West African CSOs launch pro-democracy network in Ghana

Around 40 civil society organizations (CSOs) from 15 West African countries launched the West Africa Democracy Solidarity Network (WADEMOS) to address the backsliding and breakdown of democracy and to strengthen democracy in the subregion.

This held in a two-day event, between Thursday and Friday, in Accra, Ghana. This coincided with this year’s edition United Nations (UN) International Day of Democracy held annually on September 15.

The event brought together officials from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Ghanaian government, the diplomatic corps and members who gathered from Nigeria and other countries in the sub- region to form WADEMOS.

Speakers took turns condemning the recent democratic collapse and backsliding of some West African countries and called for joint efforts to restore the reputation that West Africa has earned, leading to the third wave of democratization in Africa in the 1990s.

They hailed the emergence of WADEMOS as timely to complement the efforts of ECOWAS and other pro-democracy actors to halt the decline and collapse of democracy in the region.

Since 2020, there have been successful coups in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, and failed attempts in Niger and Guinea Bissau.

Also in many West African countries, some leaders muzzle the opposition, stifle multiparty politics and tinker with their national constitutions for no reason to cling to power.

Democracy in distress

At the launch of WADEMOS on Thursday, the Executive Director of the Center for Democratic Development (CDD), Ghana, Kwasi Prempeh said, “Even in countries that have not faced democratic collapse, the quality of democracy and governance leaves much to be desired”. .

Executive Director of CDD Ghana and Project Director of WADEMOS, Kwasi Prempeh

Mr. Prempeh, professor and project director of WADEMOS, said that “winner takes all politics, imperial presidency and weak compensatory institutions are still the norm in our sub-region”.

Announcement TEXEM

This, he said, “undermines political pluralism” and “creates a very hostile environment for civil society and the practice of investigative journalism.”

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“The democratic backsliding in West Africa represents a major setback for our region and is a source of grave concern for its people,” Mr. Prempeh said.

He recalled West Africa’s leadership roles in “the so-called third wave of democratization in Africa beginning with Benin’s historic national conference in 1990”.

“Continued democratic decline with the risk of democratic collapse in a few more countries will mean more disaster for the region. The future of West Africa, home to nearly 400 million people, hangs in the balance,” he said.

Along the same lines, the Head of Regional Development Cooperation in Africa, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Ulla Andren, said: “There is now increasing evidence of a democratic backsliding” in the region.

Head of Regional Development Cooperation in Africa, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Ulla Andren
Head of Regional Development Cooperation in Africa, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Ulla Andren

She pointed out that several countries had been affected by “illegal means of transfer of power, a coup d’etat or an illegal amendment of the national constitution to allow the mandate of the holder.

Disturbing Coups, Freedom Threatened in Nigeria, Four More

For her part, Kamissa Camara, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mali, who is today

Senior Advisor for Africa at the American Institute for Peace, said, “It’s hard to believe what we’re seeing recently.”

Kamissa Camara addressed the gathering virtually
Kamissa Camara addressed the gathering virtually

“Despite its democratic gains, the ECOWAS region has suffered a major democratic decline. A significant number of heads of state are changing constitutions to undermine a term limit in countries and to retain power,” Ms. Camara said.

She also noted that Africa “is clearly plagued by a series of military coups”, adding that “since 2010, there have been more than 40 military coups and coup attempts”.

She added 20 out of that number, about 50% of the total coups that have occurred in Africa have occurred in West Africa and the Sahel region.

“Since 2019, there have been seven coups, of which five succeeded and two failed.”

She also quoted the new statement from Freedom House freedom in the world report, which indicates that of the 12 worst performing countries with the largest year-over-year score declines globally in 2019, five are in West Africa – Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Nigeria.

ECOWAS Protocols

Ghana’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Thomas Mbomba, observed that constitutional violations in different West African countries are “against the ECOWAS protocol on the prevention, management and conflict resolution, peacekeeping and security, among others”.

Ghanaian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Thomas Mbomba
Ghanaian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Thomas Mbomba

Similarly, Mr. Prempeh noted that the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance “sets standards and benchmarks to promote regional covenant towards constitutional order.

“This West African legal instrument provides us with a useful rallying point and framework to counter democratic backsliding and reinvigorate democratic processes and institutions in the region,” he said.

Roles of ECOWAS

ECOWAS Resident Representative in Ghana, Baba Gana Wakil, identified the steps the regional body had taken to address the “alarming democratic backsliding” seen since 2020.

Chief among the measures, Wakil said, is a continued effort to revise the 2001 ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance “with several bold new provisions”.

Resident Representative of ECOWAS in Ghana, Baba Gana Wakil … West Africa facing a complex situation
Resident Representative of ECOWAS in Ghana, Baba Gana Wakil … West Africa facing a complex situation

Among other measures, Wakil said, ECOWAS has put in place high-level mediators to interface with senior authorities in member countries facing political crises – Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.

He also said the regional body had rolled out various regional action plans, including counter-terrorism action plans from 2020 to 2024 to address “some of the stubborn drivers of insecurity in the sub- region”.

Given the “complex situation we face”, Mr. Wakil expressed hope that the formation of WADEMOS would mark the beginning of many more such interventions.

Hope, Solution

Ms Camara cited a report by Afrobarometer which reveals that 76% of West Africans still prefer democracy to any form of government “despite the apparent popular support that military governments have recently received in the region”.

“Democracy indeed has a chance of survival if the people see reason to protect it,” she said.

She added that the focus should shift from waiting for violations before acting, to taking more preventative action.

“We now need to find a way to prevent unconstitutional means of change of government,” she said, adding that the region should no longer wait for violations to occur before taking action.

The African Union Commission’s governance and peacebuilding adviser, William Kanyirigi, hailed WADEMOS for the “community of knowledge” it promises to bring to support democracy.

Advisor on Governance and Peacebuilding, African Union Commission, William Kanyirigi
Advisor on Governance and Peacebuilding, African Union Commission, William Kanyirigi

Ms. Camara hailed the formation of a transnational democracy network like WADEMOS as timely to help “mobilise, coordinate and leverage the collective power of pro-democracy actors”.

WADEMOS

WADEMOS is a civil society-led, non-partisan and independent transnational democratic solidarity network.

Funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation and the Open Society Foundation, WADEMOS, which is located in 15 ECOWAS member states, has its secretariat at CDD, Ghana office.

On Thursday, Mr. Prempeh, who heads the WADEMOS secretariat in Accra, noted that the network has adopted strategic priorities to cover the period 2022 to the end of 2024.

This includes supporting frontline democracy advocates, activists, human rights activists and others facing repressive legislation and authoritarian attacks in their countries.

Mr Pempreh also said the network would also focus on countries that have recently experienced democratic collapse.


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