In politics absurdity is not a handicap

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 February 2024:

With Africa, and especially West Africa facing democratic backsliding and a surge in military coups, the ongoing crisis in Senegal, a country regarded as one of West Africa’s most stable democracies could not have come at a worse time. (Photo above: Senegal’s President Macky Sall).

Against the backdrop of arbitrary arrests of opposition figures, serious human rights abuses and the use of excessive force by the security forces to create a restrictive civic space, it was inevitable that Senegal would witness violent protests.

After several months of gas lighting by President Macky Sall, who has been in power for the last twelve years, his government lit the blue torch paper when it rubberstamped the President’s decision to postpone the elections scheduled for February 25 last Monday. The timing could not have been a better recipe for organised chaos.

President Macky Sall’s tenure was due to expire on April 2nd this year. With the unanimous blessing of the country’s National Assembly, it would have been rich, to expect foxes to vote for the welfare of chickens.

Many see the postponement as the climax to Macky Sall’s attempt to not only constrict the political playing field by disqualifying and imprisoning political opponents, but also as an audacious abuse of the constitution, an attempt to asphyxiate opposition and a ruse to hold on to power.

Sall’s excuse to postpone the elections to December 15th was that he was “concerned about the unity of the nation.  He said, “my fight and greatest pride are really to lead you to victory and to continue our economic policy for the benefit of our populations,” adding “the challenge of the moment is first of all to unite. United, there can be no political force that can face BBY (Benno Bokk Yaakar- his coalition party).”

Against the backdrop of a recent spate of military coup d’etats in the West African region, many conclude that the political charade taking place in Senegal qualifies as a constitutional coup.

Meanwhile, calls for the regional bodies like The African Union (AU) and The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to take responsibility in dealing with the situation are intensifying.

The constitution was amended in 2016 after President Macky Sall came to power in 2012. The amendment provided for a maximum presidential term of two years. President Sall was later re-elected in 2019 and his supporters allegedly floated the idea of a third term. Their argument was that since Sall had been in power before the two-term presidential limit was included into the constitution in 2016, therefore his first term in 2012 did not count or apply.

Have you worked out the illogical logic of African politics yet? According to Pythagoras Theorem Senegal style, 2016 minus 2012 = void. Does this remind you of someone you used to know somewhere too?

Thanks to widespread political and civil opposition, Macky was forced to begrudgingly announce that “my decision is not to be a candidate in the presidential election even though the constitution gives me the right to do so”.

In contrast however, many see his decision to postpone the election as a ploy to buy enough time to handpick a post Macky Sall-friendly successor. Do these guys sing from the same hymn sheet?

The current saga in Senegal has been fermented by Sall’s slash and burn approach to weed out any serious opposition as politicians like Ousmane Sonko, the former Mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall (no relation) and Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdulai Wade, were charged with, and some jailed for controversial crimes ranging from rape, corruption and corrupting the youth.

While ECOWAS recognises that the constitution of Senegal empowers the Constitutional Council, the highest election authority in the country to reschedule the vote in certain circumstances including “the death, permanent incapacity or withdrawal of candidates”, the regional body has called on the political class “to take steps to restore the electoral calendar in accordance with the provisions of Senegal’s Constitution”.

Many see the response from ECOWAS, to call for the restoration of the electoral calendar in Senegal as too little and too late to prevent the resulting protests that have led to avoidable loss of lives.

Where was ECOWAS when the writing was on the wall? Where was ECOWAS when Macky was suppressing the voices of the masses? Where was the initiative-taking stance from ECOWAS when the inevitable outcome was screaming against its deafening silence? Where was ECOWAS when the protesters were screaming “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable?” But again, do you expect turkeys to vote for Christmas?

The founding members of ECOWAS were Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Upper Volta (Now Burkina Faso on 28th May 1975. Although Mauritania withdrew from the bloc in 2000, it signed a new associate-membership agreement in 2017. Whatever that means.

With a collective land mass area of 5,114, 162 sq. km, and an estimated population of 424.34 million, it is easy to see the gargantuan task of ECOWAS’ attempts to always be all things to all men. No one underrates the near impossible task of keeping such a melting pot of different histories, cultures, languages, and political allegiances boiling and ticking on nicely at the same time. However, there are no prices for guessing why ECOWAS has been experiencing recent political jitters across the region.

Is ECOWAS losing its credibility?

It is an open secret that the “Triumvirate” of Abdourahamane Tchiani (Niger), Captain Ibrahim Traore (Burkina Faso) and Colonel Assimi Goïta (Mali) replaced civilian led governments in military coup d’etats between May 2021 and July 2023. When you add Mamadou Doumbouya (Guinea) to the equation, you will be forgiven to think that military government was becoming a trendy hobby.

It is interesting to note that these new kids on the block all share similar reasons for wresting power from the “democratically elected.” It is also interesting to note that these countries shared common DNAs of sanctions, suspensions and in some cases, threats of military interventions. Is it any wonder that Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso have expressed their collective decision to withdraw their membership from ECOWAS?

Since the announcement of their withdrawal, many political analysts have produced plausible reasons for this decision. The reasons trending are that ECOWAS provided no support against the Jihadists, imposed “illegal” sanctions that are harming the people, and the bloc has fallen under foreign governments. Who can argue with that, when you look at the bloc’s selective deafness, blindness, and mutism on how it deals with the region’s issues.

Recently, ECOWAS was central in securing the “safe” passage of the former President of Sierra Leone –  Dr Ernest Bai Koroma to Nigeria. Although it was plausibly considerate and humane to ensure Koroma gets the medical intervention he needs and deserves, others see the intervention of ECOWAS as underhanded, especially when you consider that the former President was facing charges (still presumed innocent though) for treasonable offences. Is it any wonder that many are looking at ECOWAS as a society for self-preservation?

Isn’t it ironical that Macky Sall, who was central to the politically induced humanitarian intervention of ECOWAS in the Koroma saga is now presiding over his country that is sailing close to the wind? Was Macky Sall ignoring the plank in his eye and trying to remove the speck of dust in President Bio’s?

What is the future for ECOWAS?

The recent political storms brewing across the region have seen ECOWAS scramble to hold a series of emergency meetings. After accusing ECOWAS of abandoning its founding ideals and pandering to foreign powers, the Triumvirate’s decision to withdraw from ECOWAS appears to have forced it to acknowledge a call for the leaders to take a “deep reflection with stakeholders on the relationship between electoral processes, democracy and development and make actionable recommendations on increasing the transparency and credibility of elections and promoting inclusive development and accountable governance.”

ECOWAS commission President Omar Alieu Touray recently admitted that “Despite our collective efforts to create a conducive and peaceful environment for our community citizens, the facts on the ground show that we still have more work to do,” while President Tinubu urged his fellow Heads of State to pay attention to protecting democracy. You wonder whether Macky Sall heard him correctly.

No one wants sanctions against a country, but should ECOWAS consider sanctions against Macky Sall? Your guess is good as mine, that ECOWAS will wait, and if the other guys intervene (Allah forbid), ECOWAS will surely come running. Like Firemen, the one thing ECOWAS will always save is the foundation……that is after the house has burnt down.

It is difficult to deny that not only is the credibility of ECOWAS at stake, but the Senegal debacle has also put the block on trial. The bloc has an opportunity to restore some of its lost integrity and credibility by how it deals with the Senegal issue. If ECOWAS stands by with eyes wide shut, and allow one of their own to plunge Senegal, one of the few bastions of stable democracies in Africa into chaos and destruction, not only would have the Triumvirate been justified in their decision to withdraw their membership but will surely give credence to the notion that ECOWAS is a society for self-preservation.

Some people have compared the decision of the Triumvirate to leave the ECOWAS as the region’s version of Brexit. Unlike the British Brexit, the populations in these countries overwhelmingly support the decision of their respective governments. The accusation that ECOWAS did nothing to support their fight against the Jihadists remains an irrefutable FACT. While the Jihadists were running amok in these countries, foreign interests simultaneously haemorrhaged their resources, while they provided succour to the latter.

Is it any surprise that the Triumvirate accuses ECOWAS of being influenced by foreign powers? Does ECOWAS have any serious political power over its members?

Like the European Union, ECOWAS is a regional block that is knitted by common economic and political interests. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decide on the European Union members. The court gives the right of appeal to all European citizens to appeal their cases, on points of law, if they are dissatisfied with the ruling in the courts of their own countries. The CJEU ensures that EU law is interpreted and applied the same in every country; ensuring that countries and EU institutions abide by EU law. Would you say the same for ECOWAS in West Africa?

So, what happened when the ECOWAS court ruled that a certain Sierra Leone’s Vice-President Samuel Sam Sumana’s dismissal in 2015 was illegal? Does anyone remember the government’s response at the time? that, “the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone did rule on the above matter and therefore no other court is competent to overrule it except by itself. Therefore, the Government of Sierra Leone refused to participate in the proceedings and does not accept nor recognise the ECOWAS court in respect of the said judgement.”

Does anyone have an idiot’s guide on how we build our institutions and destroy them? Does anyone know a better way to undermine the very foundations of our democratic institutions? How can we uphold the credentials, protect the integrity, and inject confidence in our institutions and processes, when such builders are the first to uproot the head corner stone?

In case you forget, there is the trivial matter of South Africa taking Israel to the International Court of Justice. It is amazingly easy to conclude that Israel is on trial here. However, more than Israel, it is the ICJ that is on trial. Its verdict is bound to have unprecedented repercussions for its integrity, reputation, and credibility when all has been said and done.

Meanwhile, the US is threatening sanctions against South Africa, a member of the UN for having the temerity and audacity to drag Israel, America’s stepchild to the courts. The world is witnessing the disintegration of the very systems that have knitted it together, brick by brick. And it is done by the very people who built it brick by brick in the first place. The world is beginning to learn that we only demand justice at another man’s expense.

Does ECOWAS need VAR?

Don’t forget to turn the light off when you leave the room. Why? Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (MLK)


  1. The writer is taking ECOWAS to task rightly so for not going gun-blazing against President Sall of Senegal for postponing this month’s pending elections to December in what he aptly and correctly described as a constitutional coup. In further strengthening his argument about ECOWAS being a Gentelman’s club that will in the main always do the sheep-huddle at all cost to safeguard and protect the parochial interests and surival of its present and past members, he cited ECOWAS “actions” in Sierra Leone not least not enforcing a ruling in favour of Sierra Leone’s former vice-president Sam Sumana who was unconstitutionally fired.

    The reasoning thread and line of argument about ECOWAS’ preference for coups by civilians rather than military men were on point until the writer woefully failed to mention President Bio’s shenanigans in his home country Sierra Leone. He preferred to lazily highlight the organization’s using “underhand” tactics to prevent the better one among the world’s 2nd poorest country’s chequered leaders – Ernest Bai Koroma – from facing the full force of Sierra Leone’s jungle justice for his trumped-up treason charges.

    The writer knows as well as me and ECOWAS that the so-called military coup was at best  a football-like penalty simulation to deceive and buy empathy from the military-coups-aversed ECOWAS and The International Community for under-the-cosh Bio Government. The events of 25th November were at worst an entrapment to eliminate perceived and potential foes of Bio and his regime reminiscent of the playbook of that other cold-blooded killers in our chequered and inglorious history.

    For God’s sake, the postponement of elections even for a year in the only West African country without a coup attempt – courtesy of  the relatively good governance and the political activism of her civil societies  and religious leaders – pales into insignificance when juxtaposed with the day-light thieving of elections in Sierra Leone under the very noses of eagle-eyed national and international observers who euphemistically called it a statistical anomaly.

    There is no shred of a doubt that ECOWAS’s reputation is in tatters. It is no wonder its members are sitting right on top of shifting tectonic plates, powder kegs and tinder boxes of political instability that will sooner or later bring into question the organisation’s very raison d’etre. Its very survival is antecedent on a seminal moment of applying the same unflinching resolve to confront both military and civilian coupists with equivalence and no room for equivocation. It will be then, and only then, that the tide of quit notices from members do not open the floodgates.

    • What a wonderful retort from Bob. Love it. However, this writer has on record, views on the credibility of the June 23rd elections already. Secondly, the writer has purposely shied away from commenting on the veracity of the alleged coup, as it says on the tin: “alleged”. Since the individuals are innocent until proven guilty, the writer wonders where the conclusion that the “coup” was a simulation is coming from. Until then, the writer remains intrigued by trial by media and will resist the urge to pass judgment on a case that is yet to go to trial, while the individuals remain “INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY “. Keep the thoughts coming as they provide the oxygen for our political discourse. Thanks Bob.

  2. The main diet of naked hypocrisy, vis-a-vis international organisations, is what Abdulai Mansaray has intelligently and skillfully handled here. The best known international organisation is the UN which, in my view, should be renamed the organisation for the provision of relief, because it is useless when it comes to the prevention of conflicts around the world – the fundamental reason for its formation after the Second World War.

    The non-democratic nature of the UN is what renders it useless and hopeless quite often. We have the General Assembly and the Security Council of UN; the latter is dominated by what is often referred to as the big five because they have veto power: The United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. Any one of these countries can block any resolution passed by the General Assembly – effectively the Parliament of the UN. Is this democracy? That’s why when Maada Bio was prancing around about Sierra Leone’s temporary membership of the Security Council I couldn’t stop laughing. Yeah, membership with no veto power – ah ah ah.

    ECOWAS has become the epitome of the ridiculous, its current chairman (Bola Tinudu of Nigeria) speaks/acts before he thinks. Didn’t he know that President Sall was busy brutalising his people in Senegal when he made him part of the delegation to Sierra Leone on a peace mission? Is this hypocrisy or artificial blindness?

    The 24th of June 2023 elections in Sierra Leone was known locally and internationally to have been rigged by Bio, yet Bola Tinudu’s ECOWAS congratulated him. Who would blame a future leader who takes Sierra Leone out of ECOWAS for its lack forthrightness, giving Guinea, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Niger, Mali and others as examples, where the Organisation failed to understand the reasons for military intervention?

    Take Niger for example: the overthrown Mohammed Bazzoune was allowing the French to cart away the country’s uranium for almost free of charge. Now Niger’s economy is classed as one of the fastest growing in the world because the military boys are now marketing the stuff themselves and using the revenue to help their people.

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