The regional body ECOWAS in the last decade has worked hard to establish regional political stability through political mediation and practical solutions to resolving political issues within Its member states. It is an indisputable fact that political instability created by political leaders who wants to clinch on to power past their mandate have been the catalyst to both domestic and regional chaos.
West Africa was home to brutal dictators who came to power either through military takeovers or flawed electoral process that kept them in power through oppression of citizens’ fundamental rights and freedom. These breed chaos and resistance leading to serious tribal and civil wars leaving hundreds of thousands of West Africans dead, maimed and many displaced across the subregion. It also hampered national and regional economic growth forcing many citizens to flee the continent to the West and other parts of the world.
Regarded as one of the fastest growing regions in Africa, West Africa produces some of the finest citizens who are serving major institutions and the United Nations across the globe. Recognizing that talent and opportunity to correct course, subsequent ECOWAS Chairpersons in collaboration with the United Nations embarked on a regional search for political solutions. The idea of Africa solving its own problems started to take root when some prominent member states like Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana and a few others championed change through democratic means.
The wars in Liberia; Siera Leone, Ivory Coast just to name a few were the first regional challenges the ECOWAS body confronted and through creative leadership by example and mediation, both of those unfortunate man-made political wars were resolved. Thought too little too late to safe many more citizens’ lives, the mediation and subsequent drafting of constitutions engrained in democratic principles including term limits appeared to have been the way forward. One state after another ECOWAS intervened on time to help create a peaceful transition of power and eventual elections. Citizens were once again reassured of their basic rights to choose their leaders and accept the outcome of the majority choices.
Fast forward to 2015 Gambia and Togo appeared to have been the two member states who were still resisting the idea of constitutional democracies and establishment of term limits and open political space. Having been isolated globally and by the ECOWAS body through denial of chairmanship and other regional and international privileges, they were cornered and had no choice but to succumb to democratic processes which ultimately led to their demise. Essentially, the same flawed democratic process they suppressed for so many years gave the citizens a glimmer of home through the polls to get rid of these tyrants.
As ECOWAS spread its influence within the region through the power of the ballot box and constitutional reforms, power greed and abuse of incumbency remains the biggest obstacle to West Africa’s total economic and political liberation. A classic case study is Gambia’s two decades of political oppression and recent political change in the country. Certainly, it is no accident that the change successfully happened. It took sustained pressure through various means both on the government of Yahya Jammeh; the international community and the political establishment which eventually led to a process that yielded the admirable results of peaceful political change. ECOWAS in conjunction with the United Nations and the Gambian Diaspora played a critical role in making that chance happen.
One must be blind or politically inept to fail to see the strategy that ECOWAS formulated to help avert political catastrophe in one of West Africa’s last dictatorship. It took both carrots and sticks to convince a murderous dictator wanting to be president for life to leave everything behind and flee the country. A notable strategic plan ECOWAS crafted was flying the President-Elect outside of the Gambia before threatening to intervene militarily to force the dictator out. Gambia was lucky to have been spared of the usual political chaos and civil wars that follows the fall of brutal dictators.
However, as historical as the defeat and eventual fleeing of the dictator was in the Gambia, many people were wary of the aftermath of the storm. Once again because the dictator was so unpopular and had created so many enemies the country was united in the change agenda. This led to the eventual or accidental rise if you may of an unknown political commodity in Adama Barrow with zero political or leadership experience. Political leaders who had the experience and were tested unfortunately fall victim to a cloudy management of the historic change. The rise of Adama Barrow without a doubt gave hope to Gambians while the rest of the world glued to how the change happened peacefully. Clearly there were steady leaders who managed the change successfully.
This management did not last very long and no sooner did political inexperience and power struggle ensured as politicians and victims of the former regime lined up to be compensated with positions. ECOWAS continue to watch the change they help championed slowly slip into in fighting and chao. The theme quickly changed from reforms to power grab. The old mentality of borrowing and engaging in white elephant projects became the blueprint. The inexperience President’s inability to make sound decisions led him to bring back culprits who exploited the political system for almost two decades. The hope that greeted Gambians quickly dissipated in thin air leading to dangerous and unhealthy struggle for power.
One must be naive to not realize that the political threat and mediocrity that the ECOWAS region help remove is slowly creeping back. The regional body must reassess the change that occurred in the Gambia and try to help avert another African leader using the power of incumbency to entrench himself in power. It is a fact that successful peaceful political transitions of leadership are a recipe for stronger democracy, economic growth, peace and stability. This medium call on Gambia’s fragmented coalition to re-engage ECOWAS and the United Nations to send a clear message that President Barrow’s attempt to clinch on to power beyond the transition period is a sign of failed leadership and political chaos.
Gambians cannot and must not be fooled by white elephant projects or so-called relationship between Barrow and regional leaders. They must recognize that everything this Barrow government is working on is on the path to having another leader impose himself on the people using the power of incumbency, bribery and divide and rule. Gambia’s opposition will make a colossal mistake if they underrate the power of incumbency to induce citizens with money and positions to get their way. The sooner the regional body and Gambians confront the power grab the better the situation can be averted… Look out for a continuation on the urgency of the situation and why time is of the essence to prevent another political chaos in the tiny nation.