By Paul Ejime
ECOWAS leaders ended their extraordinary summit in Accra, Ghana on Thursday, ordering the return of a regional military force to Guinea Bissau to help stabilise the situation after the 1st February bloody coup attempt against the government of President Umaro Sissoco Mbalo.
An undisclosed number of people died in the long exchange of gunfire near government headquarters in the nation’s capital Bissau as the failed coup unravelled.
On assuming office in 2020 after a disputed poll, President Mbabo reportedly requested the departure of the ECOWAS force in Guinea Bissau, ECOMIB.
The force, which was deployed in the aftermath of a previous coup in 2012, eventually left the country in September 2020.
The seven-page Communique of the extraordinary Summit, the second under one month by ECOWAS leaders, condemned the coup attempt and pledged the regional body’s support for the restoration of constitutional order in Guinea Bissau and three countries under military rule in the region – Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
No timeline was given for the deployment of the new force in Guinea Bissau, which remains in political uncertainty with drug trafficking as another major national problem.
ECOWAS has used military Force in the past to shore up security in the region beginning with ECOMOG, which facilitated the end of the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s and early 2000.
The regional organisation is supposed to have a Standby Force, but troop mobilisation and finance are major challenges.
Also, in the Accra Summit Communique, the regional leaders agreed to strengthen the ECOWAS force in the Gambia, ECOMIG, deployed in the aftermath of the December 2016 disputed presidential election and refusal by now deposed and exiled former President Yahya Jammeh to concede defeat to the incumbent President Adama Barrow.
Meanwhile, a legal suit filed by President Mbalo’s opponents over the 2019 presidential election in Guinea Bissau is pending before the ECOWAS Community Court in Abuja. They have accused him of staging “a coup” by assuming the presidency without the Supreme Court certifying the results of the poll.
At their meeting in Accra, ECOWAS leaders also upheld the suspension of Burkina Faso and “subject to sanctions,” demanded the unconditional release of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, toppled in a military coup on 24 January.
Two separate delegations of ECOWAS military Chiefs and an ECOWAS-UN team have visited Burkina Faso for talks with the Lt-Col Henri-Paul Damiba-led junta.
The Communique also said the meeting decided to maintain the controversial crippling sanctions imposed on Mali, and called on the Col Assimi Goita-led military dominated interim administration to come up with shorter transition timetable different from the five-year programme that precipitated the unprecedented ECOWAS blockade of Mali.
Diplomatic relations between Mali and France, the former colonial power in that country have since taken a turn for the worse with the Bamako junta expelling the French Ambassador to Mali Joel Meyer over recent remarks by the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who called the Goita government “illegitimate” and having “gone out of control.”
ECOWAS has controversially joined France, which is reducing its own forces in the Sahel, including Mali, in condemning the presence of Russian private military personnel in Mali, a move which analysts have criticised as contradictory and meddling.
The Communique reiterated reiterated ECOWAS’ suspension of Guinea and targeted sanctions against the Col Mamady Doumbouya-led junta. It welcomed the formation of a Transition Council announced by the junta recently, but demanded a timeline for the return to civilian rule.
The regional leaders also repeated their earlier directive to the ECOWAS Commission to expedite action on the amendment of the 2001 regional Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, which prescribed zero-tolerance for taking or retaining power by unconstitutional means.
For too long, the interpretation of the protocol seemed to have emphasised military coups, with little or no attention paid to other breaches of the instrument, such as the flagrant alteration of national constitutions for tenure elongation, rigging of elections and human rights violations by political leaders in the region.
For any amendments of the protocol to be meaningful, there must be provisions to put an end to “constitutional and political coups,” and with presidential mandate expressly limited to two terms.
More importantly, merely effecting the amendments is one thing, the political will and commitment to implement or enforce them nationally and at the regional level is another matter.
While military rule remains an aberration, only good governance, not suspensions of member States or sanctions will halt the growing military incursions in politics for the consolidation of democracy in the region.
There is also a compelling need for ECOWAS and other mediators to recalibrate their intervention strategies to ensure constructive, inclusive and results-oriented engagements with all segments of society in the troubled member States.
For effective outcomes in conflict management and resolution, negotiations and mediations must based on honesty good faith, impartiality, consistency, flexibility and devoid of external influences and for the benefit of the collective, especially, the long-suffering citizens.
*Paul Ejime is a Global Affairs Analyst and an Independent Consultant on Strategic Corporate Communications, Peace & Security and Elections.