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Opinion | Jun 7, 2015

West Africa: lack of qualifying standards retard ECOWAS'sdemocratization process

Mathew K Jallow
Mathew K Jallow

West Africa: lack of qualifying standards retard ECOWAS’s complete democratization process

By Mathew K Jallow
The Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS), is not exactly distinguished as a paragon of ethics and morality in politics; on the contrary, its apparent lack of membership qualifying criterion, other than geographic location, has proven to be a heartbreaking setback for an institution that largely appears both clueless and without principles. The arbitrary way in which West African countries continue to qualify for ECOWAS membership, without any form of litmus test, has crowded contradicting political philosophies and divergent interests and goals together into a single arena of institutional mediocrity and dysfunction. It can be argued, with a high degree of veracity, that ECOWAS seems more effective in show-boating than achieving tangible results for its citizens, and nothing exemplifies this truism more than the absolute failure to promulgate term-limits across the institution’s geographic sphere of influence. At its founding, ECOWAS was an idealistic vision with noble goals and lofty objectives, but without the pretext of professional knowledge in institutional development. After decades of existence marked by ineptitude and utter indifference, its founders’ professional limitations and administrative short-comings have become more evident, as the challenges have morphed into the civil wars, which plagued much of West Africa for nearly four decades. The absence of membership qualification into ECOWAS is a gigantic mistake that must be corrected in order to frame the institution’s administrative practices to comply with the growing global political paradigm. The European Council, in its 1993 ‘'Copenhagen Criterion,’ defined three most basic membership eligibility criteria to the European Union; the most crucial of which remains the existence of “stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.”

Pursuant to its defined values, the precursor of the EU, the European Economic Community, in the 1960s and 1970s, barred European countries under the burdens of military dictatorships and tyrannical regimes from acceptance into the EEC institution. The EEC thus forced Turkey and Greece into making deep political and economic changes to meet its basic qualifying standards. Today, one would have expected it to be a foregone conclusion that ECOWAS would, at the very minimum, enshrine “stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”.as the highlight of its governing Charter. In spite of the pathology of ignorance and indifference that underlies ECOWAS’s administrative failures, it is not all doom and gloom in West Africa, but it is not for something ECOWAS has done. It is clear that significant strides have been made on the journey to regional democratization and the establishment of the rule of law, but it is a slow walk, and lot still remains to do and undo, in order to totally bring ECOWAS into the 21st. Century political experience. But citizens of West Africa; from Guinea to Chad and Senegal to Ivory Coast, frustrated with ECOWAS’s inaction, foot-dragging and acquiescing power and authority to its member nation leaders, began rebelling against the political tyranny that held them down in misery and abject poverty for decades. In case after case; from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Chad and Niger, ECOWAS has been largely reactive, but even far worst than that, the institution appeared taken by complete surprise by the flaring of civil unrest in these countries.

The formulation of effective policies that can lead to the anticipation of events such unrests, could have preempted the sad tragedies of Liberia, Sierra Leone and elsewhere. The administration of ECOWAS, in an atmosphere of divergent and contradictory political philosophies, is not a recipe for success in preventing the kind of civil strife that has ravaged Liberia and Sierra Leone and sparked the fires of discontent in Guinea-Conakry, Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal. Like Greece and Turkey’s rejection by the EEC in the late 1970s, the political volatility in West Africa has now shifted to The Gambia and Togo; two countries whose human rights records and political systems would disqualify them from membership in a properly defined ECOWAS, with eligibility standards and democratization benchmarks.. By deferring authority to the region’s political leaders, ECOWAS continues to malign citizens who remain disgruntled with the deleterious political circumstances they cannot change through the normal democratic electoral process. ECOWAS and African institutions like it, are the true definition of the system of patronage and cronyism that still remains stubbornly entrenched in African cultures, and which has made the transition to a corruption-free and accountable region, nearly impossible. For Gambians, it may or may not be a stroke of luck that Senegal’s President Macky Sall is elected new ECOWAS chairman. It now remains to be seen if President Sall who more than anyone understands that the challenges of Gambia’s tyranny has long-term destabilizing effects, will have the sagacity to put professionalism over pomp, and deliver to the people of the region. As it stands, Senegal’s President Sall will once again have the opportunity to mutate into Yahya Jammeh’s Kryptonite by seizing the opportunity to listen to the haunting laments of the Gambian people and work on their side. Until then, Gambians await with cautious optimism, but are not holding their breaths on President Sall coming through on their behalf..

Mathew K Jallow
Mathew K Jallow, © 2015

This author has authored 65 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: MathewKJallow

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