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December 15, 2017 | Feature Article

Double Standard Of The West African Presidents

ECOWAS stands for the Economic Community of the West African States. It's very difficult to say whether the presidents of the 15 West African countries are intentionally undermining the role of the President of the ECOWAS Commission, or the actions of these 15 individuals are totally out of ignorance. The fact of our reality is, the heads of states of the ECOWAS member countries, are undermining the role meant for the President of the ECOWAS Commission. These individuals are leaving West Africans with no choice, than to question the role of the President of the ECOWAS Commission, if the members of the Assembly are actively acting in such capacity.

It's therefore important we raise these concerns on how the actions of the 15 presidents of the ECOWAS member states, are undermining the critical role best played by the president of the ECOWAS Commission, in order to draw the attention of all West Africans to such concerns.

We all know that the traditional role of the presidents of every one of the 15 West African states, is to act in the sovereign capacity of their respective government. This traditional role involve having each country managing their respective internal affair as well as international affairs, including interference in internal affairs of other West African countries, in the interest of their respective countries. This means, it falls within the responsibility of the president of Ghana, for example, to travel to the Gambia, Togo or Liberia, to try to mediate in the internal affairs of these countries, under the guise of international relations. Of course, this turn out to be understood as promoting the image of one's country, than interfering in the internal business of another sovereign country.

The challenge we face here is the definition of none domestic relationship among the West African countries. Under the traditional system, every West African country assumes the direct responsibility for the internal security of a neighbour, whether invited or not. So, multilateral and bilateral relations are muddled up, into one. The tradition of an individual West African sovereign state's president being responsible for the security of its neighbourhood, as several sovereign states, was necessary in the absence of a centralise authority as a regional union to play such role. Such approach was therefore the norm, out of the necessity of the period preceding 1975.

This approch to addressing issues by the presidents of the 15 West African countries took a different dimension with the establishment of the ECOWAS on the 28th of May 1975. The formation of the ECOWAS was to take away the duty of any sovereign country within West Africa, meddling directly in the internal affairs of another sovereign West African country, and placing such responsibility on the ECOWAS authority. The coming into being of ECOWAS therefore redefine the conception of international relations among the 15 member state, in which each country sustain a bilateral relation with another while the multilateral relation with all member states becomes the duty of the ECOWAS president.

Thus, whatever happens in the internal affairs of any of the 15 West African countries, it's expected of the ECOWAS authority to access the situation and decided how to address the issue. This further means, the role of the heads of states of the 15 member states of ECOWAS has been replicated into the head of the ECOWAS Commission, thus the title, President.

The ECOWAS principles also recognises the needed for transfer of a degree of ECOWAS member states' sovereignties to the ECOWAS authority. So with an assumption that the necessary or reasonable degree of such sovereign authority, from the 15 member states have migrated to the ECOWAS authority and the president of the Commission is playing such role, one expect the president to be be playing the active role of ensuring that the transferred power is being put to effective and proper use. The big question now is whether the president of the ECOWAS Commission is doing as expected?

Our understanding of the new development means the ECOWAS Commission President is expected to step in as the spokes person for the Union, whenever it is necessary to do so. The president of the ECOWAS Commission Marcel Alan De Sueza, is therefore expected to relieve any head of each of the 15 member states, in addressing the internal affair of another member state, when situation calls for this. This technically means, the tradition of having any head of state jumping at the slightest opportunity to be the spokes person for the ECOWAS, is suppose to be a thing of the past.

What was rather expected of any leader of an ECOWAS member state, who feels the president of the ECOWAS Commission is not engaging enough in addressing another member state internal affairs, to avoid an ensuing break down of law and order, is for such state leader to address the matter to the Commission with such concerns. Such act is expected to be given an urgent attention by the president of the ECOWAS commission. This is expected to even make the president of the ECOWAS Commission to be serious about the subject of concern, because each head of state of the 15 member Union, is also an automatic member of the ECOWAS Assembly that has the power to terminate the appointment of the ECOWAS president.

What we have is not the heads of the 15 ECOWAS member states raising their concerns with the president of the ECOWAS Commission, for an immediate action. The reality is, each of these heads of ECOWAS member states, is taking it upon itself to directly play the role of the "regional president". My president of Ghana, his excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, is not an exception to this impersonation of the regional presidential role.

It is fair to acknowledge that President Nana Addo has been on the heat at the international level, since assuming his role as the president of Ghana and doing wonderful job without doubt. I honestly wish a person like president Nana Addo, occupies the position of the ECOWAS Commission president, based on his performance at the national, regional, continental and global levels. In fact, my president has earn more of my personal respect, than any living head of state of Ghana. He was able to display maturity and great wisdom in dealing with very sensitive issues, at both national and international levels.

Some of us however became a beat concern when the President of Ghana delivered the Commencement Address at the 98th Commencement Exercise of the University of Liberia, Monrovia.

In his address on the 13th December 2017, the president of Ghana affirmed the position of ECOWAS saying "we will do all we can to ensure that democracy is entrenched in Liberia, and we will not accept any other outcome".

It is without iota of doubt that my president Nana Addo spoke in his capacity as a member of the ECOWAS Assembly and did so rightly within his role. All Nana Addo emphasized is, they as the fifteen heads of ECOWAS member states cannot afford to sit by, for a member state of Liberia to subside back to the dark days of civil wars that dragged in the whole of the sub region, due to the current transitional democratic impass.

I have no doubt that the challenge lies in the choice of topic for the ocassion. Without doubt, His Execellency Nana Addo delivered the topic perfectly, given the brewing Liberian political concerns. The big question is, couldn't the President of the ECOWAS Commission have been the best person to deliver the speech on this particular subject? This would have been a great opportunity for West Africans to know who is responsible for the ECOWAS under the Commission and who to look up to at the regional authority.

It would have been better for President Nana Addo to refer the organizers of the event to the President of the ECOWAS Commission, to deliver such sensitive particular subject of regional concern, as its based on security of Liberia and ECOWAS at large. Sure, the rule of the new relationship among the 15 ECOWAS member state is in favour of bilateral relationship between member states. The challenge is in the relationship of multilateral nature that make the president of any particular member state to be mistaken for the president of the ECOWAS Commission, that is out of the bilateral relm. Therefore, assuming any form of role that betray such role, is unfortunate.

Nana Addo would have probably settle down for another topic of bilateral nature. Could one then not help than to conclude that Nana Addo addressed the Liberian situation by the traditional approach of regional responsibility, by which the security of Liberia is percieved as the direct business of the government of Ghana, instead of the business of the ECOWAS.

In actual fact, president Nana is one of the 15 members of the ECOWAS Assembly that elected Marcel Alan De Sueza to be the President of the ECOWAS Commmission for a term of four years. I believe these 15 heads of ECOWAS member states elected the president of the ECOWAS Commission to represent them on issues within the Union and outside the Union, as necessary. I believe that the principles behind having the members of the ECOWAS Assembly to directly elected the President of the Commission, is to make them comfortable and confident in the person, enough to depend on such person to address regional concern, without the same individuals jumping about, as has been the tradition before. One can also see how relieve the members of the ECOWAS Assembly will be, in having time to focus on their domestic challenges, while assured of regional concern in the capable of the President of the ECOWAS Commission.

Ironically, one cannot recalled any event where the president of the ECOWAS Commission has been invited to deliver a lecture, since his inception of office about a year ago and the video available to the public. It's interesting that no such event is recorded, even within Ajuba beyond. He is totally restricted to the secretariats. We cannot have President De Seuzi invited by students to be given the opportunity of explaining the challenges of the regional body and how he is addressing issues, with the assistance of his team. In fact, with almost thirty universities in Nigeria, none is on record to have a space for President De Seuzi's lectures. No wonder the rumour in my circle is, the ECOWAS commission President in Abuja is in captivity, and only speaks when given the permission. If this man is not available even within Nigeria for lectures on the state of the Union, then how can the ECRA dream of inviting the ECOWAS commission president to the University of Ghana, Lagon be fullfill?

I'm now becoming concern about the mandate given to the ECOWAS Commission President by the Assembly of the ECOWAS, if these same individuals are carrying out the very mandate they have given away. This look like earing ones cake and having it. If I cannot give my president of Nana Addo my mandate by participating in an election that resulted in him in becoming the president of Ghana, and at the same time have myself acting in the same capacity as the President of Ghana, how feasible is it then to have the president of Ghana acting in the capacity of the ECOWAS Commission president, when De Sueza has been given the same mandate?

As a Ghanaian, it's my duty to know my place when it come to conflict between my opinion and the opinion of the president of Ghana. Equally, it is the duty of the president of Ghana to start to know his place in the regional opinion expression and decision making, in relation to the president of the ECOWAS Commission.

We all have a duty of making the ECOWAS mean what we dream of, if this ECOWAS authority has to command the kind of respect we want the rest of the world to accord us. If our West African heads of states want anyone to take them serious on the claim of believing in democracy, then they must understand that democracy means giving out ones mandate to another, and obeying the leadership of the one to whom such mandate is given. Let's all be democrats, respect and recognise our respective places. It's not about who can speak very well. It's about who must speak for us all.

Kofi Ali Abdul-Yekin
Chairman ECRA
(ECOWAS Citizens Right Advocates)
[email protected]
+447737224787

Kofi Ali Abdul Yekin
Kofi Ali Abdul Yekin

Kofi Ali Abdul Yekin has authored 83 publications on Modern Ghana.
Read more from the author's publications column : KofiAliAbdulYekin

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Kofi Ali Abdul Yekin and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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