The 13 January edition of the “Africa in Focus” (AIF) show has ended with a strong emphasis that Ghanaians must take advantage of the already-enlarged civil society space to help deepen its democracy.
With the month already half-way, and elections in Benin and Niger upcoming in February, the host, Emmanuel K Bensah Jr, invited representatives from West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and West Africa Civil Society Institute(WACSI) to help demystify and unpack issues around Africa’s democracy.
Programmes Manager of WANEP Lavinia Addae-Mensah started the discussion explaining that ECOWAS played an important role in 2015 to help pave the way for elections for ECOWAS member States. The development of its early warning system allows ECOWAS to obtain key information relative to potential threats. ECOWAS has been critical in engaging States particularly in Burkina Faso in 2015. “We saw Nigeria overcome all the threats and all the potential risks that we saw. We saw Togo also overcome. The key lessons we learnt was engaging in pre-dialogue”, she added, which was critical.
Niger is very critical, but learning from previous experience has been important. Mz.Addae-Mensah explained “we have seen a lot of shuttle diplomacy going on including UN Regional Office for West Africa”. She said that “we should be proud of as West Africans the role that ECOWAS has played in ensuring key stakeholders get into action pre-election.”
Pressed on what accounts for some of the poor communication around the role that ECOWAS has been playing on conflict prevention and mitigation, Addae-Mensah admitted that communicating ECOWAS’ work on peace and security is problematic, adding that even in countries that have gone through civil war are unaware of ECOWAS’ role. “Clearly there is a key issue around communication, but for me that responsibility lies with Member States and creating a platform for civil society to be engaged in discussions”. She continued “there is certain strata that has monopolised the engagements around ECOWAS, and that lack of consultation with other levels…has contributed to the situation where citizens are not engaged.”
For his part, Isaac Hubert of WACSI explained the origins of WACSI, explaining that its mandate is “to strengthen civil society organisations in the implementation of the various programmes and projects they undertake from development partners to make them more effective in delivery of their services.” He says: “For us, civil society is our business involving NGOs and faith-based organisations.” He says WACSI is about good governance, and the promotion of civic engagement.
The discussion revealed that Burkina Faso is a model for African democracy because of the way ordinary people were able to stand up to the leaders and repel any possible continuation of the coup. The country has recently proved that ordinary citizens, through civil society, can help influence policy-making.
Even as Emmanuel prodded that “”for a conversation on Afro-Democracy, we cannot talk about it in isolation of Burundi, even though Burundi is not having elections”, he wondered what an experienced peace and security practitioner like Lavinia would have to say to someone from East Africa? Mz.Addae-Mensah responded that ECOWAS’ outstanding role is attributed to ECOWAS’ “strong partnership with civil society and that has been globally acknowledged – even at the level of the UN.” She believes that has been missing with other regional economic communities(RECs), and that the key issue is “lack of strong civil society, and therefore the RECs in other parts of Africa do not benefit from that kind of insight and the kind of things that WACSI is doing in terms of helping citizens build their capacities.” Interestingly, the partnership that civil society has with ECOWAS is being studied by other regional bodies for emulation and application in their own regions.
Addae-Mensah says the conversation on two-term limits has already started in East Africa, but West Africa must not be too complacent that it is set in stone, as “there are indications of potential prolongations in some countries”, such as Sierra Leone.
In wrapping up, Addae-Mensah explained that Ghanaians must not only read about other African countries, but “we must think critically about our own context, so that the space is sustained”
The “Africa in Focus” Show is hosted by Emmanuel.K.Bensah Jr from 14h00 to 15h00 every Wednesday. You can download all podcasts from www.africainfocusradioshow.org. Follow the conversation on twitter on @africainfocus14, using #africainfocus