Causes of military coups in West Africa multifaceted –Snowe, ECOWAS MP
Head of Liberian Delegation to the Community Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe (Jnr), says the resurgence of coups in West Africa is traceable to several factors. In this interview with Linus Aleke in Abuja, Snowe, who is also the Chairman of the Committee on Political Affairs, Peace, Security and African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), further explains that ECOWAS is currently studying the situation in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea to unravel the immediate and remote cause of the unconstitutional change of government in the sub-region.
The unconstitutional change of government in West Africa is no doubt threatening democracy, what in your opinion is responsible for the resurgence of coups in West Africa?
You see, we are still doing a case study and we have not arrived at the exact cause of the coup in West Africa. Because there are three scenarios, from the three countries currently under military junta. For instance, in Mali, the election took place, and it was successful, but then the ruling party attempted to tempter with the result of the Parliamentary elections, and that prompted the coup. In Burkina Faso, the military said the government was not doing much in the fight against insurgency in the Sahel region, so, they overthrew the government. In Guinea, the President tempered with the constitution to seek a third term in office and he was booted out by the military. So, we have three scenarios, today in Senegal, we are having a new situation where the ruling government is cracking down on opposition elements. We are now doing a study in the region to see how best we can put our hands on these issues to make sure that we nip this problem in the bud. Nigeria, which is our biggest democracy, has just had an election and the aggrieved parties went to the court, in line with the rule of law. So, we are urging other West African countries to emulate Nigeria’s example. If we as politicians feel aggrieved, let us go to court to vent our misgivings. We are still doing the study but we are hopeful that in the shortest possible period, we would arrive at a means to eradicate the issue of unconstitutional change of government in our sub-region.
Some MPs have also accused ECOWAS of pampering the military junta by not coming out frontally to oppose them in the sub-region.
Sometimes we misconstrue the functions of ECOWAS. ECOWAS is not a police barracks, ECOWAS is a solidarity fraternity that works to bring states together, while, respecting our sovereignty and respecting the rule of law in enhancing solidarity. Now, ECOWAS cannot come to your country to tell you how to run your government. We expect that people should adhere to civilized norms and do what is right. ECOWAS can only facilitate your process, ECOWAS can only encourage you to do the right thing. Yes, I agree that there are circumstances where ECOWAS would have spoken out louder in the past, which they did not do, but these are some of the things that would come up in the case study that we are doing. In the end, ECOWAS is not a police barracks, ECOWAS cannot just dictate to a sovereign nation how to run its internal affairs. For example, ECOWAS cannot just come to Nigeria to compel her to redo her elections, simply because it is been challenged in the electoral tribunal. ECOWAS just has to follow the rules in the country because it is a sovereign state. It must follow certain procedures in the country, and that is of course the rule of law and the judiciary.
West Africa is gradually becoming a base for terrorist organizations in the world, how did we get here?
Well again, hunger, hardship, and lack of job opportunities are largely responsible. When young people feel that they are vulnerable and cannot afford food and feel they can provide for themselves by resorting to violence and the use of guns to provide food for selves, which is what we get. But there is no justification for crime and criminalities. Again, we have to create more jobs for our people, we have to invest in education, and we have to give them a sense of patriotism and national ownership. When we live in a country where the citizens feel that it is them vs the leaders that give room for chaos and deviant behaviour. So, again I will say that we need to create more jobs, we need to educate our people, and we need to give them a sense of national ownership and patriotism, so, that we feel that we own the country and we own our destiny. When we go out there to create chaos and kill people, we are harming our very selves. It is, however, a difficult thing because the global economy is challenged, people are broke, and prices are going up everywhere, I don’t know about Nigeria but prices everywhere are going up. And the salaries of civil servants and payroll for businesses are not going up as the prices are going up. So, the world is getting more challenging every day, this is a time when the world global forum must meet, break into think tank groups, and study the economic situation because terrorism is linked to economics. If people believe that they cannot survive and the only way to survive is to cause havoc for them to live, then they end up doing that which is wrong but again we must face the reality.
Liberians will soon go to the poll to elect new leaders, how prepared is your country to conduct free, fair, credible, and violent free elections?
Well, Liberia is prepared and the fact that we are fully sponsoring our elections and the government has paid over 90 percent of the budget for the elections. The biometric registration process is over, it ended successfully. The electoral process as I said is ongoing. On my delegation to the ECOWAS Parliament, we are five, and out of the five, three are from the opposition, they would have raised issues, if there were any. Though the political temperature in Liberia right now is very high, it is not out of place. Just like in any other country, during an election year, there is always high temperature, but so far, in Liberia, it is good and we look forward to a peaceful process.
Are you concerned about the coming elections in Sierra Leone?
I am very concerned about the coming elections in Sierra Leone. ECOWAS has sponsored a fact-finding mission to the country, and the EU has also sponsored a fact-finding mission and I have their reports. I cannot disclose what is contained in the report but I have to listen to the country report first and then compare it with the fact-finding mission report of both ECOWAS and EU and based on that I will form my opinion but now I am very concerned about the coming elections in Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, when Sierra Leone presents its country report before the Parliament, hopefully on Saturday, we would critique the report base on the information available to us.
What is your committee doing?
We are doing a lot, we would be visiting Sierra Leone after this session. We have people on the ground already and we are working with ECOWAS Commission and they are giving us an up-to-date briefing on what is happening in Sierra Leone. We also have some independent people in Sierra Leone but we are very concerned about the political and security situation in Sierra Leone and that is why we are anxious to listen to their country reports so that we would be able to critique it and take the necessary legislative actions.
The report of the Commission to the Parliament mentioned the issue of stand-by force to tackle terrorism and unconstitutional change of government in West Africa, do you believe that is practicable?
Sometimes, things are good for the ears, but their implementation may be impracticable. If you listen to the estimated budget for a stand-by force, the President of the Commission said it requires billions of dollars to implement that, so it is not an easy thing. It is good to do, but it is difficult. Now, if NATO has such a taskforce, were they going to go into Russia and stop Russia from invading Ukraine, it is difficult. If we have a task force, how many people would be required to come into Nigeria if there is a problem in Nigeria to stop Boko Haram, it is difficult. So, I think that we need to invest more in education, we need to do more in our poverty reduction strategy because some people’s pocket are empty and their stomach is empty and they will try any means to put food in their stomach and money in their pockets.
Almost all the country report mentioned millions of citizens battling hunger, what can be done in the interim to guarantee food security and reduce the number of community members going to bed on empty stomachs?
We need to invest more in agriculture, like I said in my response at the plenary, agriculture right now is very expensive. Before, most of the world gets fertilizer when they pay, I was importing 40 containers of fertilizer at $50,000, last week, and I imported the same quantity of fertilizer at $125,000, a more than 100 per cent increase. So, the world is been challenged. I have over 100 hectares of oil palm plantation, I am a farmer myself. But the price of my product is not increasing as the farm inputs now, it is very difficult. Again, we have to work on hunger because the world is getting difficult. Today if there is a crisis in Asia, Africa is going to starve, and that is why I applaud Nigeria on the non-importation of rice. They are growing their rice. We need to invest in agriculture, ECOWAS must launch a scheme that will compel every member state in the region to eat what they grow as a matter of government policy. That was why when I listened to the Ghana report, that said, wear Ghana, eat Ghana, dress Ghana, I love that. We need to practicalise it. Nigeria is another example, you don’t import rice and several other household items and foods. It is the way to go, but in other countries, there are no import restrictions, there should be because it will encourage local production, which in turn will grow the economy of the country. So, we must invest in agriculture, education, and health care, these things will help us rebrand our region.
Do the projects executed by ECOWAS thus far, reflect the amount budgeted for them?
You know that the ECOWAS budget is often 65 per cent programme and 35 per cent administrative cost. I think the percentage is good, so, we just need to realign the projects to meet the current reality. The needs of today are different from the needs of yesterday, so realignment becomes necessary. I think the budget redistribution is reasonable, we just need to look at the needs in line with current reality.