The West African Elders Forum (WAEF) has urged African leaders to respect constitutions and put citizens’ welfare, peace, and security at the centre of governance.
According to a statement by Wealth Ominabo, communication officer of the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation, the forum gave the advice during a webinar themed: ‘Making meaning of democratic reversals in West Africa’.
Eight countries in West and Central Africa have witnessed coups in three years, with Gabon being the most recent.
The forum examined the challenges to democratic governance in the region and how best to advance democracy amid the growing trend of coups.
The forum 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.
WAEF also called for strengthening democratic frameworks in countries to ensure accountability and guarantee free and credible elections.
WAEF said the democratic decline in the region, owing to the poor state of governance, has led to frustration and a trust deficit between citizens and governments.
They called for the rethinking of democracy in the continent to address citizens’ contemporary realities.
Contributing to the discussion, Fatoumata Tambajang, former vice-president of the Gambia, 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?” Tambajang asked.
“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.”
Remi Ajibewa, former director of the department of political affairs, peace and security at the Economic Community of West Africa States, said ECOWAS should focus more on citizens than incumbent presidents.
Ajibewa highlighted the initiatives ECOWAS has undertaken to safeguard democracy in the sub-region.
“Not that ECOWAS has not been doing well. It is a problem of perception,” he said.
“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.”
Ajibewa said safeguarding democracy in the continent requires 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,” he said.
“We need to mobilise to strengthen member states institutions to have a peaceful and inclusive electoral system.”
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