West Africa’s neighborly mood of countercoup

To end a trend of military takeovers, the region’s bloc of nations seems eager to turn back a coup in Guinea.

Reuters
Leaders of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States hold a video summit Sept. 8 to talk about a coup in Guinea.

This doesn’t happen in other regions of the world. On Friday, a delegation of West African leaders is due to fly to Guinea just six days after a military coup d’état to plead for a return to democratic rule. The coup leader, Col. Mamady Doumbouya, seems to welcome the visit and also has released at least 80 political prisoners. Perhaps he did not want to become a political orphan in West Africa. The scene will be like an intervention by neighbors to nudge one of their own to keep the neighborhood in shape.

The swift intervention is designed to halt a dangerous trend. The forced ouster of President Alpha Condé in Guinea, a country of 13 million with the richest bauxite reserves in the world, was one of four coups or attempted coups in the region over the past year. The trend is a setback for the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). For nearly half a century, the bloc has tried to create a region of peaceful, prosperous nations out of its roughly 400 million population.

“What happened in Guinea is a brazen disregard for the provisions of ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, which clearly states that every accession to power must be made through free, fair, and transparent election,” said Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

In its many attempts to restore democracy in member states or keep elected leaders from extending their stay in power, ECOWAS has had more failures than successes. One recent success was its military intervention in 2017 to save Gambia’s democracy. But this latest coup could be a turning point. “If ECOWAS does not succeed with the impasse in Guinea, a dangerous precedent could be in the making that could encourage and embolden other would-be coup plotters in other member countries to take a similar path,” warned the news site Liberian Observer.

The West African bloc could ultimately be more effective than global institutions that also promote democracy. Neighboring countries with a shared history and culture can carry more moral weight in holding dictators and would-be dictators accountable, much like the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”

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