginning with the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Sahel region has for the last two decades seen the emergence of multiple terrorist groups including a cell of ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and the little-known Ansar Dine, the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) which operates mainly in Burkina Faso.

A deadlier group is the merged union of former al-Qaeda affiliates and cells now known as Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) and the rebranded version of Boko Haram- Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP).
In the midst of these threats to member countries and the killing of innocent people in the sub-region, the West African economic bloc has not done much beyond condemnation and holding of summits to end or stop the attacks nor the spread of these terrorist acts in the sub-region.

These attacks as posited by some experts constitute genuine existential threats to the survival and stability of the countries.

There are reports of the armies in these countries having been ill-equipped even though they are expected to battle the terrorists in fierce fights to reclaim lost territories from the terrorists or prevent their spread to other parts of the countries or avert planned terrorist actions.

Faced with little or no inaction by democratic regimes and the ECOWAS in clamping down on these attacks, some soldiers perceive coup d’ etas as legitimate means by which they can best fight these groups.

Coupled with these terrorist acts is what appears to be rising civilian embrace of the unconstitutional regimes in the sub-region. Beginning from Mali to Burkina Faso to Niger, there appears to be civilian acceptance and embrace of these coups as residents in these countries are growing weary of bad governance, poverty, neo-colonialism and rising imperialism, ethnicism, unemployment and suffering.

They thus see the soldiers as their saviours despite the soldiers not having the magic wand that can change the fortunes of these countries.

Also responsible for the rising undemocratic regimes in the sub-region is the attempts by some ‘democratic regimes’ to prolong their stay in power to the chagrin of the citizens of these countries. This is perhaps where ECOWAS is most faulted for its in action.

A 15-member bloc, nearly half a dozen of its current members is either stifling democratic culture in their countries by jailing opposition elements or have prolonged their stay in power. Alassane Ouatarra of Cote d’ Ivoire, Faure Gnassingbe of Togo are examples of such Presidents.

In Senegal and Benin, there are ill-treatment of opposition elements resulting in the jailing of some of them perceived as threats to the establishment.

Then comes the sham elections in Togo, Benin, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Cote d’ Ivoire which the ECOWAS does not appear to care about. A more worrying trend is the phenomenon of ‘independent-in-name-but controlled-in-action’ election management bodies in the sub-region.

From Nigeria through Benin to Togo to Sierra Leone through to Cote d’ Ivoire, citizens and democracy watchers are riled up and up in arms against the election management bodies for the perceived election rigging in favour of ruling parties. This too the ECOWAS shows inaction towards.

A sub-region with a youthful population, there have not been commensurate job creation opportunities to guarantee the future of the human capital base in the subregion. The God-given resources of minerals, crude oil, forest resources and cash crops have not benefitted the masses in the sub-region.

At best, their exploitation only favours the ruling elite or the global north and now China and to some extent Russia whilst the teeming masses of the youth labour in vain for non-existent jobs in the cities.

Faced with these doubts to their future, thousands of youth in the sub-region risk their lives every year to embark on harrowing trips to Europe via the Saharan desert to guarantee their future.

Meanwhile, this threat of joblessness and unemployment coupled with suffering and bad governance are making it possible for the terrorist groups and cells in the sub-region to recruit some of these youth after indoctrinating them.

Against these backdrop, military takeovers are gradually becoming the norm rather than the exception in the sub-region, and so today, besides Cape Verde and Ghana, democracy in the rest of the sub-region is under threat because of constitutional coup d’ etats in many of these countries, but which the ECOWAS appears unable to deal with. But is their action deliberate?

In the view of some experts, it can be said to be deliberate and planned. The very Presidents who are to ensure good governance in their respective countries are the champions of regime extension, manipulation of election management bodies and court processes, arrest and imprisonment of opposition elements under trump up charges, human right abuses and agents of exploitation of the natural resources of their countries so they find it difficult to make the ECOWAS a robust, proactive and well-equipped body that can avert bad governance in the sub-region.
Meanwhile, on the question of whether ECOWAS should intervene or not to intervene in Niger to restore the constitutional order, I hold the view like many more individuals before me that dialogue is the best option notwithstanding the feet dragging and the unwillingness and the un-cooperation of the Nigerien junta.

ECOWAS must try the dialogue and the arbitration options more. Every military intervention has consequences, the most important of which is the aftermath. Libya is the blueprint and reference point. In the event that the ECOWAS intervention ends up restoring the democratic order in Niger, how will that guarantee the stability of the country? Will President Mohamed Bazoum win back the support of the army and the masses of Niger?

In such a scenario, I see him dismissing many generals of the army and reorganizing it with his loyalists and tribesmen which will eventually create a spark in the instability and terrorist acts in Niger and the region besides making governance of the country daunting for him. In that case, dialogue with the junta remains the best option.

Further, any attempt to intervene in Niger will split the bloc into three halfs- Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger as anti-interventionists, another group being the ambivalent ones who are neither for nor against the intervention but who will not publicly express it, and the hardline group led by Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal who are considered the interventionists.

This split in the bloc will further expose the structural weaknesses of the bloc and cause it to lose a lot more goodwill and respect in the eyes of ECOWAS citizens whose efficacy in the bloc is already low. But more dangerously, such intervention as some experts are predicting may reduce Niger and the Liptako-Gourma into a theatre of proxy wars between Wagner of Russia and the global north. This will not augur well for the economies of the sub-region.

Just this Friday, 18th August, Fox News has reported of ongoing mass recruitment of volunteer fighters in Niamey, the capital of Niger, to complement the effort of the regular army in the event of any intervention by the stand-by forces of ECOWAS in that country.

This will further escalate the issue and put the lives and properties of civilians mostly women and children and other vulnerable groups in danger of death and injuries. It will create logistic and food night mares for the already impoverished West African country.

Much as majority of us opt for democracy over any other form of government, can we say with all sincerity that ECOWAS’ intended action is genuine, or it is borne out of fear that some of them may be next in line because of constitutional changes to pave way for third term, manipulation of election management bodies and court processes, corruption, tenure extensions, ethnicism and favoritism and bad governance in general?

In Ghana, the debate is ongoing in the public space, in government and Parliament whether Ghana should as a respected member of the bloc should contribute troops to the ECOWAS’ stand-by force.

As a peace lover, concerned citizen and student of history, I do not think we should join in any such intervention. Since independence, our country has been known for its peaceful orientation and posture.

We are not noted for aggression or violation of territorial integrity of other countries. This explains why we are loved and trusted in the continent and across the world. This explains why we have been peace brokers in many countries including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda.

We cannot afford to lose this goodwill. We are the Mecca of Africa where people seek refuge. There is a reason we have good neighbourliness as a basis of diplomacy and international relations.

Eventually, the nod to solve the Nigerien issue may finally fall on Ghana. We cannot, therefore, do anything to jeorpardise our reputation and global appeal.

This in no way smacks of weakness or cowardice. It does not show acceptance or condoning of military takeovers. Any spark in the situation in Niger and the rest of the Liptako-Gourma region will create refugee and nomadic herdsmen nightmares for Ghana.

It is likely to cause increases in crime rates in areas such as Kasoa which are becoming hideouts for illegal immigrants from the sub-region.

Any sporadic increase in crime will put Accra, Tema and Ashaiman in a difficult situation in addition to the food insecurity it portends for the country because of the dangerous activities of nomadic herdsmen at the countryside and food basket areas of Ghana.

Let us not be misled by the unparallel comparisons with ECOMOG in Libera and Sierra Leone. The events are never the same. There is no guarantee that this intervention will end all forms of attempted or real coups in the sub-region.

At best, it will only cause the soldiers to re-strategise in future coup plots by building international alliances ahead of coup attempts so that in the event of counter action by ECOWAS or AU, the junta can leverage the alliances with such friendly countries to fight back.

May the spirit of Kofi Annan, John Evans Attah Mills and many more peace ambassadors of our country guide us.

May we be guided by the posture of the National Chief Imam and the Christian associations that are calling for restraints.
Going forward, ECOWAS must have no sacred cows in its fold. It must adopt strict adherence to two-term limits, intolerance for election rigging and manipulation, micro-management and manipulation of election management bodies, and ‘constitutional hereditaries’ as in Togo where one family – the Gnassingbes- have ruled the country since 1967 till date.

ECOWAS must work to reduce corruption in the member countries, push for industrialization in the sub-region, push for favourable trade terms for the bloc and detach itself from the apron strings of colonial masters and some Asian Tigers which are the major exploiters of the natural resources of these countries. ECOWAS must work towards job creation for the teeming masses of the youth in the sub-region.

It must deal unremorsefully with all forms of constitutional coup d’ etats in member countries and insist on term limits.

The bloc must make concerted efforts in dealing with the scourge in the terrorist threats in the sub-region.

Source: citifmonline