•Jonathan, Chambas, ECOWAS, AU, IGAD harps on strengthening democracy
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), Regional Economic Communities (RECs), special envoys, and other key stakeholders are leading the way for inclusive governance and constitutional transition in Africa.
This was the main focus of the just concluded two-day “2nd Annual Retreat for Special Envoys and High Officials representing the RECs on Constitutional Transitions and Unconstitutional Changes of Governments” in Abuja, organized by International IDEA in collaboration with the ECOWAS Commission and Foreign Ministry of the Netherlands.
Speaking at the event in response to the resurgent Coup in parts of Africa, former President and ECOWAS Special Envoy, Goodluck Jonathan, stressed the need for inclusivity and constitutional transition of government to maintain stability in the society.
Jonathan stressed that the dialogue on inclusivity should delve into how RECs and Special Envoys respond to constitutional transitions and unconstitutional government changes in alignment with democratic principles.
He said: “I have always said that there is a strong connection between democracy and development, hence the need to deepen democracy, make it more inclusive, and strengthen the institutions of governance, towards building a stable and prosperous society.”
He urged the stakeholders to place more emphasis on strengthening structures for credible elections, peace meditations, and good governance. He said discussions should explore the monitoring of responses to crises, and their adaptability in a rapidly evolving context due to factors such as security, climate change, and humanitarian challenges.
In his remarks, Secretary-General International IDEA, Dr Kevin Casas-Zamora, stated its commitment to promoting Constitutional Transitions in Africa noting that it’s a pivotal opportunity for inclusive reform and democratic consolidation.
He said, “History teaches a crucial lesson: a significant portion of the population must feel they have a stake in the political system to prevent challenges, often violent, from those feeling excluded. Constitutional transitions, particularly following unconstitutional changes of government, are critical junctures in which all stakeholders must have a vested interest.
“Ensuring broad-based trust and ownership during these times fortifies public and stakeholder confidence in the new political order, creating safeguards against future attempts to undermine the transition,” he explained.
Zamora noted that key findings emanating from the International IDEA’s “Global State of Democracy Report” revealed that “this is a challenging time for democracy globally”.
According to him, their data showed that this is the sixth consecutive year of democratic deterioration globally, the longest such sequence since our records started in 1975.
The International IDEA scribe lamented that over two-thirds of the world’s population now lives in non-democratic regimes or in countries where democracy is visibly retreating.
“Our report documents the considerable pressures faced by democratic governments everywhere: rising populism; declining trust in institutions; runaway polarization; unmet social expectations; pressing environmental challenges; and an increasingly toxic information environment,” Zamora disclosed.
In the same vein, Ambassador Muhammad Yonis, representing the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), emphasized the perils associated with a lack of inclusivity, underlining the potential for unrest or tribal discord. He acknowledged that, in some instances, disillusionment with corrupt governments may lead some to favor a military takeover.
However, Yonis stressed the importance of engaging with such forces through open dialogue and public involvement.
The IGAD Senior Advisor to Chief Negotiator, also cautioned against the adoption of colonial-era constitutions, asserting that this approach may not be suitable for contemporary contexts.
Drawing from his experience in Somalia, he pointed to the structural deficiencies that had led to political instability, where presidents hung prisoners multiple times within a single term, and some leaders remained in power for extended periods, ranging from eight to twenty years.
While acknowledging that the IGAD region is not entirely immune to the potential for unconstitutional government changes, Yonis highlighted that such instances are relatively rare within the region.
Ambassador Addel-Fatau Musah, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security, pointed out that while the African Union, ECOWAS, and other regional organizations possess documents designed to fortify democracy, they continue to grapple with challenges.
Musah highlighted the necessity of examining factors such as poverty and exclusive politics, questioning the root causes behind the surge in coups. He urged for a deeper exploration of whether poverty plays a significant role in these events, emphasizing the relevance of the digital advancements that characterize the era.
The Ambassador said, “We need to talk about poverty, exclusive politics. There must be a reason why there is an epidemic of coups. Is it poverty? We are in an era where we have to look at digital advancement.
“There is organized labor but the military is now abandoning its primary role and taking over power. In West Africa, we had 9 coups. Unsuccessful coups have been there. On the day of the inauguration, Bazoum faced a coup,” he lamented.
Musah urged for a nuanced understanding of these situations, emphasizing that the blame should not be solely placed on governance issues. While concerns about insecurity are raised, he highlighted the crucial role of the environment in these circumstances. The military, he noted, is traditionally tasked with providing security, making it pertinent for them to fulfill this duty.
In a stark portrayal of the situation, the ECOWAS Commissioner shared alarming statistics, stating that over two million people are displaced in Burkina Faso, and more than one million children are deprived of education. He underscored that the security situation is deteriorating in Mali and Niger.
To ensure a smooth and inclusive transition, Musah implored the international community to exercise patience, recognizing the complexity of these challenges.
Also speaking, the African Union (AU) High Representative for Silencing the Guns, Amb. Mohammed ibn Chambas said the Union is in solidarity with International IDEA.
“Violation of human rights, violation of African rights, and our resources are often exploited to our disadvantage,” Chambas said.
“We must abide by the principle of non-differentness. We must push forward the agenda for conflict resolution through the African peace architecture,” he stressed, adding that “we must ensure that African standby forces work”.
On his part, Netherlands Ambassador to Nigeria, Amb Williams Wouter Plomp, said African countries are facing a rise in unconstitutional government transition without constitutional reforms.
“We want inclusion. ECOWAS and others must devise mechanisms to help entrench constitutional government.”
Also speaking, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amb. Yusuf Maitama Tuggar, who was represented by the Director of African Affairs, Amb. Salisu Umar decried what he described as an “avoidable crisis of unconstitutional change of governments in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Niger, Gabon, and others”.
“This has to be reversed. These unconstitutional changes are taking place despite things that are supposed to deter the actors. Africa is signatory to treaties and conventions but the reasons why the continent is still where it needs to be interrogated,”the minister said.
The gathering which epitomizes the spirit of collaboration and commitment to democratic values, was championed by IDEA. The annual retreat offers a platform for experts and political leaders to explore the critical themes surrounding democracy’s sustainability, making it an apt demonstration of International IDEA’s multifaceted contributions.
International IDEA, established in 1995 as an intergovernmental organization, is dedicated to promoting sustainable democracy worldwide. The organization specializes in policy-friendly research and analysis related to elections, parliaments, constitutions, digitalization, climate change, inclusion, and political representation, all aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.