The most important unifying body of West Africa, ECOWAS, is now referred to by many as a conglomeration of presidents who faithfully implement all desires and decisions emanating from France and the US. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was put in place in May 1975 to provide regional economic cooperation and has since evolved to include political and military cooperation. The 15-member organization of states is known for mobilizing peace keeping troops that are sent to conflict zones in the subregion. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana is its current chairman. The institution knew some blunders a couple of times and most people still remember when the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), which is the military branch of ECOWAS and was created in 1990 in order to curtail the civil war in Liberia failed. The arrest and mutilation of the then Liberian President Samuel Kanyon Doe occurred in September 1999, when ECOMOG troops were on the ground. Many analysts see that as a glaring incompetence of ECOMOG.
The African Union has openly lamented the state to which ECOWAS has been reduced. Since 2009, ECOWAS has been feeble and started to rely on the EU and the US. Its diplomatic missions failed when they tried to negotiate a return to constitutional rule in Niger after the “constitutional coup” of Mamadou Tandja. The heads of state of ECOWAS are regarded by many as a “syndicate of presidents who are at the beck and call of France”. The distinction between the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS is that the former is more reliable in the eyes of many and, as such, its position and decisions are seen to be better.
The illustration lies in the following. The AU saw no problem when the transition government in Mali stated their intention to stay in power for not more than five years. Goita and his government needed a maximum of five years, and they did not imply that they intended to stay in power for more than five years. That nuance was understood by the AU who, in turn, respected it. Moreover, the AU proposed a negotiation plan that would be hosted by Algeria while ECOWAS made no move of that sort. They simply refused any interaction, discussion and negotiation with the new authorities of Mali. Many analysts refuse to call the new military rulers ‘junta’. These are respectable transitional bodies with a specific mission; they guarantee the sovereignty of their countries and work towards the well-being of their citizens.
Other political scientists, like the Cameroonian Alain Foka, challenged the condemnations of the coups in Africa, “numerous important and positive changes in Africa were carried out by military rulers. Jerry Rawlings of Ghana is hailed as the father of democracy in Ghana, he was a soldier, a coup leader. Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, who is revered today, was also a soldier who came to power through a coup. Mathieu Kérékou who spearheaded the transition to democracy in the Benin Republic was also a military man. Séni Kountché who is highly regarded in Niger for his leadership, determination and commitment to the development of his country was a coup leader who stayed in power for 13 years. The Rwandan Paul Kagame whose country is a model for all developing nations is a coup leader who has been in power for more than 20 years. Many seem to have forgotten that General de Gaulle, who is still celebrated in France, was a coup leader who ruled his country for 14 years”. According to Foka, military rulers can and have brought on board considerable positive changes for many nations. It might, therefore, be prudent not to rush to condemn them, in the geo-political context prevailing in Africa.
Excessively corrupt army and the Burkina Faso coup
While some military leaders can create sanity after booting out an inefficient civilian regime tagged as “democratic”, the Burkinabè army was corrupt through and through, and that contributed to the protest of the younger officers who were tired of being lied to, and used as cannon fodder. The first proof of that unbelievable and unethical phenomenon is this. Captain Sidsoré Kader Ouédraogo, spokesman for the current military government, was himself a witness to several traumatic experiences. He was ordered to fly and rescue his colleagues who were fighting on the front against the Jihadist. Each time the young man landed, he found a horrendous tableau of dead soldiers and severely wounded men in uniform. On several occasions, he was ordered by his commanders at the Burkina Airforce to write fake reports that attested to the victory of the national army over Jihadist insurgents. Figures were manipulated for years. The other practice that shows the gargantuan greed of the top hierarchy of the Burkinabè Army. Officers sent their men to the front against Jihadists, and then the Jihadists, and then furnished the Jihadists with detailed information on the location and movements of the troops sent out, in return for large sums of money. A contingent of young men found this information on the cell phone of a Jihadist, whom they shot, as the proof of communication between their commander and the insurgents. The furious young men stormed the office of their commander who quickly ran into hiding. Nothing was done, except that he was transferred to another unit of the army.
So, in the case of Burkina, measures and punishments that stifle innocent populations who are already crumbling under the weight of poverty and misgovernance are the last thing any sensible person would think of.
This coup is an organic phenomenon, human beings’ behavior and actions are caused by the exact defining features of their milieu. No sensible soldier with an iota of integrity and dignity could remain indifferent to the debauched attitude of the army’s top officers. The sanctions of ECOWAS are simply ridiculous and embarrassing. Once more, those leaders have confirmed that they carry out the orders of the West, like robots.
The Burkinabè masses threw their weight behind the military. The undeniable fact is that three of the G5 Sahel countries that are waging a war against Jihadists are ruled by soldiers who suddenly emerged on the political scene in Mali, Chad and Burkina. Mauritania and Niger still have their “democratically elected” presidents. The question remains which country(ies) are immune to the Goita variant in this epidemic of coups d’état? The coup attempt in Guinea Bissau is not a hazard.
Finally, regarding ECOWAS, I am reminded of the statement that Thomas Sankara in his Christlike conviction made when he was elected Chair of CEAO, The West African Economic Community, a six Francophone countries organization founded in 1973. That statement perfectly applies to ECOWAS in this form, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, ECOWAS, if you want to enter the Kingdom of God, you need to be born again”.
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.