Friday, May 25, 2012
ECOWAS troops to Guinea Bissau and Mali
THE decision of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to deploy troops to Mali and Guinea Bissau, following coup d'état in the two countries has expectedly raised a huge debate on the economic and political propriety of the action. The troops are being sent to help restore law and order in the countries, an objective unquestionable in its simple ideal. But beside the need to exercise caution in putting soldiers' lives at risk, there is an equally compelling need to balance the perceived benefit with possible alternatives to military deployment.
Nigeria has particularly pledged its commitment to the sub-region's operative mechanisms of ensuring stability in West Africa; and its deployment of troops, along with other ECOWAS member-states, to Guinea Bissau has stirred not a little concern in the country. While some have opposed Nigeria's troop deployment, arguing that previous commitments have not yielded benefits to the country and its people, and that foreign countries took advantage of post-conflict dividends, others have said it would be a good thing to proceed from the basis of altruism so that the country's stabilising role in the region would not be viewed with suspicion by member-nations.
Indication of the ECOWAS resolution came from the 30th Ordinary Meeting of Chiefs of Defence Staff in West Africa, which held in Abuja recently. The first in order of deployment is Guinea Bissau to which the West African leaders had agreed earlier on April 26 in Abidjan to send a force of between 500-600 military personnel. They will replace the Angolan forces that were expected to depart from the tiny West African state. It will be recalled that on March 22, President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali was overthrown by the military, led by Captain Amadou Sanogo. On the heels of the Malian coup, the soldiers in Guinea Bissau sacked their own government on April 12, putting a question mark on the democratisation project in the sub-region. However, to its credit, ECOWAS has managed to revise the unlawful take-over of governments through mediation, which has seen the emergence in the two countries of transitional governments.
For the sub-regional body, the coups were destabilising for the goals of democracy and development, which is why the leadership of the ECOWAS parliament described the development as "highly condemnable, obnoxious, unacceptable and regrettable." Indeed, the worry lies in what has come to be known as the contagious effect of military coup, and the ECOWAS parliament emphasised the need to avoid a repeat of the "cancerous growth of military rule" in West Africa, a region associated with underdevelopment, conflicts and instability. Such understanding may have informed the defence chiefs' emphasis on zero-tolerance for unconstitutional take-over in the sub-region.
Beyond the economic dimension to the argument, many questions beg for answer: What specific steps have the sub-regional body taken to address the root causes of military intervention in politics? Is the current intervention not a proxy exercise on behalf of the United States? Is military deployment the first line of action? What happens when the bigger countries suffer the same fate? Are we to call in external intervention? Are there no alternative solutions?
Without doubt, coups are symptoms of large systemic disorder and contradictions. But so-called democratic leaders have little regard for the rule of law and are intolerant of oppositions. Besides, scarce resources amidst crippling poverty are squandered by leaders in pursuit of avarice to the detriment of the common good. Above all, a major democratic principle of change of leadership through the ballot is subverted by incumbents scheming for extra terms, or unlimited tenure as in some Francophone West African countries. In the midst of these personal pre-occupation, the goals of development and democratic consolidation recede to the backwater of governance. Good governance demonstrable in leadership respect for the rule of law, shunning of impunity, and respect for opposition parties, conduct of free and fair elections, prudent economic management and even distribution of the dividends of democracy will help curb the cycles of instability in the
sub-region. Unless these are done, the man on the horseback will continue to haunt the polities of countries in the sub-region. And when it occurs in bigger and powerful countries in the sub-region, interventionist goal will run into brick walls.
Again, if the specific goal of this intervention is to restore order and stability, does military presence in Guinea Bissau or Mali for that matter mean stability or siege? Are there no other incentives in the kitten of ECOWAS? The flashpoints in the power relations in Guinea Bissau can be addressed by economic incentives and packages of civil-military training for the fractious army. Indeed, these are more compelling than intervention.
And for the Nigerian government, there are more problems at home than the wasteful ego-trip of troops deployment in some other countries. More importantly, past engagement by Nigeria has not always resulted in gains for the country; rather, other countries have always scooped subsequent opportunities for their national enhancement. Now is time to do better.