(Monrovia – 9 February 2022) The Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Resources Rights and Governance Platform (MRU-CSO Platform) is very alarmed by the increasing threat to the democratic space across West Africa, occasioned by recent military takeovers.
In just under two years from 2020, there have been three military takeovers in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea and two attempted coups in Niger and most recently in Guinea Bissau. These developments are extremely troubling to say the least, and represent a substantial reversal in gains made over the years to install democratic governance in the region.
Following the latest (February 1, 2022) failed coup attempt in Guinea-Bissau, the Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ghanian President Nana Akufo-Addo described the coups as “contagious” and a threat to the entire region.
However, as we join others in condemning these military interventions in the civic space, the MRU-CSO Platform believes ECOWAS should take most of the blame for the new wave of military seizures in the region, which rightly threatens the whole of West Africa.
“We recall the success stories of the regional bloc in ending civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and other places when it was dangerous to do so, but the group has seemingly been reluctant to even speak out when civilian leaders in the region failed to provide basic social services to their people,” says Michel Yoboue, the Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Platform.
For example, Chairman Michel who also heads the Research and Advocacy Group for Extractive Industries (GRPIE) in Cote d’Ivoire, continued, “corruption, bad governance, human rights abuses and constitutional manipulations are some of the vices imposed on the people by some of these West African Political leaders who have essentially been engaged in crucifying the democratic traditions we craved for many years ago.”
The MRU-CSO Platform does not seek to rationalize the intervention of the army, but when citizens are jubilating in the streets and on social media at these military adventures, it’s a demonstration of how frustrating governance has become in the region.
When leaders in the region and the ECOWAS authority are conspicuously silentand fail to act in the face of wanton violations of human rights and the blatant disregard forminimum democratic ethics by political leaders among others,coup makers are emboldened. This could be understood to be a tacit approval.
ECOWAS and AU need to go beyond mere condemnations and take decisive actions before this coup pandemic gets hold of an already shrinking civic space in the whole sub-region.
Alfred Lahai Brownell Sr,Lead Campaigner of Green Advocates International, and a member of the Steering Committee, observes:“ECOWAS ignored the warning signs in Guinea, Mali, Cote d’ Ivoire and Burkina Faso and has gone totally missing in action when the region has faced malignant cascades in governance and “democratic coups. Even though the actions of various insurgent and extremist’sgroups across the region are of an even greater concern,West African governments have failed to heed the warningsagainst countering extremism at the expense of responding to the Climate Crisis, poverty alleviation, youth unemployment, human rights and the environment.”
Alfred who is a Visiting Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School and the Goldman Prize Winner for Africa (2019) added: “When our political leaders employ a national security, terrorism and conflicts lens to respond to these crises in West Africa, especially in the Sahel, without a serious considerationfor human rights-based and climate-focused solutions,youare exacerbating rather than resolving decades of deeply rooted combustible grievances.”
However, the Platform also warned that this wave of militarism in politics should not just be an African problem.The United Nations, Western and big powers have a sharedresponsibility beyond just condemnations and outrage. The west appears to be comfortable when the war on terrorism is taken far away from their territories, so Africa must wake up to the reality that the continent is easily becoming the battle ground to counter terrorism measures while sacrificing human rights and the environment.
We call on ECOWAS to stop undermining itself, go back to the drawing board,act proactively by exercising the authority and powers it is known for to disabuse the minds of these anti-democratic forces bent on destroying our way of life.Sanctions must be smart, swift and targeted only at these junta leaders, their families and cronies including their corporate sponsors, not the people who are already saddled with the burden of bad governance.
West Africa cannot affordto be a militarized zone. It is about time for the people of the region to stand up and defend what is left of the shrinking civic space.
Enough is enough!