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What options for ECOWAS on Guinea’s democratic transition

Two months after the military coup in Guinea, which saw the ouster of President Alpha Conde, it seems the international community, especially ECOWAS, has lost…

Two months after the military coup in Guinea, which saw the ouster of President Alpha Conde, it seems the international community, especially ECOWAS, has lost hope in coercing the military to return the country to democracy.

The former presidential guard commander, Col. Mamady Doumbouya, led the coup d’etat that overthrew Conde, accusing the leadership of “poverty and endemic corruption” and “trampling on citizens’ rights.”

ECOWAS took the lead in not only condemning the coup but insisting that the country must be returned to democracy, soonest.

The African Union, United Nations, European Union, United States, and France have all condemned the coup and called for the release of the ousted president.

A delegation of ECOWAS dispatched to Conakry registered the organisation’s opposition to the coup and insisted that the coupists should organise a transition immediately.

Coming on the heels of successful coups in neighbouring Mali and Chad, and an unsuccessful attempt in Niger, Guinea was suspended from the organisation.

However, a few days after the ECOWAS delegates’ visit, the coup leader, Doumbouya, was sworn in as interim president at a ceremony that was witnessed by France foreign minister, and the new military ruler in Mali.

Five days later, he named Mohamed Beavogui, a former civil servant and expert in agricultural finance, as prime minister to preside over a promised transition back to democratic rule.

Beavogui will oversee a transition whose precise contours have yet to be defined Until today, the military president, Doumbouya, has yet to make public his proposed timeframe for handing over power to a civilian transitional government, nor has he outlined how quickly new elections can be organised.

Guinea protests ECOWAS resolutions

After the ECOWAS bloc imposed sanctions against Guinea, the head of the delegation to Guinea, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, who was accompanied by Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara to mediate the political crisis, called for elections in six months to quickly return the country to civilian rule.

Already, leaders from the West Africa bloc have imposed a travel ban on the junta members, and frozen their financial assets.

“The summit asked me to come and discuss its conclusions with the leadership,” Akufo-Addo told reporters outside Conakry’s Sheraton Hotel, where the meeting was held with military President Doumbouya. However, the request was deemed inappropriate by some activists and the opposition political groups.

“Where was ECOWAS when Alpha Conde was changing the constitution? Where was ECOWAS when Alpha Conde wanted to run for a third term? Where was ECOWAS when the people of Guinea were suffering injustice, inequality, where was ECOWAS?” lamented Ibrahima Sory Mara, an activist.

A security analyst Dennis Amacree told  Daily Trust that, the military hand over to civilians within six months as stipulated by the ECOWAS may not be feasible.

“You are even thinking of Guinea, go to Mali. Remember, ECOWAS, AU, France and everybody was on top of them because they think that military rule is not ideal at this time so they should hand over to civilians and return to democratic rule.

“Former President Jonathan was there twice, but they are still there because ECOWAS and AU don’t have the power to control them and ECOWAS does not have the standing army to force them.

“Nigeria used to be the force and power in West Africa to make everybody fall in line but, Nigeria itself is facing its own problem, therefore she cannot leave her problem to go and settle other people’s problems.

“Mali is still there, Chad is still there and Guinea is also there. So, the season of coup in Africa is coming back, because there is this copycat attitude where other countries’ military are looking at what is happening in other countries.

“So, as long as they cannot make Guinea or Mali or Chad to hand over, the possibilities of other countries also rising up is possible,” he said.

When asked what has eroded the power of ECOWAS considering how they forced some countries’ presidents hand over power to legitimate governments in the past,  he said, “First is finance, they don’t have money because the member countries are not respecting their financial obligations

“Number two, there is no standing army to enforce what it wanted to do, and the third reason is that most of the countries in West Africa are suffering from poverty, corruption and terrorism. They are too busy trying to put out fire in their houses to start looking at others. How can they help others?

“Nigeria used to be the ECOWAS in Liberia, and the ECOMOG; it’s Nigeria basically, but at the moment, Nigeria is seriously having its own problem, it cannot go and help other people,” he said.

He said corruption has made African leaders not to respect their constitutions anymore; they change constitution to exceed their stipulated two terms tenure to third term for them to continue with the corruption.

“So this is the problem, even the military knew that these people are not obeying the constitution, then, why should the military obey the constitution? Corruption and refusal to leave office are the two things that trigger coups in Africa.

Asked whether the military will heed to the ECOWAS call for immediate transition to civilian rule, he said. “Look back in history, it’s in very few countries where the military handed over power to democratic rule easily; they will stay there and continue to hold power until they are forced out.

“Remember Nigeria as example; you remember the transition programme during president Babangida, it’s one of the longest in history. Sometimes even when they are forced to hand over, they come back again. They don’t think the constitution is holding them not to do a coup anymore,” he added.

While ECOWAS awaits a response to their call for a transition to democracy, a week ago, Doumbouya held several days meeting with political and civil-society figures in Guinea without giving a date for the recourse to democratic authority.

“The only timetable that counts is that of the Guinean people who have suffered so much,” he was quoted to have said to political leaders in a closed-door meeting that intended to pave a return to civilian rule.

ECOWAS role in Mali, Chad emboldens Doumbouya

Indeed, in three of the most notable coups in the past seven months – two in Mali and one in Chad — the coup leaders have successfully managed to secure leading roles in the transitional governments despite opposition by ECOWAS and AU.

Considering the input of the international analysts, Guinean coup leaders, who are also likely aware of the weakened stature of the regional institution and confident of gaining popular support in pursuing their goals, may not consider the suspension from the ECOWAS and AU as sufficient pressure to hand over power to civilians.

Also, the calls by the regional bodies for the military to “urgently and unconditionally return to the barracks” may not make any difference, if they refused to act on some of the constitutional coup taking place under their watch.

“If the AU, ECOWAS and other sub-regional organisations want to revive their stature and address accusations of being a mere “big men’s club” protecting insiders, they have to implement a paradigm shift in the way they deal with incumbent leaders’ abuses.

“First, they must be ready to call out and confront incumbents seeking to extend their terms in any manner or engaging in egregious electoral manipulations.

“Beyond this reactive and firefighting mode, they must endorse an unequivocal resolution affirming regular transfers of power as a fundamental African value.

“Second, they must proactively identify and act in countries where presidents are serving their last terms from early on. This would require a deliberate strategy to engage political groups, prominent national figures, civil society, and other stakeholders in such countries to affirm support for democratic transitions of power, clearly state their expectations, and broadly prepare the ground for transitions.

“Such early and proactive engagement and an on-the-ground presence are likely to reduce temptations for incumbent manipulation. Once the talk of term manipulation starts, it is often too late for an engagement.

“This means a different approach to planning and budgeting. International partners and donors should therefore work closely with the AU and regional communities to prioritize early warning and proactive planning to prevent crises, rather than intensifying engagement when a crisis hits,” said another foreign policy expert, Mr Adam Abebe.

What happens to ECOWAS glory?

Twelve years back, precisely 2009, ECOWAS took a principled stance to stop former President Mamadou Tandja of Niger from extending his tenure. Also, in 2011, while the African Union, which has the African Commission on Human and Peoples Right based in Banjul, could not call dictatorial President Yahya Jammeh to order on his chain of human rights violations, ECOWAS made a bold statement by refusing to send a mission to observe what was destined to be an undemocratic election held in the country that year.

ECOWAS did not recognize the outcome of that vote. When Jammeh held another election in 2016 and refused to concede defeat, ECOWAS sent a military mission to The Gambia and led international efforts to ease Jammeh to exile in Equatorial Guinea.

“Today, the ECOWAS leadership, which is heavily influenced by Paris, is sleeping at the wheel, lacking the courage to speak truth to power. The leadership deficiency has crept into the management of various ECOWAS institutions, the ECOWAS Commission and Specialized Agencies,” said Peter Johnson, a foreign affairs analyst in Abuja.

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