‘Zero-Tolerance for Military Coups’

President George Weah.

Pres. Weah urges ECOWAS to learn from Liberia’s history with coups d’etat

Citing Liberia’s 1980s military coups d’état, President George Weah has sounded a warning to his colleagues in the sub-region about the grave consequences of military rule on democracy and human rights.

In 1980, Liberia saw one of Africa’s bloodiest military coups orchestrated by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, which led to the death of President William Tolbert and thirteen other government officials, as well as the subsequent erosion of civil liberties, leading to another coup d’état in 1985, followed by more deaths and other serious human rights abuses.

Based on that, President Weah, at an emergency gathering of ECOWAS heads of states to discuss the military coup in Guinea, told his counterparts that under his administration, Liberia has taken a strong zero-tolerance stance against military coups d’état “in our region, because of the retrogression that they cause. 

“We can say, with certainty, that there is no better substitute for good governance than constitutional democracy, no matter how difficult and challenging the circumstances,” President Weah argued.

“Excellences,” he continued, “the urgent task before us now is to act, based on precedence and all the facilities at our disposal, to send out a clear message about our zero-tolerance for the military coup d’état in Guinea, and to call for the immediate restoration of the Government of Guinea under the constitutionally-elected President and Government.”

In his address, President Weah reminded his colleagues that Liberia’s post-coup and post-war success story, has taught bitter lessons of a military coup d’état and its aftermath, which includes the suspension of fundamental freedoms under military rule.

He added that Liberia also knows how painful it is to live under international sanctions imposed on a country because of a military coup. “We are aware of what it means when the Constitution is suspended and the expected goods and services from good governance are un-delivered to the people.”

Although the Liberian President did not boldly criticize ECOWAS for being silent when ousted Guinean President Alpha Condé changed his country’s constitution to allow him run for a third term, President Weah, however, proffered some sound advice to the regional body on ways to mitigate political upheavals in the sub-region; demanding the body take a serious stand on discouraging constitutional manipulations by leaders within the region.

Worrisomely for President Weah is that the Guinea coup, borne out of Mali, set a dangerous precedent that could encourage and embolden other would-be coup plotters in other member countries to take a similar path, thus truncated the democratic gains the sub-region has made over the last two decades.

The coups threaten an earlier commitment by West African states to the 2001 ECOWAS protocols on democracy and good governance which basically frowns on coups d’état if nothing is done to punish coup makers. However, ECOWAS seems to have been resting on its laurels as Mali and Guinea have degenerated into crises that could have been avoided through the instrumentality of the ECOWAS Early Warning System.

The 83-year-old Condé became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010 and was re-elected in 2015. But last year, he pushed through a constitutional change to allow himself to run for a third term, a move his opponents said was illegal. A similar move was then made by Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who also won a third term last year after changing his country’s constitution. 

Of late, critics have slammed ECOWAS for its condemnation of the military takeover in Guinea, especially when the coup appears to be popular among Guineans. The critics however claim that the coup could have been avoided if ECOWAS had taken a strong stand against Condé’s third-term bid, rather than remaining silent until a full crisis erupted.

It is worth noting that President Weah and the deposed Guinea President had a strong bond and, at no time did he also criticize his ‘older brothers’ Condé and Outtara -- for their third term bids, beyond the constitutional term limits in their respective countries. Therefore, Weah’s vocal rejection of the coup in Guinea may not come as a surprise. 

Meanwhile, Condé’s fall from the helm of the Republic of Guinea is, to his own people, nothing less than euphoric. 

At least for now. 

‘Lesson learned’

However, for President Weah, while critics of ECOWAS might have a point, the only remedy to the situation in Guinea hangs on charting a decisive path to the restoration of constitutional democracy.

But he warned that such a move should be based on lessons learned from ECOWAS’ mediation efforts in Mali, which at a certain point, was characterized by a seeming lack of genuine communication and consultation among stakeholders about the transitional road map, leading to a second coup d’état, “whose aftermath we are now trying to manage.”

“In addressing the Guinean situation, we must learn the lesson from that breakdown in communication and consultation which occurred in dealing with Mali,” President Weah said. “In this respect, I recommend that we utilize all the instruments at our disposal, as recommended by the President of Commission, including the urgent setting up of a Mediation Committee of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government on the Political Situation of Guinea, under the chair of an eminent States-person, as Chief Mediator.”

And offering Liberia’s service, he noted that as a neighboring state with intertwined historical, cultural, and social ties with Guinea, Liberia stands ready to utilize its good offices to be part of the Mediation Committee recommended by the President of the Commission. 

Guinea Suspended

And just days after the military coup that removed President Condé, ECOWAS suspended Guinea’s membership during an extraordinary virtual summit on September 8, 2021, demanding a return to the constitutional order and Condé’s immediate release. Condé was overthrown by Special Forces led by Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya on Sunday, September 5.

The ECOWAS leaders also agreed to send a high-level mission to Guinea as soon as September 9. The bloc’s decision came after the coup sparked broad diplomatic condemnation, contrary to great jubilation in the capital, Conakry, where residents thronged the streets to applaud the triumphant soldiers.

‘Find solutions’

Meanwhile, President Weah has called on ECOWAS and regional leaders to find a sustainable solution to the crises in Mali and Guinea by comprehending the factors that trigger such mistrust in both countries’ governments, leading to recurring coups d’état in the respective states.

He said he believes that the coup in Mali has strong similarities with the current events in Guinea, in the sense that both events were allegedly caused by deep mistrust between political authorities and the military.

“It is apparent from his briefing that what transpired in Mali and the situation on our hands now in Guinea have challenged the democratic and good governance principles of ECOWAS,” President Weah said. “Such a retrogression should be strongly resisted by the ECOWAS. We need to be concerned about the root causes, and the number and frequency of coups d’état which have recently occurred in the ECOWAS region.”

He added that if the removal of term limits is serving as a trigger for the overthrow of constitutionally-elected governments, “then perhaps we in ECOWAS should exert our best efforts to ensure that the term limits in the Constitutions of all member states should be respected,” President Weah suggested. 

Although such a suggestion might be difficult to achieve, President Weah did not hide his position on the Guinea and Mali coups, stressing that he is against “the unconstitutional removal of democratically-elected governments.”