ECOWAS summit of Heads of State took place in Accra-Ghana on 3rd July 2022 to deliberate on pressing security, political and economic affairs of member states.
On top of the agenda was the military take over of the governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Conakry, and the progress made by the military Juntas to restore democracy in the three countries.
After two years of back and forth negotiations; since 2020, the 18 months transition period granted by ECOWAS for the Malian Junta and others to hand over to an elected government has not materialized.
The Juntas proposed a final transition of 4 years which will end in February 2024. The new date may have been accepted by ECOWAS, as a compromise.
The sanctions imposed on the countries have been relaxed; the borders with other community members have been reopened, and the restrictions on trade and financial transactions with member states have also been removed.
It is not yet clear, if the Juntas have access to the funds of Mali and Burkina Faso domiciled at the BCEAO, the Francophone Central Bank in Dakar. If they do, it should be blocked, since one of the objectives of the coups was for financial gain.
And in the case of Mali; it was also to cover up the scandal exposed by a BBC Eye documentary ‘ Fallen and Forgotten in Mali’, which revealed corruption in arms deals by senior Malian military officers; who purchased low-quality weapons, bought ‘bulletproof vests’ stuffed with cartons, ‘bulletproof socks’ for whatever purpose, stole the salaries of soldiers and gratuities of officers killed in combat. These facts are in the public domain for verification.
The Malian Junta willfully denied the ousted President and Prime Minister of Mali appropriate medical attention, until both of them died in their custody. The Junta expelled the French contingent and replaced them with mercenaries, who rather than fight the enemy are murdering innocent civilians in the war zones, especially peasant Peuls and Touaregs. This is just a glimpse of the vicious nature of Colonel Assimi Goita and his colleagues.
In Guinea-Conakry, Colonel Mammady Doumbouya is consolidating his hold on to power by intimidating the Guinean people. He has banned public protests nationwide, demolished the home of the leading opposition leader and refused to present a transition timetable for handing over to an elected government.
Lieutenant Colonel Damiba has brought back to Burkina Faso, former President Blaise Campaore, his former boss, to take part in a sham national reconciliation programme. Whereas, the people are calling for the arrest of the former President to serve the life sentence in jail passed on him, for the murder of former President Thomas Sankara, among several other crimes.
Unfortunately, ECOWAS is not being firm and resolute enough in dealing with the Juntas, on the assumption that the putschists are reasonable people.
The transition until 2024 is a dangerous appeasement compromise, which will give the Juntas adequate time to entrench, and the opportune time to legitimize their stay by conducting sham elections.
ECOWAS should, therefore, reverse the transition timetable to August 2023, as initially proposed by the community.
ECOWAS had in the past reined in erring member states by taking military actions against them. The interventions in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, and Gambia brought down the illegitimate regimes in these countries and tamed their Armed Forces. The same measure may have to be taken in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Conakry.
After the return to democratic rule; ECOWAS should work towards bringing permanent peace to the countries ravaged by wars in the Sahel, and most especially Mali, where the government and Touaregs are engaged in a long and bloody war, which has spread to other countries.
The war in the Sahel is rooted in the haphazard creation of modern states from ancient kingdoms during colonization. The ancient empires of Mali, Toucouleur, Masasina, Bambara, Wassulu were wholly or in part merged to create the modern states of Mali and Burkina Faso. The kingdoms are odd bed fellows, which should have been governed in loose federated states, rather than by a strong centralized government.
Mali was granted independence by France in June 1960 as a federated state.
Modibo Keita, the first President of the country, however, changed the political system into a unitary, marxist government, which suppressed the freedom and aspirations of several ethnic groups.
The bad management of the diversity and crisis which followed, led to the armed struggle by the Touaregs and eventual declaration of Independence from the state of Mali.
ECOWAS should intervene with a peace plan, which will address tribal grievances.
The peace plan will have provisions, which will enable the major ethnic groups enjoy autonomy to manage their cultural affairs, internal security, educational system, finances, rural and urban development etc.
The central government will control the military, immigration, currency, foreign affairs. This plan may have to be imposed by ECOWAS, if the warring parties refused to come into an agreement.
Ethnic diversity could be an asset if properly managed. The United Kingdom, which is a confederation of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland collectively created the largest empire in human history.
The four nations are so independent of each other, that they present individual teams at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games and the World Cup. This should inspire countries in the Sahel, which are collapsing due to inability to manage their diversities in a sensible manner. Nigeria falls into this category.
The statement by the Foreign Minister of Spain, that NATO may intervene in Mali is not an empty threat, especially coming from a belligerent organization that is in search of wars to fight. In that eventuality, which is not inconceivable, ECOWAS would be held responsible for failing the community.
In conclusion, ECOWAS must be firm in its resolve to put an end to the crises in the three countries under the control of military Juntas. The transition period should not exceed August, 2023.
Colonel Mammady Doumbuya must present a transition timetable before the next ECOWAS summit or latest by 10th August, 2022 or face severe sanctions.
And to the three Juntas, the era of coups in Africa is over. The times of Idi Amin, Sergent Doe, Mobutu, Bokassa will never come back again.
The ignominious end of these dictators is also a good lesson for officers, who may be tempted to follow these bad examples. The Juntas should leave peacefully, as patriotic citizens or face the consequences of their foolhardiness and intransigence .
Ambassador Akinkuolie was director of Trade, Investment and Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, Nigeria.