West African Elders Forum (WAEF) has urged African leaders to put citizens’ welfare, peace, and security at the centre of governance, to consolidate democracy in the region.
Participants at the ‘State of Democracy’ webinar, organised by WAEF, an Initiative of Goodluck Jonathan Foundation (GJF), gave this advice in a statement by its Communications Officer, Wealth Ominabo, in Abuja.
Themed “Making meaning of democratic reversals in West Africa,” participants examined the challenges to governance in the region and how best to advance democracy amid growing trend of coups and unconstitutional change of government.
The speakers at the virtual meeting also urged governments, regional and sub-regional bodies, to invest more in citizen-centric initiatives that would help serve as a buffer against threats to democracy.
They also called for strengthening democratic frameworks in countries to ensure accountability and guarantee free and credible elections.
The panelists noted that a decline in the region because of the poor state of governance had led to frustration and trust deficit between citizens and government.
They called for the rethinking of democracy in the continent to address citizens’ contemporary realities.
Former Vice President Fatoumata Tambajang of the Gambia, in her contributions, attributed democratic reversal in the region to political leaders’ disregard for normative values of democracy and inability to deliver on their political promises.
“It is time to rethink democracy within our context. First of all, what are the factors leading to democratic decline?
“The context in the Sahel is complex because we have civil leaders who are not ready to respect the constitutions and civil institutions. They are also not ready to deliver on their democratic promises.
“Most of our leaders believe that after soliciting for votes and getting victory at the polls, they forget to deliver their promises to the people.
“Citizens are getting more aware and saying they are tired of voting and not seeing results.
“They are saying we want decent lives; we want food in our homes; we want security and competent people in the civil service who can deliver on services.
“They are equally saying we want equal opportunity, gender equality,” Mrs Tambajang said.
Also, Remi Ajibewa, former Director, Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security at Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Commission, suggested that ECOWAS should focus more on citizens than incumbent presidents.
Mr Ajibewa highlighted the many initiatives ECOWAS had done to safeguard democracy in the sub-region.
“We intend to see civilian coups, which manifest in referendums, popular uprising, military-assisted transition, and constitutional review after the election.
“Not that ECOWAS has not been doing well. It is a problem of perception.
“Citizens within the continent see ECOWAS as a body more interested in securing the regime of incumbent presidents and not working for the people’s interests.
“ECOWAS needs to move from ECOWAS of the government to ECOWAS of the people,” he said.
Mr Ajibewa also said that safeguarding democracy in the continent required collective effort.
He urged all stakeholders to work towards protecting and promoting democracy in the region.
“All of us, from civil society to member states, to ECOWAS, AU to the UN, all have a role to play.
“We need to mobilise to strengthen member states institutions to have a peaceful and inclusive electoral system,” Mr Ajibewa said.
The Executive Director of Sahel Institute for Democracy and Governance, Moussa Kondon, called on ECOWAS to redouble its efforts to protect democracy in the sub-region.
Mr Kondon, also a panelist at the webinar, said that with ECOWAS, it was always negotiation and tons of negotiations while people were suffering.
“With globalisation, people have access to information and are more informed than before.
“ECOWAS must proactively engage and uphold its relevant instruments, especially those promoting democracy and good governance,” he said.