The crisis that has arisen in the West African community as a result of the overthrow by presidential guards of the civilian government of President Mohamed Bazoum in Niger could provoke an extended regional crisis. If the ECOWAS Commission’s seven-day ultimatum to the military officers is not heeded by them then ECOWAS will be confronted with the need to decide how best to enforce its resolution to reverse the consequences of the coup.
In its communique on the issue the Commission has already declared that force could be utilised in order to find a solution. This declaration coming at a time when almost the entire geographic area of West Africa known as the Sahelian region is embroiled in a maelstrom of critical humanitarian disorder means that the circumstances for the restoration of political peace and good governance are clearly not the best. The members of the Commission are faced with a historical dilemma as they confront the emergence of military dissidents in various member countries presenting themselves as the alternative to unpopular or incompetent leaders the credibility of whose elections have often been questioned. As a result, the argument raised by military insurgents in respect of justification for their intervention has been that the population of their countries want change. For this reason, it is imperative that any action embarked upon by ECOWAS should be likely to attract popular support but military action is unlikely to achieve this.
It is an absolute requirement for success in the eventual outcome of the Commission’s resolutions that the decisions taken should reflect the best interests of the citizens of the member countries. In recent years there have been discussions raised in the meetings of the organisation to consider how best to improve the effectiveness of its decisions on the lives of the people. Those who propose this path of action have suggested that ECOWAS should be transformed from a union of leaders to a union of peoples.
However the events of recent times appear to indicate that this might be wishful rather than realistic thinking as the problems arising in the domestic political realities of many member nations, especially in the former French colonies in the Sahelian territory appear to reflect popular disenchantment with the corporate credibility of their political authorities. It is therefore important that the sitting leaders of ECOWAS should consider the reality of the situation as they tailor their own corporate response to these realities and that they should acknowledge the fact that the popular will in those countries where the military forces have stepped 2 in is often sympathetic to the insurgent emotions. In realising this ECOWAS must consider that tolerance might be necessary in order to bring about popular attachment to regional aspirations.
In order to determine the extent to which resolutions of the regional body represent the profound interests of the people it is necessary for the leaders to reflect seriously on the founding principles of the organisation. At the time when the decision was taken to establish the body some of the major founding member nations were led by military leaders, and the sentiment that guided their objective was the wish for unity of purpose in development and harmonious co-existence in postcolonial relationships. Over the decades since then these objectives have been consolidated and developed at differing rates among the member nations. However, in the main Anglophone nations of Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone as well as in some Francophone countries such as Benin (Dahomey) and Togo military interventions arose as part of the historical process of post-colonial nation building and can be said to have given rise to their extant representative governments. It is imperative that the current leaders should consider the process of nation building as a continuous element of the decolonisation process in which they are engaged. If ECOWAS regards this as the core of its mandate, then its duty must be to avoid any action that could escalate military confrontation among its members. It should instead encourage negotiation among the dominant political forces including the military in each member nation for social transformation of the competing forces into a unified whole. It is therefore advisable that instead of seeking to enforce reinstatement of a compromised civilian leader whenever the spectre of military rule rears its head ECOWAS should position itself as a mediator armed with tactics of both tolerance and determination rather than as an enforcer who is likely to aggravate the original quarrel.