INTERVIEW: Time Running Out On ECOWAS, Chaotic West Africa Looming – Prof Ubi - 247Updates
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INTERVIEW: Time running out on ECOWAS, chaotic West Africa looming – Prof Ubi

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The acting Director of Research and Studies at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, Prof. Efem Ubi, says the withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) by Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, would definitely weaken the regional body.…CONTINUE READING

In this interview with DAILY POST, the diplomat takes a holistic view on the implications of the withdrawal, what led to the development and what the ECOWAS as a body needs to do urgently to avoid a crisis in the sub-region, among others. Excerpts!

What is the implication of the recent announcement of the withdrawal of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger from the ECOWAS?

I think this is not a time to lay blame on any of the parties, whether the ECOWAS, the Nigerian president or government or any of the three countries that broke away. This is the time for negotiation; a time for peace approach towards reconciling the breakaway countries.

However, this is not coming as a surprise. Last year, I mentioned in passing that the crisis that has engulfed the region with regard to military takeover would definitely lead to alliances being formed by the country under military rule, and that if care is not taken, the region might degenerate into chaos. Most importantly, we are not unaware of the fact that super power rivalry in Africa is also playing a key role in what is happening.

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In some quarters, people are saying that it is Russians that are actually giving impetus to these countries. But, for me, every power has a role to play. France is there, the United States of America is there and all that. So, what we need to do is to begin negotiation in a different way to see how the impact within the sub-region can be resolved.

But, the whole essence of the ECOWAS was economic integration, as well as political integration, but with what is happening now, it has actually taken us back. People will say it doesn’t matter if these three countries break away, but I want you to consider the fact that it is a 15-country-member state. So if four countries break away, because Mauritania had broken away earlier on, would you still call it the Economic Community of West African States? Once countries start moving away, it is no longer going to be as it was when the founding fathers established it in 1975

Are you suggesting that the breakaway of the three countries recently plus that of Mauritius earlier would weaken the ECOWAS power?

Definitely, it will weaken ECOWAS. Don’t forget that even as a regional economic body, the countries themselves have played vital roles in terms of security management within the region. Don’t forget that it was under the same Economic Community of West African States that the Economic Community Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) was formed. Don’t also forget that it was under ECOWAS that the regional standby force which is the most active and proactive standby regional force in Africa was set up, following the African Standby Force Principle that actually guided and set up the standby force where all the regions were supposed to have their own standby force.

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So, if this breakaway takes place, it will totally weaken the cooperative security efforts over the years. Lest we forget, as of today, the Sahel is already the hottest spot in the world in terms of insecurity, so, all the countries within the Sahel, including Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, need concerted effort to mitigate the crisis within the sub-region.

Don’t forget that last year, these countries moved to form a defence alliance of the Sahel, although Nigeria and Chad were not part of it. That will actually degenerate the tension, crisis and conflict in the Sahel. Right now, the insecurity is moving towards Ghana, Benin Republic and other parts of the West African sub-region, especially, towards the Gulf of Guinea region.

So, I don’t think we should be happy that these countries are leaving the ECOWAS and that it will not undermine the West African sub-region. That is not true because it is definitely going to undermine West Africa because everybody has a role to play.

Again, don’t forget that Niger is part of the Multinational Joint Task Force, which Nigeria spearheads to fight terrorism and other insecurity within the region. Therefore, we really need to sit up. Africa needs to sit up, and the major issue, which nobody is talking about, is the root cause of military putsches in Africa. It is important to look at what is promoting the military putsches in West Africa. And when we start looking at it from this perspective, we will begin to have a solution. More so, the solution does not lie in the Super Powers or the Emerging Powers; it lies with ECOWAS and Africa.

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On the contrary, many people would like to blame Tinubu as the leader of ECOWAS but he is not the problem. He is just the primus-inter pares, the first among equals. The decision that was taken at the ECOWAS summit and emergency meetings that have taken place over the last couple of months was not taken by Tinubu; it was taken by ECOWAS as a regional organization.

So, Nigerians should not blame President Tinubu; his hands are tied and he cannot do otherwise. So, all we need to do now is to begin to assemble experts to look for a solution and negotiations should start in earnest because we don’t have any more time to waste. I concluded in one of my articles last year that the future of West Africa is gloomy and that is what is happening now.

You talked about the root causes of what is happening in ECOWAS and the solutions, what do you think are the causes and what should be the solution?

The major cause is lack of good leadership and governance across Africa, and the day we begin to get good leadership and governance, part of our problems will be solved. We are not also looking at the fact that the African economy and many of those in West Africa are dwindling.

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Twenty years ago, at the turn of the millennium, everybody was talking about Africa’s economic rise. Africa’s economic rise was pivoted on the fact that we are selling commodities, which Africa leveraged with the coming of the emerging economies. And when the commodity markets crumbled around 2014, many African countries went into recession. Nigeria was one of the countries that went into recession, including Kenya and other African countries.

Between 2014 and 2023, many countries have fallen into recession about two or three times. So, Africa’s economic rise in that one and a half decade was basically quantitative rather than qualitative. We are not looking at the fact that these statistics never revolved or precipitated into a human development index.

So, that means that while the GDP was thriving, the mass of the people were actually being pauperized the most because it never translated into economic development. Aside from that, we have often equated statistical or quantitative growth with qualitative growth. We tend to place them side by side, but the two are different things. If you are growing quantitatively, it should also pivot or reflect on the qualitative aspect of the country, but that is not visible anyway.

A major solution is to look for how Africa must develop economically and not just that; such economic growth must rob off on the people. It is crucial to note that a weak economic base is an imminent revolt from the bottom, whether you like it or not. That means if you are growing economically and there is no development, the people will definitely revolt, and as a result, frustration and aggression will set in.

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I think this is not farfetched. In all these countries where military coups had taken place, the people were happy and supporting the military leaders because the people feel undermined, as they are not seeing the gains of liberal democracy. These are the same people that fought for the third wave of democracy in the 1990s with the hope that it will provide them with a good life. They have eventually gained democracy but the good life remains phantasmal, an abstraction. It is not there; people are not seeing the good life and everybody is unhappy.

African countries also have to lay out strategic development policy and pivot it on first- education. Our education policy should be tailored towards science and technology. Any country that is not science and technology bound, that country is bound to fail. We need to industrialise and we are not doing that. Is it not surprising that after 60 years of independence, no African country has been able to industrialise? These are all part of the root causes of the military putsches in Africa.

Again, look at the statistics of the GDP of the countries where military coups had taken place, their GDP is very low and poverty is very high.

Security is also a key problem. In the 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s when the military coups were in vogue, they were always talking about corruption, maladministration and other economic maladies. None of those speeches mentioned insecurity, but since the turn of the millennium, all the speeches in countries where the military had taken over have had insecurity mentioned prominently. We need to fight insecurity.

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Right now, many countries actually don’t have full governance of their countries because of insecurity and this is part of the problem. Look at the coup that took place in Mali in 2012, the coupists said it was because the soldiers were dying and the civilian government was not able to arrest the situation. So, the military took over because the civilian government was incapable of fighting insecurity. These are all part of the root causes. I think this is not the time to start putting blame on any country; it is the time to look for a solution because if this situation is not taken care of, we are going to see a chaotic West Africa.

In the event that ECOWAS fails to bring them back into its fold, do you think there is a possibility of the breakaway countries recruiting other countries to organize coups in their countries and join them in their new found union?

I don’t think they will convince other countries into accepting military putsches; I don’t think that will be feasible. And I don’t think that ECOWAS will not be able to convince them to come back. Let’s call a spade a spade. What is happening now is just a reaction to their present disposition.

For instance, they were supposed to have a meeting with ECOWAS member states in Niger, but many of the countries in ECOWAS turned down the meeting, and immediately that meeting didn’t hold, they now reacted. It could just be a move by the three countries to show their anger, but we should not take their reaction lightly.

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If ECOWAS tries anything uncanny, it will degenerate the extant crisis, and that is not what we want right now. West Africa is the hottest spot of insecurity in the world; the Sahel region is actually the hottest in West Africa. And the crisis in the Sahel is actually moving into the maritime region now. A lot of cells are being created within the gulf of Guinea. The truth is that ECOWAS cannot give room for self abnegation.

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