There are rumors indicating that the ECOWAS Summit intends to anoint the Nigerian candidate for the African Development Bank which is against all the rules of the organization and against the tide for more transparency in the selection of leaders in Africa. The Community may lose its soul in such a process if it were to be confirmed…
By Adama GAYE*
Many gatherings of African Heads of State and Governments are too often depicted as historical. Yet with hindsight few stand the test of time. It should not be the case if the Summit of the Economic community of West African States (ECOWAS) convened this week end in Abuja hold its promises or rather responds to the demands that the West African people put on their leaders in the wake of the popular up-rising which has up-rooted the longest serving Head of States of the region, namely Burkina’s Blaise Compaore. He was forced out of office at the end of October following huge demonstrations in various cities of his countries triggered by his barely hidden ambition to remain in power for another term despite the constitutional limitations over the presidency. That this landmark event, beamed live on the national and international Tv channels across West Africa, has occurred less than two months ago cast the Ecowas Summit in a new light: it is a direct challenge to the regional leaders to respond to the popular expectations for more democracy and for the true implementation of the organization’s self-imposed Declaration of political principles adopted in the early 1990s which calls for political pluralism in its member States and within its own selection of the community’s executives.
The West African leaders must heed the calls for real democratization that is sweeping West Africa at a time when the technological revolution has reached its people making them more aware of what it happening and transforming them into active citizens, netizens, while empowering them as they seek to be part of what is being heralded as Africa’s time. Transparency is what they expect to see not only in the political arena but in the management of their economies and natural resources. They also want an end of the ‘one man, one vote, once’ which used to be the main meaning of tropical democracy when leaders once chosen even fraudulently are only interested in self-perpetuating themselves. So far, democracy has not delivered the goods. To many in West Africa it is just the new way for political actors to get access to the riches of their nations with the blessing of the ballot boxes. No longer necessary indeed to go through the barrels of the guns as used to be the case during the violent civil and military conflicts that almost torn apart the region in the 1980s and 1990d. Following the demise of the authoritarian regimes that prevailed then, copying the European or Asian models of communism, and the fall in grace of another variant of autocratic capitalistic regimes which were protected by the West, many expected West Africa to take a real turn towards real democratic progress. So far, the region has not yet achieved its aggiornamento.
Electoral democracies are of course in place in many of its countries but to what extent it is genuine democracy in action is to be seen. And on another front, across the region, the challenges are still overwhelming. Poverty is still gripping millions of West Africans. Transnationals challenges are lingering on, such as Islamic or ethnic terrorism. Ebola and other pandemies have laid bare the lack of health infrastructure in West Africa. Obstacles to free movement of persons and goods have not been lifted so far. Worse, calls for secession, contradicting the yearning in principle for more integration, have not been contained from Casamance in Senegal to Northern Mali. To compound it all, the regional integration process, 40 years after the creation of Ecowas, remains an elusive goal.
The question is: has West Africa got the leaders to engage its structural transformation in order to attain its stated integration objective?
What is even more worrying is the fact that nowadays, as opposed to the past when colonial forces came to the West African shores using their guns and missionary drive to subjugate its people, these days darker forces are at work either coming in as emerging nations partners or as former colonial representatives using their local networks -the new compradores- in order to capture what is available in West Africa in terms of businesses, while placing political poodles in power.
Not all is dark but one has to be careful about the seriousness of the challenges ahead or surrounding the Ecowas countries. In this regards, it is clear that this Summit must discuss in earnest the issues at stakes, including the need to side by the populations calls for real democratization, the transparency in the process of selecting the leaders for the region and for the countries as well as the necessity to avoid being late when things, like in Burkina Faso, unfold.
There are issues where Ecowas is expected to deliver: can it realize at long last the monetary union it has been calling for since ages? Can it mobilize its forces to face the challenges of separatism and terrorism? Can it increase the volume of trade between its nations? Can it rear apart the many tariffs and non tariffs barriers hindering commercial and human ties? Can it demonstrated its ability to ensure that democratic principles, starting with pluralism, are truly respected, and the way it decides to analyze the competition between West African candidates declared for the post of Chairman of the African development Bank (ADB) is a case in point to watch clearly as any anointment of a candidate will be seen as a violation of those norms?
Never before since it was created as an economic community ECOWAS has ever been faced with such a more conducive climate despite the challenges ahead. As for the rest of Africa, West Africa is indeed witnessing an impressive growth rate in many of its member States; hydrocarbon resources are being discovered all around the place; a more conscious population is ready and willing to serve; many West African members of the diaspora are returning home with talent and financial resources; and the technological advances made in the world have made the region part of a global arena.
West Africa can make it. It is a natural gate to many other regions of Africa. And it can lead the continent in this new age of possibilities provided that its leaders show that they are able not in words but in deed to act as agents of positive change. To avoid forcing the streets to boil as in Burikina Faso. The option to be made is too clear. But vigilance is still the order of the day !!!
*Adama GAYE, A Senegalese, Author of China-Africa, The dragon and The Ostrich, is a former Editor of West Africa Magazine and former Director of Information of Ecowas. He consults for many multinationals and advises one of the candidates for the African Development Bank Chairmanship.