Troubling Emergence of New Domino Effect: Unpopular Constitution Changes to Popular Coup?

Ousted Guinea President Alpha Condé.

The Mano River Union countries has the history of imitating each other and when Ivory Coast changed its constitution it was not long Guinea did and now Guinea has a military take over and the people are dancing while the main opposition has nodded that it was the sad right thing to save the state. Reasons to worry.

Early Sunday an immaculately attired Guinean military officer in battle uniform announced tersely that President Conde was arrested but safe and his government was no more! The irony of all is Conde recruited this man to head a unit to be the tool of suppression for his unpopular regime but he apparently loves his country better than his tribesman; thus the clearly disheveled Conde was   uncomfortably on the sofa.

History it is said has an uncanny way of repeating itself; and I say it repeat mostly its most hideous aspect more often than its beautiful pasts.   The Mano River Union ugly past is source of worries.  In the 90s starting with the Liberian civil crisis it was not long when Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast were embroiled in their own civil crisis. Sierra Leone started the support of subversion in sisterly states within the subregion with the Gen Quiwonkpa invasion of 1985; Ivory Coast based the Charles Taylor rebellion while Liberia and Guinea joined the warring factions support ping pong wrecking the sub region into terror and creating a roaming band of regional warriors who killed, looted, pillaged  in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.  

The troubled history of this subregion is reasons enough to worry about what has consumed two of the four states already: changing constitutional term limits and now popular coup as emerging new pattern.

But presidential term limit is a tool to prevent perpetual presidency such as Paul Biya epitomizes sadly in Cameron today.  Liberia was the first amongst ECOWAS states to have term limits in its Constitution. President Tubman orchestrated a twenty-seven years reign with four Constitutional changes perpetuating himself until he died in office hence Liberia’s rushed to set term limit in its new constitution. But today two of the four Mano River Union countries have had unpopular constitutional changes to perpetuate oldmen in power.  

Oldman Clinging Onto Power, Why?

President Outarra, 78 managed a change of the term limit using the court to ban the popular youthful  former Speaker Soro on criminal charges in Ivory Coast while President Conde 83 forced it via bloody streets and many lives in Guinea.   Well Liberia’s President Weah, 56 and Sierra Leone’s President Bio, 53 are both committed to abide by the terms limits and so is it oldman’s disease?  

Hahaha  most of the African leaders clinging desperately onto power are in their 70s and above with the late President Mugabe the past doyen who was succeeded by President Biya of Cameroun who notches forty years in office next year.  And the two who forced the matter in the Mano River region are all very old men.

Most times we ignored the iron signals. When one heads a political institution forever like Gbagbo, Outarra and Bedie in Ivory Coast,  Conde in Guinea, and here in  Liberia for example Tipoteh ruled both MOJA and its political arm, LPP, for decades until embarrassingly flushed out then our society must be alarmed for the future.  Charles Brumskine was untouchable in the Liberty Party and now we have big money men either buying existing parties or forming ones. Recently the former ruling party of President Sirleaf, UP, abruptly circumvented its constitution to perpetuate its Standard Bearer. The point is  these political leaders will not  behave differently when given state power and ownership is for life for those who own political parties. Certainly these are therefore worrying signals for Liberia’s democracy as well particularly in a sub region of mimicry given what has transpired in Guinea and Ivory Coast.

A Collossal Dilemma for ECOWAS

The Guinean opposition has endorsed the putsch while people danced in the streets. This is the dilemma for the enforcement of the ECOWAS rule of no coup. But ECOWAS enforced it harshly against small Gambia whereas in Mali a compromised was reached which invariably impacted the decision in Guinea. Guinea has never been afraid of sanctions as it was the only former French colony to defy the French and forced its independence early; with the opposition toeing in and the vast majority of the people one can safely say that nothing will bring old Conde back.

When we followed the emergence of the culture of gun violence and armed rebellion that destabilized and plunged the sub region into years of tumultuous bloodshed and the associated culture of child abuse by use  of child soldiers whose remnants are known as zogos in Liberia, the amputation of limbs in Sierra Leone and drugs proliferations what emerged clearly was that one after the other a domino effect set in and ravaged all four Mano River Union states.  

Inarguably then given this history one should be concerned when a country of Guinea’s size and economy has fallen in love with a military change; and too when in Ivory Coast sits a President who used all the Machiavellian tools to bag another term by condemning a former popular military and rebel leader Guillaume Soro to criminal charges to exile, while former President Gbago has survived the war crimes charges and is back in Abidjan.  There is deep concern for worry for Ivory Coast as well.

When it happened in Gambia ECOWAS amassed troops and President Jammeh fled; but Guinea is not Gambia and the Mali reality has given the new standard.  We are right back to the new days of new popular coup driven by changing constitution to perpetuate in power; are we in for a new round of mimicking political instability or will Liberia and Sierra Leone stay true to their organic laws and halt the new train will be crucial to the stability of the sub region.

**This author served twelve years in the Liberian legislature and stood down in 2017. Before that he organized and led a youth program that participated in the disarmament in Liberian in 2004. A former Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Head of Delegation to the ACP-EU; also an expert on small arms proliferation, he addressed the 2008 Biennial Conference of states at the UN on Small Arms and many international fora on peace and security; he’s now a practicing lawyer.