Is the ECOWAS experience in Gambia a positive sign for the future of West Africa?

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been one of the most active regional organisations on the continent. They have intervened in many situations involving their member states, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia. Some of their interventions have created more issues than solutions, but there has always been an intent to put the African solutions for African problems mantra into action.

This was once again evident with the recent political crisis in the Gambia. In a time where the political outsider seems to be enjoying success, Adama Barrow was able to oust long time ruler Yahya Jammeh by winning the election. Jammeh appeared to have accepted the result, until the opposition began talking of justice and trials for the crimes committed by Jammeh during his 22 years of power. It took a threat of force and diplomacy from ECOWAS to ensure that Jammeh left for Equatorial Guinea and went into exile, allowing Barrow to take control.

The story of ECOWAS and the Gambia appears to be a success story for democratic transition in Africa, as well as a sign to other nations on the continent that a peaceful transition is possible. Yet it also raises a question, has ECOWAS set a precedent or is this a one off?

Senegal was keen to lead the intervention militarily against Jammeh, highlighting perhaps the dislike the nation had for its neighbour’s dictator. ECOWAS action could therefore be interpreted mere removal of a highly eccentric leader from their midst. The real test for ECOWAS would come about if one of the bigger nations in the block faced a similar crisis. For example, if the Nigerian President Buhari lost the next election and refused to step down, would the rest of ECOWAS have the political will and military clout capable of forcing him into a Jammeh style retreat? This seems unlikely.

If ECOWAS is willing to act in this manner in the future, it tells all leaders within the organisation that trying to cling to power will not be sustainable. If West Africa can continue to experience peaceful transitions it could alter the negative media image Africa has globally. Peaceful democratic transitions are dependent on the bigger nations within the block, such as Nigeria and Senegal, being run by leaders who respect rule of law. If these nations who hold the power in ECOWAS continue to experience peaceful democratic transitions, it is likely the organisation will be able to exert pressure on leaders of the smaller nations to do the same.

It will be interesting to see the impact ECOWAS action in Gambia has especially with presidential elections in Liberia, Mali and Sierra Lone to come over the next two years.

Featured image | ECOWAS region | Scantyzer1 | wikimedia commons

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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