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What is ECOWAS still the name of in Africa?


While the military regimes in power in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso are increasingly popular, the image of ECOWAS continues to tarnish.

In just seven months, three coups amputated the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) by 20% of its members. In addition to this purely accounting balance sheet, ECOWAS has above all lost all popular legitimacy. And not just in the three countries where the rulers were overthrown by the military. Indeed, ECOWAS is now mocked throughout the West African region, indeed throughout Africa.

It must be said that the severe economic and diplomatic sanctions, imposed by ECOWAS in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, do not please more than that.

According to Fahiraman Kone, researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Bamako, these sanctions are seen "as attacks against the people". ECOWAS does not seem to have taken the measure of events. "If the region is no stranger to coups, the recent wave of putschs has one thing in common: popular support", says the political scientist who also highlights Western support - of the European Union , the United States and France — to ECOWAS sanctions. A counterproductive support, which tarnishes the reputation of ECOWAS.

The embargo in Mali, the bad good idea

ECOWAS responded to each coup by suspending its organs. First from Mali, then from Guinea and Burkina Faso. In Bamako, after the failure of talks with the military in power, ECOWAS has also imposed an embargo. A dissuasive act for the other countries concerned? Not really, because if the objective was to isolate the military who overthrew the presidents they considered illegitimate, the ECOWAS strategy does not seem to work.

In Mali, a majority of the population rallied to President Assimi Goïta, who in turn urged Malians to “defend their homeland and mobilize” against ECOWAS sanctions. And if, before the embargo, only the political elite and the army openly defended Goïta, its Prime Minister Choguel Maïga and their government, the latter saw the powerful National Union of Workers of Mali (UNTM) also go over to their side. .

A press release from the UNTM indicates that ECOWAS has "once again betrayed Africa". Quite a symbol, because no personality in Malian public life has, since the coup, and to date, expressed his support for the ECOWAS sanctions. “Economic sanctions in particular are unpopular. They only exacerbate nationalism and provide popular fervor to the rhetoric of the military,” summarizes Fahiraman Kone.

Read: Mali: what ECOWAS sanctions really mean

At the international level, ECOWAS suffered another failure in seeking to "inflict exemplary punishment" on Mali. Because several countries have decided to go against these sanctions. Indeed, Guinea's military leader, Mamady Doumbouya, said he would not comply with the ECOWAS decision. Algeria and Mauritania will also certainly help the Malian transition.

ECOWAS and the personal interests of West African presidents

According to Gilles Yabi, founder of the West African Citizen Think Tank (WATHI), it is the ruling elites who are responsible for the democratic decline in West Africa. "Solidarity between the Heads of State of ECOWAS, who only take decisions in their personal interest is palpable in the decisions of ECOWAS", denounces Yabi.

Daniel Eizenga, researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies of Africa (CESA), believes that ECOWAS must "tackle the problem of democratic backsliding" if it "wants to meet the aspirations of its increasingly young populations". “Failure to do so comes with high costs, as evidenced by the recent series of coups and popular criticism of ECOWAS,” says Eizenga.

Read: Guinea-Mali: has ECOWAS fallen out of favor?

For international relations professor Sean Jacobs, the very recent coup d'etat in Burkina Faso reflects not only "the bankruptcy of liberal democracy in Africa", but "promotes military authoritarianism, which represents for the populations a better option and more stable. Jacobs gives the example of the governance of Paul Kagame in Rwanda: “A parliamentary commission traveled through Rwanda, and only ten Rwandans declared themselves opposed to his reign”. The academic asks: “Are strong men or liberal democracy our only choices? ".

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