By William Q. Harmon
The West African sub-region is gradually transforming from what could be termed as a dictators’ club that perpetrated instabilities across the region to being an upholder of democracy—a new trend that comes with more peace and tranquility in member states.
If there was any single case-in-point to prove that the political atmosphere has changed in West Africa, it came with the departure into exile of the long-time leader of The Gambia, ‘president for life’ Yaya Jammeh, and the ushering in of a new leader for the tiny country. This outcome was achieved by none other than ECOWAS leaders themselves.
So it was in affirmation of this new reality in the region that the President of the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, Marcel Alaine de Souza, noted that peace and tranquility is gradually taking root in this once volatile region. President de Souza said adherence to the rule of law and democracy is making the region a hub of stability, though there are problems in Mali and Guinea Bissau.
Mr. de Souza made the assertion during his remarks at the opening of the 38th Ordinary Ministerial Meeting of the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council at the Farmington Hotel in lower Margibi County.
Providing updates on the sub-region, specifically on the democratic front, he said Liberia is the only remaining country that is set to go to elections this year, and wished for a peaceful process as was in the case of Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, The Gambia and others in recent times.
He praised the Liberian government for its handling of the electoral process so far.
ECOWAS is indeed exerting its presence in the region, even pushing for more reasons to unite the people through a robust integration agenda, de Souza said, adding that he wants this to continue.
African heads of state are no longer ready to back colleagues for the wrong reasons. They now believe the right things must be done and the will of the people, through elections, must be respected.
The new course that the regional body is charting indicates that gone are the days when the unwritten but sacred rule of never criticizing each other for whatever they did to their citizens was practiced.
During the 1970s, 80s and 90s, and early 2000s West Africa had a poor reputation. At one stage, only one country, Senegal, was not headed by a military regime.
West Africa was known as a region of political instability and the leaders did not want to leave office. The chances of a peaceful transfer of power were zero.
It is difficult to determine exactly what particular event was the turning point for that status quo, but gradually fortunes started to change for the personalities who appeared to be perpetual opposition figures.
Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara noted that the sub-region is now held in high esteem as a result of the tremendous work done in recent years.
While formally opening the meeting, she said “Our ECOWAS is now respected highly for the decisive and determined posture of our leaders and the strategic use of its military assets in the interest of peace, stability, and security of ECOWAS citizens.”
Minister Kamara, who is also Chairperson of the Ministerial Council, paid tribute to the President and staff of the ECOWAS Commission for the positive results of their hard work that continues to bring credit to the regional body.
She also extended appreciation to the Chair of the Mediation and Security Council (MSC) and the ECOWAS Ambassadors for their informed contributions to enhancing coordination and policy coherence between the Commission and member states on regional peace and security matters.
She further stated that ECOWAS has continued to develop and sharpen the elements of its peace and security since its first deployment to Liberia in August 1990.
Among other things, the minister expressed her expectation that the 38th MSC Meeting will further enhance their collective initiative to strengthen the peace and security architecture of the sub-region.
“We are greatly honored by your presence,” she said, adding that the decision to convene these mid-year statutory meetings in Liberia is a very reassuring statement of confidence in the progress Liberia has made in consolidating peace over the past 13 years.
She attributed that success to the visionary leadership of President Sirleaf, who, with support of partners, has kept the Liberian nation on a peaceful course. “ECOWAS, the United Nations and many friendly governments, have been indispensable partners in this respect,” she added.
Meanwhile, President de Souza promised to ask ECOWAS stakeholders and others to do a “standing ovation” for the Chair of ECOWAS Authority, President Sirleaf, and her government for the splendid job she has done for the sub-region and her country.
The two-day Meeting of the 78th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers starts today