West Africa: Travails democracy and return of the military by Charles Onunaiju
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s not a coup, it is the liberation of a country, which was being governed by People, who were incompetent”-Barkinagbe military supporter, The Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS), the sixteen member sub-regional group would have to adorn its fire brigade attire once again, the third time in less than two years, to put out the fire of yet another full blown military takeover of a member state. The military in Burkina Faso on the 24th of January, snatched former president Christen Roch Kabore and announced to the country that his government has been taken over, by the juggler extremist Jihadists became because they has held the country especially its outskirts, savagely murdering people and destroying properties while politicians in the capital make merry and snore away. Furthermore, the coupist alleged that as the economy stagnates and heads to the tailspin as a result of insecurity, politicians are surfing around the land to award themselves tenure to continue the same thing. To all the charges laid at the table against the democratically elected government, daily experiences of the people in worsening security situations, spread to grinding poverty, youth restiveness from soaring unemployment are unassailable witness and the quote above from the AFP, a news agency of a 30 year old school teacher is a grand testimony of the teclings of an ordinary Burkinabes. As in Mali and Guinea, where soldiers have successfully turpealved the civilian elites, the reasons are mainly that the civilian elites were in grand negligence of their duties to ameliorate and improve the living conditions of the people or have infracted so recklessly on the constitutional order they are supposed to uphold and consequently, gravely undermined the democratic framework.
However, while the charges reach out by the military to justify their new fad of up ending the democratic order; on the surface of it, is unassailable, the experience with military rule in the sub-region and beyond does not lend itself to any optimism that junta rule is any credible alternative to the civilian elites. However, there are certain sense in which the resurgence military coups in West Africa is a definitive invitation to interrogate the democratic process but in its actual practice and its underlining institutional infrastructure.
The fact that the military or more appropriately, elements within it consider seizure of political power as a way to resolve the crises of the state and the excesses of the one faction or the other of the civilian political elites and in most Cases, the democracy project in the region suffers from a critical deficit of popular ownership. That democracy has been poorly practiced by politicians and its surrogates among the business elite and the top hierarchy of the military is not in doubt and consequently brought little or no relief to the serious problems and challenges that the people face on routine and daily basis. The problem of worsening insecurity, deepening of grinding poverty, abuse of public offices, wide spread and mindless corruption the famous political elites, grand corruption and inefficiency in the bureaucracy or public service are daily experience of the people, even as the institutions and grand rules of democracy which includes rule of law, existence of the parliament, periodic elections which are sometimes free and fair are in fully display. Obviously the grand rules of democracy and the existence of all the paraphelinia of it, without the most vital or important aspect of delivering service that feeds directly into solving practical problems especially giving scope to enhanced security, improving access to quality health care, education and general well-being of the people leaves democracy on a downhill descent to a mere hollow ritual and even a dangerous alibi to exclude the people, while the elites feed fat on the collective patrimony.
To perpetuate that sort of democracy seated on rules alone and which principally benefit the operators rather the generality inevitable vulnerable to a clique within the military or any organized armed group. The greatest undoing of the civilian elite “democratically elected” within the Sub-region and beyond is their inability to innovatively manage and improve the economy because their essential understanding of the democracy and its rule of the civil elites is mostly, entitlement. The economies of the sub-region despite years of democratic rule have not revived nor appreciably grow in a broadly inclusive and sustainably manner. The abundance of human capital has been brought to bear, because policy focus on building human capacity has not prioritized. Deepening and widespread poverty which is the corollary to wasteful human capital and arrested factor in national development; remain as the essential obstacle to economic growth. Fritting away resources to maintain rule-based democracy that do not challenge the productive basis and unlock for sustainable growth remain the most existential deficit of democratic rule in the sub-region. The inherent challenge of economic growth, inclusive and sustainable development is to give scope to the innovative and productive potential of the totality of the population, bringing into full play their respective aggregate capacities to contribute in economic revival. If civil political process and its grand rules and norms is not able to generate the necessary momentum to fill the gap of productivity and innovation, enabling the sub-region to become a hub or workshop of creativity and value-multiplying enterprises, its democracy cannot be secured by mere virtue of playing to the rules which bring benefits only to the players, leaving the mass of the people as mere spectators, whose enthusiasm is bound to wane as they become increasingly buffeted by hunger, misery and exposure to violent deaths.
In the past nearly three decades, democracy in the West sub-region has been largely process-oriented, rule-based and procedural but for democracy to be owned by the people in the sub-region, it needs to be result-oriented and substantive so that it does not just become a machine to ferry the civilian elites to good life of privileges, entitlements and opulence but a mechanism to process inclusive and qualitative improvements in the living conditions of the people, offer them scope through policy as the innovative and productive drivers of the economy and giving the social and Civil worth to be citizens and not just electoral zombies periodically validating one faction or the other of the civilian elites to inordinately pursue and fulfill their sense of entitlements.
The Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS) would its job of superintending democracy in the region, will find its work easier, if it shifts its focus from who is breaching the rule of democracy to how democracy is delivering on the basic needs of the people and spurring them to contribute to the growth and expansion of the economies of the economies in the sub-region. Calling out and denouncing military adventurists within the region while the people dance and sing on the streets to welcome them, will not allow anything to turn the tide. Even if military regimes are suffocated and made to pay heavy price, which is not even the case at the moment, the reality that cliques and elements within the military can successfully seize power is the more reason to closely monitor the health of the democratic process in the sub-region and not to hand invective when the process is dead.
The ECOWAS should help itself by establishing a permanent organ for outreach, to civil societies, organized labor, intellectuals, youth and women organizations, peasant group farmers, in order to continuously and consistently evaluate democracies in the sub-region on the abilities to deliver on poverty alleviation and reductions access to quality health, education and water and more importantly the commitment to the ruling elites of the various countries to innovate economic policy that gives scope to optimizing productivity in the industrial, and agricultural sectors.
The events of the military take-overs in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Fasso and even the attempted takeover in Guinea-Bissau in the past eighteen months is not the occasion for grand rhetoric of condemnations and denunciations, as condemnable as they seem, but occasion of soberly reflect on the critical missing links in the operation of democracy in the sub-region. If every seeming apparatus and rules of democracy are in place, why is it failing is a crucial question and additionally has the process and institutions by which democracy are operated rooted in the existential reality of the sub-region? Are they mere hybrids displaying outward bloom but lacking in the popular consensus of broadly rooted legitimacy? These questions have not easy answers and does not brook to the simplistic and routine innuendoes of the political elites. It is at the very heart of the future of democracy in West Africa and certainly beyond the routine nuances of the political elites.
Mr. Charles Onunaiju, research director of Abuja based Think Tank.