In Recent times West Africa has come under the spotlight over the subversion of democratic rule with incessant coups, self-serving and undemocratic constitutional amendments initiated to achieve tenure elongation by leaders in some countries of the sub-region.
The dust raised by the September 5 military coup in Guinea is yet to settle and the member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the rest of the world are still trying to figure out what to do with Col Mamady Doumbouya and his men who sacked the civilian government of Alpha Conde and took over power in the bauxite-rich nation. ECOWAS leaders have suspended Guinea from all its bodies and imposed sanctions on the junta leaders but they have remained unperturbed.
Last year, Col. Assimi Goita led his troops to depose the government of Boubakar Keita in Mali and took power in a coup. He has since assumed the position of the interim president of the country and set in motion a transition process that appears not to inspire confidence.
Experts have interrogated the sad incidents of coups not just in West Africa but in the whole continent. One of the reasons adduced for this sad development is that perpetrators of coups sometimes capitalize on the undemocratic behavior and failures of the acclaimed democratic leaders in the sub-region.
For instance, the deposed Conde had last year manipulated the country’s constitution to extend his tenure after he had served the constitutional required two terms in office. This ill-fated ambition was rejected by the opposition and those who came out to protest against this were shot dead on his orders.
In Cote d’ Ivoire, President Allasane Outarra, last year amended his country’s constitution to enable him get tenure elongation after he served out his constitutionally required two- terms in office. The opposition was silenced amid world opinion that did not matter to the Ivorian leader.
These are just few examples of the bugbear of coups and undemocratic constitutional amendments to achieve tenure elongation by some leaders of the sub-region.
This disturbing trend was at the core of discussion by members of the ECOWAS Parliament at the ongoing high-level parliamentary seminar on 20 years of democratic elections in West Africa in Ghana’s coastal city of Winneba.
Speaking on the Theme “Evaluating Two Decades Of Democratic Elections In The ECOWAS Region: Achievements, Challenges And The Way Forward”, Speaker of the Parliament, Sidie Mohammed Tunis, warned that the community risks being perceived as a body of failed states over rising coups, tenure elongations and undemocratic constitutional amendments.
Tunis said that while governments in the region condemn coups, it is important that they give serious attention to the new phenomenon of amending the constitution of a state before an election or before the expiration of the tenure of an incumbent President.
“Amending a constitution to conform to current realities is not in itself a problem. When the proposed amendments to the constitution protect the governing elite at the expense of citizens or will undermine the very nature of constitutional democracy, thereby granting an incumbent undue advantage to extend his mandate, then we have a problem.
“If we do not take firm and very decisive actions against this ugly trend, ECOWAS will not only be perceived as a body of failed States but will indeed fail,” the Speaker warned.
He said further that “Considering the effect these have caused us and the toll they continue to have on the region, it has become necessary that we go beyond statements that merely condemns these actions and consider imposing harsher penalties on would be perpetrators.”
But it is doubtful if the regional bodies can muster stricter measures to avert the aforementioned situation considering apparent weaknesses. These ugly developments are definitely eroding the gains made by the community, sinking the region into more chaos and making the future of democracy uncertain in the region.
An expert in international affairs, Charles Onunaiju, told LEADERSHIP that it is not enough to issue formalistic condemnation and sanctions on coup makers and undemocratic constitutional amendments, leaders must take “more proactive measures to counter coups and constitutional manipulations for tenure elongation”.
He said that poverty and other ills now pervade the sub-region making the people’s confidence to wane even as he stressed the need for more robust democratic engagement characterized by good governance that will make positive impacts in the lives of the people.