President Biden hosts summit of African leaders – governance in the Sahel must be a priority


Stability in the Sahel comes not through the rule of the gun, but through the rule of law. The Biden administration can use the Africa Leaders’ Summit to refocus its approach to the Sahel. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS
  • Opinion by Doussouba Konate (bamako)
  • Inter Press Service

From the Democracy Summit to the new strategies for sub-Saharan Africa and the fight against corruption, US government policies and practices have changed to support much-needed reforms across the continent.

It is in the Sahel where many of the biggest challenges remain – and these should be a priority at the upcoming summit. The recent coup in Burkina Faso was the seventh in Africa in just over two years. Here in Mali, jihadists are marching further east, killing hundreds of innocent civilians.

Across our borders in Niger and Chad, we see klepto-military elites stealing state resources at a breathtaking pace, undermining public finances, stability and any hope for a better future. All this opens up the region to the influence of Russia and China. For example, the Russian mercenary group the Wagner group operates freely in the Central African Republic and Mali – and we know from Syria and Ukraine how catastrophic this can be.

Focusing on the symptoms of these problems — such as rising violent extremism — with militarized responses has never worked. After 9 years and more than $880 million in euros for the Barkhane operation, the French found out about this in Mali before they were recently expelled from the country.

Now the people of Burkina Faso are demanding a diplomatic break with France and a new partnership with Russia and possibly the Wagner Group. The Western Democratic Alliance has failed in the Sahel; and this has inevitably led to a tendency towards more authoritarian partners.

Likewise, it is a mistake to allow the militarized post-coup regimes to get away with the trappings of a transitional democracy plan without making any meaningful changes in decision-making.

The Mali regime has consistently delayed the transfer of power to a civilian government since last year’s coup; and the process of developing a transitional charter recently in Burkina Faso does not indicate any real intention of returning power to elected representatives.

At their core, these are governance issues. Stability in the Sahel comes not through the rule of the gun, but through the rule of law. The Biden administration can use the Africa Leaders’ Summit to refocus its approach to the Sahel.

First, it should put anti-corruption at the heart of any conversation with regional leaders. The US Africa Strategy lists openness and open societies as the first of four priorities – and now is the time for the US to act.

At the same time, there is work to be done domestically – progress on crucial domestic anti-corruption efforts in the US – such as the passage of the Enablers Act and full implementation of the Corporate Transparency Act would demonstrate commitment to these issues.

Second, it is imperative that it be made clear that post-coup political agreements include a focus on the citizen’s voice and accountability from below. This means inciting those in power to engage in meaningful consultations with citizens to ensure that even the most excluded are heard.

In Mali, the transitional authorities have launched “Assises Nationales de la Refondation de l’Etat” – a series of consultations at municipal and national level to give the whole population a voice on important issues such as governance and justice. We need to ensure that these kinds of processes are meaningful, inclusive and supported with real implementation, otherwise they can lead to further disappointment and withdrawal.

Third, whether in a post-coup environment or more broadly, it means finding bigger ways to shift systems to slowly remove the military from politics and consolidate civilian control over decision-making.

This sounds difficult, but we forget that it has been done successfully in Mali before. After Amadou Toumani Touré’s coup d’état in 1991, power was returned to a civilian government, allowing Alpha Oumar Konaré to be elected president in 1992.

In the Sahel, among other things, we need reforms, a shift from civilian law enforcement to other agencies such as the police; empowerment of accountability bodies within militaries; and political work with reformists within the military to push for a return of troops to their barracks. The US should also fully support regional organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to push the Sahel countries to follow clear plans, processes and timelines for returning to or maintaining civilian rule.

Finally, longer-term stability in our countries requires a fundamental generational change. The median age in Mali is 16; in Niger it is only 15 years old. Our countries are undergoing a massive demographic change – and this must be reflected in the systems we use to run ourselves, otherwise extremist groups will continue to recruit young people who have a greater interest in overthrowing systems than rebuilding them.

The US cares about young people on paper – now is the time to create the space for a new generation to lead. After all, they can’t be worse than the corrupt elites we’ve seen mistreating our politics for decades.

The Summit of African Leaders is an important opportunity for the US to strengthen its commitment to governance in the Sahel; and a foreign policy that prioritizes governance and inclusion over economics and security alone. The people of the region deserve it.

Doussouba Konate is director of Accountability Lab Mali and leader of the Obama Foundation. Follow the Lab on Twitter @accountlab

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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