Confronted with the specter of regional disintegration in West Africa, resignation will not be an choice (By Dr Olakounlé Gilles Yabi)

Faced with the threat of regional disintegration in West Africa, resignation is not an option (By Dr Olakounlé Gilles Yabi)By Dr Olakounlé Gilles Yabi, Founder and CEO of the citizen suppose tank WATHI (

In 2014, once I was working to launch the citizen suppose tank WATHI, I wrote the next within the idea observe I proposed to dozens of pals within the current and way forward for West Africa:

West Africa is a really younger area. The proportion of the inhabitants aged beneath 25 in every nation of the area exceeds 60%. Demographic progress in West Africa will stay robust within the medium time period. The prospects outlined by the area demographic projections entail daunting safety, financial and social challenges for nations whose states and economies are principally weak. These demographic tendencies, along with the area’s ample pure sources and the weak spot of native manufacturing programs, are a few of the causes behind the renewed curiosity in African economies proven by previous and new dominant gamers within the international financial system. Nonetheless, if the passion relating to West Africa’s financial promise will not be tempered by an total acknowledgment of the safety and political threats the area is dealing with, the outcome will possible be additional disillusionment’.

One of many worst eventualities we might have imagined ten years in the past

Ten years after this analysis of the state of the area, the scenario in West Africa in 2024 appears grimly like one of many worst-case eventualities we might have imagined again then. I am amongst those that imagine that we have to change the narrative about our a part of the world, about Africa typically. Nonetheless, the need to spotlight the constructive developments in lots of areas, the extraordinary potential of our younger individuals, mustn’t distract us from a dispassionate commentary of the fact of the second. The one means we will convey in regards to the much-needed modifications in political practices within the area is thru a candid commentary of the state of affairs within the area.

West Africa is at present dealing with unprecedented degree of safety and political uncertainty. Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria are among the many 10 nations most affected by terrorism on the planet. This nevertheless is simply a partial reflection of the unfold of insecurity, the rivialization of violence and the general worrisome penalties on social cohesion and the bodily and psychological well being of tens of millions of kids who’re rising up in a context of violence and with none academic or emotional help from their households.

In 4 nations present process transition following coups d’état (Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger), there is no such thing as a regional institutional framework to set limits on army rulers who haven’t any inside checks and balances. Nonetheless, the restrictions on political freedoms and freedom of expression by these regimes, in opposition to a backdrop of rising financial difficulties for the inhabitants, are starting to impress protests and strikes, regardless of the excessive dangers of repression and risk of imprisonment.

In another West African nations which can be formally democratic and run by civilians, checks and balances exist solely in concept, and in actuality, there’s little chance of political alternation. In lots of nations presidents have taken the initiative to revise or change the structure to evade time period restrict and stay in energy indefinitely. The current constitutional reform in Togo, a rustic that has not had a democratic transition for 57 years, supplied one other surprising instance of a parody of democracy in West Africa. The content material of the nation’s supreme regulation, which abolishes presidential elections by common suffrage, was not made public till after its enactment. And even within the few nations which can be usually held up as examples of political alternation by means of credible elections, with the potential exception of Cabo Verde, the overall notion held by residents is that sources and financial alternatives are monopolised by small circles of kinfolk, pals and political allies. Democracy and elections proceed to unbearably accommodate excessive ranges of corruption, mismanagement and embezzlement.

An unprecedented disaster in regional integration

The simultaneous announcement on 28 January 2024 by the governments in energy in Bamako, Ouagadougou and Niamey to go away ECOWAS opened up an unprecedented disaster within the technique of regional integration in West Africa. We’ve all grow to be witness to the continued strained relationship between neighboring nations akin to Benin and Niger, a distressing waste of time and power at a second when communities proceed to be impoverished by restrictions on cross-border financial actions.

The subsequent few months will likely be decisive for the regional integration course of. The choice of Burkina, Mali and Niger to go away ECOWAS allow army leaders in these three nations to free themselves from ECOWAS supervision of transition and associated constraints. They have been additionally capable of make this announcement as a result of they knew that the short-term political and financial value can be restricted. As a matter of reality, they didn’t withdraw from the West African Financial and Financial Union (WAEMU), which brings collectively eight nations that share a typical foreign money, the CFA franc (seven nations that have been as soon as colonies of France and have been joined by Guinea Bissau in 1997). Membership of WAEMU permits these nations to retain a lot of the advantages of regional integration inside this sub-area of ECOWAS. As well as, leaving WAEMU is harder and requires prior preparations than exiting ECOWAS.

The political value of leaving ECOWAS was additionally restricted as a result of the army leaders have been conscious of the degraded picture of the regional organisation amongst a big a part of West African inhabitants, not solely within the Sahel. ECOWAS’ administration of the coup d’état in Niger dealt a blow to the regional group’s notion amongst West African public opinion. The political and symbolic impression supplied an unhoped-for alternative for the army leaders to painting themselves because the victims of a plot by their very own regional organisation to launch a army intervention in considered one of its personal member states.

A regional organisation at all times displays the political will, capacities and dynamics of its member states

Many West Africans cut back ECOWAS to the Convention of Heads of State and Authorities, which takes selections on political and safety points at unusual and extraordinary summits. All the opposite dimensions of integration which can be the topic of the each day work of the Fee, different our bodies and specialised companies, are merely not recognized or poorly recognized.

The overwhelming majority of younger individuals in city and rural areas haven’t any exact information of the historical past of regional integration, of the most important phases within the building of ECOWAS since 1975, of the advantages of regional integration for the individuals, of ECOWAS’s decisive diplomatic and army interventions in nations in armed battle within the Nineteen Nineties and 2000s. Few residents of West African nations can point out the names and missions of ECOWAS’s two specialised companies. Few are conscious of the existence and essential position of the Courtroom of Justice, which could be seized by any citizen of a member nation even earlier than home cures have been exhausted. This court docket is a good instrument for the promotion and safety of human rights in West Africa. Nonetheless, it has constantly been undermined by the identical member states which created it and who usually don’t abide by its rulings. The area is subsequently paying the worth for what has not been completed by way of schooling, the inclusion of regional integration points in curricula and total communication on regional integration.

There may be a substantial amount of confusion between what’s the accountability of the Member States and what’s that of ECOWAS. Many individuals are fiercely important of ECOWAS as a result of they count on it to be an alternative to states, a way of liberating themselves from their weaknesses, their dysfunctions and typically the dearth of legitimacy of their leaders. It’s not ECOWAS that chooses the Heads of State of the member nations, however the latter then type the school of final political decision-makers of the organisation. That is true of all regional organisations worldwide. Regional organisations can’t work miracles within the absence of impetus, robust will and capability for motion on the a part of the member nations, or a minimum of a core group of influential nations amongst them. A regional organisation at all times relies on its member states, which can provide or chorus from giving the organisation the means to behave and the liberty it must implement its integration agenda.

It have to be acknowledged that some very unlucky selections have been taken by the ECOWAS Convention of Heads of State and Authorities lately. Additionally it is essential to recognise the structural shortcomings, whereas welcoming the various achievements of ECOWAS over the previous 49 years and the immensity of the bottom coated. If the report had been higher by way of regional infrastructure, for instance if ECOWAS had been capable of lead and make sure the efficient implementation of a regional rail community programme, if the report had been higher by way of the harmonisation of sectoral insurance policies and the promotion of regional integration in schooling programs, the political value to every Member State of leaving the Neighborhood would have been a lot greater. And that rubicon would have been a lot more durable to cross even for authorities who’ve seized energy by pressure.

What’s at stake is the West Africa we wish for our youngsters

Alongside discreet diplomatic efforts, a public marketing campaign is required to elucidate why ECOWAS is an important, essential establishment for the way forward for West Africa. The ECOWAS Fee should communicate on to the individuals. The organisation ought to clarify the raison d’être of the extra protocol on democracy and good governance. It must also clarify the reasoning behind the broadening over time of its missions and goals, past financial integration. Those that criticise ECOWAS for straying from its unique financial mission, for violating the sovereignty of states by interfering in inside political points, are both ignoring the rational evolution of the organisation’s guidelines and rules in responding to armed conflicts and violent political crises, or are performing in dangerous religion. We should, nevertheless, settle for a debate with all these voices performing in good religion or not. We have to clarify how the promotion of the rule of regulation within the area isn’t just a dream of westernised elites who’re out of contact with actuality, and the way it’s the solely solution to defend all residents of West African nations from arbitrariness.

Greater than ever, West Africa wants a powerful ECOWAS that focuses on clear priorities. We’d like an ECOWAS that develops its capability for strategic pondering by capitalising on the area’s human sources, together with the diaspora. We’d like an ECOWAS that helps to guard the area from the possibly devastating penalties of battles for affect between powers on West African soil. As everyone knows, with out maybe realising the magnitude of the risk, this battle can be being waged in our on-line world, the place opinions and certainties are spouted all day lengthy through social media, as a way to suppress any hindsight, important pondering or attachment to details in individuals’s minds.

We’d like an ECOWAS that provides younger individuals causes to dream. We have to create and preserve a want for integration. We additionally want the demographic, financial and army powerhouse of the area to behave as a driving pressure. We’d like a dedicated Nigeria and a core of personalities in every of the nations within the area who’re genuinely dedicated to the combination undertaking. Let me reiterate: no regional organisation exists with out its member nations and with out the social, political, financial and cultural forces that form the event of every of those nations.

What will likely be at stake within the coming months is the form and the kind of West African area we wish for our youth, our youngsters for many years to return. The selection earlier than us is that of constant perception in the opportunity of making West Africa a area of collective progress and freedom, the place elementary rights are protected or resignation. The latter is undesirable as a result of it implies accepting that our area is deeply fragmented, that every nation turns into inward trying and focuses on what it perceives as its strictly nationwide pursuits. It might imply accepting the true and really excessive danger of a return, nearly all over the place, to autocratic regimes the place leaders are accountable to nobody. We’ve already skilled this prior to now in a majority of nations within the area and on the African continent. It was not a convincing success. Resignation is subsequently not an choice.

This text is a modified and expanded model of Gilles Yabi’s speech at a public occasion organised by the ECOWAS commentary mission on the United Nations to mark the regional organisation’s forty ninth anniversary, New York, 7 June 2024.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of West Africa Suppose Tank (WATHI).

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In regards to the writer: 
Dr Olakounlé Gilles Yabi is the founder and CEO of the citizen suppose tank WATHI, whose ambition is to nurture a everlasting, knowledgeable and constructive public debate on all points essential to the way forward for every West African nation and the area as a complete. He holds a doctorate in growth economics and was a journalist with the weekly Jeune Afrique earlier than heading the West Africa undertaking of the Worldwide Disaster Group. Additionally a non-resident scholar on the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace, a US-based suppose tank, he hosts the weekly column ‘Ça fait débat avec WATHI’ on Radio France Internationale (RFI). 

About WATHI: 
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Faced with the threat of regional disintegration in West Africa, resignation is not an option (By Dr Olakounlé Gilles Yabi)

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