Governments, which shall come to power through unconstitutional means shall not be allowed to participate in the activities of the Union. – African Union Constitutive Act.
The sudden news flash of a Military coup d’etat in Mali does not come as a surprise to me for two very important reasons. The first that begs for some consideration is the role of France in the security arrangement with all the Franco-phone African states. I do not want to subscribe to the ongoing notion as noted by one writer that “ France does not have politics in Africa, but only bad manners”.
Lest we forget, France has a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and French is one of the six official UN languages. This position accords France real influence in the world. Remarkable as it may seem, a stress on consistency and loyalty featured in various arms of French government concern with Africa. This policy of loyalty has wider implications. For instance, for France to have “abandoned” Rwanda in the early 1990s as alleged, would have sent a strong signal to other Franco-phone African leaders that France could abandon ship at any time the going gets tough, or her privileged position is challenged.
Yes, you do not lead by your position, but by the strength of your ideas. So which man of honour will desert a life long friend at the insistence of a common opponent and still retain a measure of credibility. The controversy over the culpability of the international community for its failure to prevent the genocide in Rwanda is one that would not go away.
The second most important point is the ECOWAS and the African Union. Here is a call to all African Heads of state/government to rededicate themselves to publicly go against the Malian military. The time has come for Africa to take full responsibility of her woes and use the immense collective wisdom it possesses to make a reality of the idea of the African rebirth. Now there is a new generation on the continent saying we are ready to turn things around for good. If Africa fails or refrains from taking action against those that come to power through unconstitutional means, then how can it guarantee those that came through popular wish? But least to say is shameful how much attention is being devoted to eccentric events that may have no immediate spill over effect to our security.
Africans have all agreed that any unconstitutional change of government, especially through military coups would throw them into calamitous circumstances. By nature, political calamities are messy affairs, where all players scramble to cover up their mistakes and protect their interest. Where major players are unable to agree, what options exist? I will attempt to offer a general framework, an improvement over where things stand, a politically realistic option, in the hope that it may be understood, as well as gain some support from the reading public.
The political turmoil in the Mali that led to military take over started with military mutinies. These events show that the African Union has a long way to make the African political climate more resistant to the kinds of shock that we have witnessed with the change of government in Mali. The systematic failures of talks that led to change of government might have surprised political observers, who dismissed a possible scenario of anarchy. I do not think any one had a clear picture of Mali’s dilemma with the restless mutineers. ECOWAS and the AU must have in place variety of measures necessary to prevent such extreme political measures, as military coup d’etat. The sense that the worst scenarios of the crisis are over could also erode the determination of weary crisis managers to take the needed measures to prevent another calamity elsewhere.
We need a range of regulatory, supervisory, political systems and social mechanism to strengthen democracy in Africa. These mind boggling complexities make it difficult to examine why coups happened. But, Africa must act now. The crucial challenge facing our leadership is the development of a stronger infrastructure for transition into democracy. The crisis was the fruit of a general overestimation of the strength of democratic processes. Blind faith in the “dividends of democracy” replaced any real perspective about what the country needed to do to meet up the expectation of various interest groups. If the crisis does anything, it has brought home the awesome amount of infrastructure that must now be built. For emerging democracies, this means orientation, training, mobilization, supervision and creation of laws and systems of good governance.
And the worst of all, the ongoing crisis has eroded the faith of many up and coming democrats in democracy itself. The reluctance of Africa’s leadership to mount sustainable pressure by publicly voicing their deepest concerns is quietly building unrestraint political pressure around. What is therefore a politically workable framework for the future?
The infrastructure for democratization cannot be built if democracies are at odds with one another. The causes of what started the mutinies were badly underestimated. Both the government of Mali, ECOWAS and the African Union made serious mistakes. For one thing, these parties failed to correctly appraise the situation. Leaders and stakeholders deluded themselves in the belief that the mutineers were only looking for money. They fooled themselves into believing that they were ready to fully participate in the democratic dispensations.
Maintenance of World peace is no longer the responsibility of a cozy P5 club at the UN Security Council. Regional groups like the ECOWAS and the AU have evolved in conflict management process and their evolution is very clear. In the first two decades after World War II, border conflicts were the main source of crisis, but by the 1970s through 1990s, intra African conflicts became the primary source of crisis. In the late 1990s to date, Africa has revealed a much wider cast taking the stage: Democracy. Future political crisis will increasingly involve the principles of Human Rights and Good governance. All this will make crisis management infinitely more complicated, because there is no one mindset at play, no one set of regulators and no way to negotiate anything with so many diverse parties. Moreover, many participants who have not one iota of genuine interest in a continent will flee at the first sight that the good times are over.
There is no controversy surrounding the Constitutive Africa’s Union Article in principle, about the need to strengthen democracy in individual African countries, but there is need for transparency, accountability, information disclosure and adequate financial regulation that is sorely lacking. And since not every African country agrees on the exact nature of her role in conflict situations, but all believed that some form of African institution need to be in the center of the storm, it is therefore wiser to maintain the Central Organ and its Military Advisers, with broad agreement on the need for more Advisers to strengthen the system by expanding its current membership. There is no doubt that this will generate interest in the mechanism and end the myth that the subject of “peace” is beyond the capacity of all but a few.
Defenders of the ECOWAS and the AU in the ongoing Malian crisis may wish to say that they did the best they could with the information available at the time, particularly given the fact that Mali came to it late and agreed to her programs only well after the crisis became advanced. But there is still serious criticism, and it goes like this: Mali was itself too absorbed on depending democracy. In so doing it allowed ECOWAS to intervene bringing more discontent, which eventually not only forced the collapse of democracy, but also did a lot of damage to the country than would have happened had it remained focused on the issues at the onset. Some critics may further argue that ECOWAS should have been less intrusive, focusing on stability first by helping the government to embark on a large scale restructuring of her policies and programs. Others may accuse the government of failure to take societal needs into account, thereby sowing the seeds for political problems for years to come. In the final analysis, we can safely conclude that the crisis in the Mali might primarily be due to excesses of government.
For several decades, the conventional wisdom within the ECOWAS and the AU was that the emerging independent African states should consolidate their independence either which way they can. But soon they realized that Africa was systematically and gradually being marginalized, especially at the end of the cold war. A key dispute revolved around democracy, human rights and good governance. But beyond that, many saw that the problems in emerging democracies were in large part caused by the military. Commissions like the Africa’s People and Human Rights wanted to make public information it obtained from emerging democratic regimes, but for the AU who fear that in doing so, its sources of reliable information as well as its sensitive political relationships could be destroyed. So while agencies like the Central Organ wants more and better information, there is little about wherefrom, who should collect it, verify it, or make it public, and beyond that whether all those concerned could use the information voluntary.
The African Union must have patience to roll up its sleeves and address the hard realities of our time by not adopting her predecessor’s (OAU) stand of allowing her members to continue with business as usual. Conflict mechanism ought to be modified and be used as much as possible to discipline excesses of member states. There should be little controversy about the need to make information available, sooner. The wrangling over whether the Central Organ should take a lead in this area, given the risk of undermining its confidential relationships, can be addressed by the development of an extensive information network and its timely disclosure. Members of the Central Organ can fill in the blanks in the process of verify information.
More important than the mechanism, which is hard to implement and which creates its own distortion, the AU should consider the establishment of effective laws through the National Assemblies of member states. More crises will occur in our transition to democracy, and countless countries will experience political insolvency unless there are formal, legally mandated restructuring procedures in place. The orderly restructuring of institutions is a fundamental requirement of democracy, and the adequate systems of doing so presently exist.
Much more attention must be given to the strengthening of the overall mechanism. Transitional democracies are relatively small boats in a turbulent sea. More emphasis must also be put on conflict prevention as top priority. The lesson here is that conflict prevention requires both external and internal preparation. Governments need to be encouraged to approach the Central Organ for help. The AU must at this juncture hold out incentives for those countries in need of help in their transition. We must be mindful that countries have memories too, and if treated unsympathetically, they will lack the will to cooperate.
By all accounts, Nigeria was at the table when most of the critical issues of conflict management and resolution were discussed, including the adoption of the resolution that to saw the creation of the Central Organ. The Ministries of Foreign Affairs Defence and the Presidency weighed all the views, and by all indication, the government is yet to have an acceptable formula for intervention or is not ready to lead.
In our effort to strengthen Africa’s collective security through the existing mechanism overseen by the Central Organ, major African states must participate under the leadership of others to organize mobile force capable of deterrence and rapid intervention in problem theaters in the continent. ECOWAS mandate must be expanded to accommodate hot pursuit into member country to flush out and apprehend criminal elements for trial. Mali as an important member of the group must enjoy the enormous security benefits it identified with the Commission, and can not therefore be abandoned to move towards anarchy, through acts of few selfish individuals.
We must remember that every cause has its risks, and lessons learnt in one crisis will never provide the full answers of addressing the next, but they can help. The terrible threat to our ability to learn is neither the absence of talented people or lack of good ideas, but the biggest threat is that the coup d’etat in Mali appears to be entrenching itself, lulling everyone into moving on other issues. This is an immense tragedy, and certainly means that we have not yet seen the end.
I would want to end this short article with the words of an American statesman and former President Clinton, who confronted with injustice remarked that, “in every distorted situation in the world where people are kept from becoming the best they can be, there is injustice in the heart. We have to do whatever we can, however we can, wherever we can to take away the injustice out of our hearts and others hearts as well”.