By Mathew K Jallow

The anticipation was both joyous and widespread, but so also was the ambivalence and outright skepticism. If the recent proposal to establish term-limits, for the ECOWAS member states, was a hopeful sign, its failure was incomprehensible and emotionally devastating. After four decades in existence, hundreds of millions of dollars, thousands of meetings and conferences, and three hundred and fifty million citizens waiting for even a single moment of glory, ECOWAS, some argue, has done little to justify its existence. And nothing crystallizes this more than the recently torpedoed democratic process, designed to return power to citizens to exercise their constitutional right to periodically change their governments. Equally distressing was the ease with which the two least eminent countries, the Gambia and Togo, steamrolled the remaining fourteen member nations into shelving the idea of institutionalizing the celebrated term-limit proposal. This was one of the purest test of one of the cardinal tenets of democracy; majority rule, but ECOWAS flunked it spectacularly, in doing so, set its self up for public scorn and ridicule. The speed with which ECOWAS allowed the term-limits proposal to come crashing down in total failure, was an embarrassment that questions the loyalty of the body to its 350 million citizens. But, the term-limits idea, down in defeat, also proves ECOWAS’s puzzling lack of appreciation of the inter-connectedness of Africans, in particular, the highly educated African diaspora, and its support for ECOWAS’s term-limits proposal. An irrefutable, but largely unknown fact, is, how, over two decades, Africans across the United States, Europe and beyond, have built institutions of common interest that transcend the artificial boundaries of tribe, national origin and social and economic status. In so many significant ways, the African diaspora is far ahead of both the AU and regional organizations like ECOWAS, and this was loudly demonstrated during South Africa’s mob massacre of African immigrants, despite the fact that countries like the Gambia took in so many South African refugees, during the years of apartheid rule. 

The African diaspora has created multiple oases of institutions that will make the African Union and ECOWAS’s efforts at continental and regional unity seem like child’s play. The significance of the African diaspora’s “one-Africa mindset”, which is at the heart of the Byzantine political and cultural linkages, is in facilitating support of issues like ECOWAS’s term-limits idea, in which Africans roundly condemn ECOWAS for its stunning failure in implementing it. The growing exchanges of ideas and opinions among the indispensable African diaspora, will make the idea of artificial political boundaries seem obsolete, and the continent-wide protestation over the failure of ECOWAS to implement its proposed term-limits, proves it. Further, and even more significantly, the limitations of peoples’ ideas and opinions to individual diasporas’’ countries of origin, are inconsistent with the purpose and spirit of the global internet media platform. Africans, without regards to nationality, are increasingly outspoken in matters affecting the interest of other Africans all across the continent. Gone are the days when most Africans focused their criticisms exclusively on the governments and regimes in their country of origin. The internet is a force of nature that has given voice to Africa’s politically powerless, and enabled the 350 million ECOWAS bloc citizens to coalesce around the common interests of establishing term-limits in countries subjected to the tyranny of primitive imperial rule. But, perhaps also, the unremarkable way in which the ECOWAS term-limits idea has crumpled without push back by the majority state leaders, says more about its leaders’ failure to fully grasp how regimes like Gambia, have consistently and willfully defied its established republican constitution, which speaks to both the democratic organization of the state, as well as the triangular decentralization of administrative power. But, the collapse of ECOWAS’s term-limit proposal, a mechanism of facilitating and promoting good governance and empowering ECOWAS citizens long held down by the ruthless arms of political tyranny, further solidifies the perception of the West African body as the hegemony of its leaders, as opposed to it citizens.

In the unsuccessful term-limits issue brought up by ECOWAS leaders, Senegalese citizens, like Gambians, lamented its failure, just as the issue was bemoaned by the politically conscious from Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mali, Guinea-Conakry, and citizens from elsewhere in Africa. This proves that the growing inter-connectedness of Africans in this new century, is more than just symbolic; it is the substantive, and is the core belief system of Africans, especially the highly educated minority. Importantly, ECOWAS leaders failed, once again over two decades, to give consideration to the Gambia’s dire political situation, because the regional body is not attuned to the an emerging political paradigm that informs relations between countries that share physical boundaries. ECOWAS, it appears, still operates on the basis of the old United Nations doctrine of “non-interference” in other countries’ internal affairs; a doctrine, that has since been overtaken by the broadening of democratic values, in an ever changing and ever maturing global democracy project. The new United Nations doctrine of “responsibility to protect” or “R2P,” still largely alien to African countries with long histories of paternalistic systems of political and social organizations, mandates the use of force, if necessary, in order to wrest power from rogue regimes, and restore order in countries burdened by the cruel overreach of state power. The inability of Gambians to actuate constitutional change of power, in part, due to Senegal’s firm denial of Gambian dissident’s military activity within its borders, has hamstrung Gambians efforts and severely limited their ability to force change in  own their country. This is all the more why, despite ECOWAS’s blundering, the need to revisit the term-limits issue is underscored by Gambians’ desperate need for peace and stability through political change. The Gambian peoples’ desire for change is sparked in part by massive state violence, and its collision with Gambia’s laws and  constitution. It is why Gambians continue relentlessly to call on ECOWAS to institute the two term-limits in its sphere of influence, now, in order to restore peace, security, good governance and good neighborliness in the sub -region.