Thursday, March 29, 2012

ECOWAS Has Been There; done that; Gotten the T-shirt for the Coups. It's getting to work!

Barely had the dust settled on the elections in Guinea-Bissau when West Africans woke up not to world-wide celebration  of World Water Day, but a search for incumbent Malian president Amadou Toumani Toure who had escaped from the Presidential palace.

Although I believe, as I averred in my last piece, that ECOWAS has a “mission”--and indeed responsibility—to protect West African citizens from criminals, and attendant cross-border crime, there is no gainsaying ECOWAS' latest diplomatic headache includes finding and enforcing peace in coup-torn Mali; restoring (a semblance of) democracy in lusophone Guinea-Bissau—and all against a backdrop of more sanguine news that ECOWAS is deepening ties with China.

Even before Ghana's Business&Financial Times newspaper started reminding us about an ECOWAS-China dalliance that would be manifested through a forum, we knew this was not the first-ever meeting, and that there had already been one held in 2008 in China when Dr.Chambas—the incumbent secretary-general of the Brussels-based ACP Group—was ECOWAS Commission president. 

That meeting saw over 1000 participants  from the sub-region, including 200 private-sector operators and 150 government officials. We can already speculate from this that the interest by Africa for China to be more involved on the continent and sub-region had been percolating in the minds of policy-makers. As to whether this interest was accompanied by a plan is less clear, but what we do know with this ECOWAS-China Forum is that there will indisputably be a clear and present opportunity for China in the sub-region.

This will manifest itself through key projects of infrastructural development—examples include roads; railways; housing; construction and transportation. Others include health care; mining; agriculture; power; pharmaceuticals; and ICT.  Ghana's vice-president John Mahama explained that the forum will seek to maximise inflows of foreign direct investment from China to ECOWAS countries, and attract long-term concessionary funds for developing infrastructure.

Senegal says goodbye to Wade
As Senegal voters saw Wade out, making way for newly-elected President Macky Sall, social networking sites were understandably congratulating the Senegalese people, forgetting that ECOWAS—as the player in the sub-region—had more than 100 election observers, including an envoy in Obasanjo who all had contributed to the outcome. Macky Sall himself congratulated the international and national observers 'for their contribution to successful elections.' While it may be too soon to congratulate the ECOWAS and AU elements, it is arguable that the success of the elections is in no small part due to our sub-regional and continental actors.

Sahel fatigue? Mali coup!
I have no doubt that even with the crisis in the Sahel, there might regrettably be a “Sahel crisis” fatigue, and that the good news from Senegal might have been overshadowed by it. Having written two pieces for this column on Mali and the crisis already, I can fully understand why people might be apathetic to the whole apparent chaos in the sub-region.

Truth be told, the threat of hunger in the Sahel is real—as UN agencies would testify. No less than the UNDP administrator Helen Clarke was involved in a live twitter conversation some three weeks ago in which she engaged the twitter audience to inform them what the UNDP and other UN agencies plan to do to help the hungry in the Sahel. ECOWAS around the same time donated one million dollars towards resolution of the crisis.

While the Sahel crisis has gone fairly under-reported by the West African media, it has ramified into unpredictable outcomes, such as terrorism in Northern Mali, including the coup in Mali proper, which genesis is tied to the Sahel crisis. Or at least, so the mutinous soldier would let us believe, claiming their president ATT had done little to stem the crisis in Northern Mali, so they were taking over to stop the terrorism in that part of the country, which is, in fact, contributing to the Sahel crisis. In short, it is a quagmire, which ECOWAS needs to really sink its teeth into to ensure they have well and truly nipped in the bud.

Guinea-Bissau comes of age?
Observers of the elections in Guinea-Bissau may recall how the Western press—and indeed much of the African media—had been describing this West African country as a “narco-state” in the run-up to its elections. ECOWAS observers went in—as per the provisions of ECOWAS's protocols, and elections have gone smoothly over-all.  I believe one can tick this off as another election gone down well, after Senegal. ECOWAS deployed 80 observers, led by former President of Niger's Transitional Government Salou Djibo, for the elections, which followed the death in January of President Malam Bacai Sanha after a long illness

In conclusion, it might be too early to speculate that continental and sub-regional conflict management has come of age, given what happened last year in 2011 in Cote d'ivoire and Libya, but I believe the signs are very encouraging. ECOWAS and the AU cannot afford to be complacent in the wake of eventual coups, given how a relatively stable country like Mali has found itself in a state of flux and confusion. There's no gainsaying that vigilance by Ecowas community citizens are indispensable, but even more so, in my view, is vigilance of what ECOWAS and AU are doing to entrench democratic dispensations.

As I write, ECOWAS is having an emergency summit in Cote d'Ivoire to resolve the crisis—and I have no doubt they will eventually put paid to the Mali question. When Western observers last week started tweeting and facebooking that the AU had suspended Mali, my eyes glazed over. This is nothing new; as the AU did so to Niger when it was involved in a coup in 2008. It's so standard practice it should no longer be news to Africans. I joked last week that on Mali, ECOWAS has been there; and done that.

I look forward to the day when it gets the T-shirt – stating it's a problem-solver on coups in the ECOWAS sub-region!

In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" ( ). Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on  / Mobile: +233-268.687.653.

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