ECOWAS And Vanishing Democracy


“President Sall indeed played a very critical role in ECOWAS efforts to force Yahya Jammeh out of Banjul in defence of democracy in the subregion and peace in The Gambia. It is therefore a shame that he would now seek to plunge his own country into avoidable crisis on the altar of inordinate ambition”.


On Monday, military authorities in Guinea dissolved the interim government it had put in place since June 2022.  They pledged to appoint a new administration. We recall that Colonel Mamady Doumbouya toppled President Alpha Conde in September 2021, in a coup hailed by many Guineans. Conde invited it upon himself by forcing through a controversial constitutional amendment that gave him a third term in office. And he brutally crushed the street demonstrations that followed, killing many before he was ousted. Although the military promised to return power to elected civilians by the end of this year, there is nothing to suggest such proposition is still on the cards in Guinea.

However, the latest challenge for the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) is in Senegal where President Macky Sall, whose tenure expires on 2 April, is also playing the sit-tight game. First, he toyed with the idea of a third term that elicited street protests. When that gambit failed, Sall postponed the election scheduled to hold this Sunday, 25 February till December this year. The Constitutional Court in the country has ruled that proposition also illegal. While Sall promised to abide by the court ruling, uncertainties remain about when the election will hold. That ECOWAS is silent about Senegal shows the hypocrisy of the leaders within the subregion. Meanwhile, Sall himself has shown that despite mouthing platitudes, his belief in democracy is driven only by self-interest. And I say this based on a personal encounter I had with him six years ago. Although I did not reveal who secured for me the encounter at the time, I can do so now and the circumstance in which it happened.

In writing my book, ‘Against the Run of Play: How an Incumbent President was Defeated in Nigeria’, I spoke to many of the principal actors, including President Goodluck Jonathan and current President Tinubu. Because he was abroad on self-exile at the time, it was difficult to get the former Bauchi State Governor, Adamu Muazu. Yet, I needed him to clarify certain issues to complete the book, considering he was PDP National Chairman during the 2015 general election. Eventually, we agreed to meet in Dakar, the Senegalese capital where I arrived on the day preceding a special ECOWAS meeting in Abuja on the Gambian presidential election lost by Yahyah Jammeh who decided not to leave office. As it would happen, Muazu had a dinner appointment with President Sall, and I tagged along. Below are excerpts from my December 2017 recollection, ‘Buhari, Sall and Jammeh’s Defiance’ to illustrate the tragedy of Senegal today.

…While I do not know much about Sall’s stewardship, it was nonetheless a refreshing time with him until we departed the presidential palace at exactly 1.20am (Nigerian time) which was 12.20am local time in Dakar. He said he would be departing for Abuja by 6.30am for the ECOWAS meeting on the crisis in The Gambia. By then, I had learnt a lot about the mutiny in Cote D’Ivoire where soldiers went on strike last week as well as the attempts by the ECOWAS leaders, including President (Muhammadu) Buhari, to resolve the political crisis in The Gambia.

Fortunately for me, when Sall was receiving us on arrival, I had been introduced to him as a former presidential spokesman in Nigeria, so he had no reason to be on his guard, as most people usually are when with reporters. That gave me ample opportunity to ask probing questions during dinner without raising any suspicion about my interest. I started by reminding Sall of what he already knows: that whereas the problem in The Gambia may be a challenge for ECOWAS, it is one that his country (Senegal) would have to deal with. He agreed with my summation before also expressing optimism that it would be resolved before January 19 (2018). He was confident that Yahya Jammeh will go because the consequences of doing otherwise would be too much for the Gambian dictator. Already, some of Jammeh’s ministers have started voting with their feet.

However, Sall is also mindful of old prejudices between the two countries that for a period in history were one (Senegambia), especially when I asked him whether he was ready to offer asylum to Jammeh; having already told me of such a plan and some of the countries that could play host without mentioning Senegal. “I can have him here in Senegal, but I don’t think he will come,” Sall said as he explained the complications of the negotiations to oust Jammeh. “I think he fears what might happen to him when he leaves office, especially with the International Criminal Court that could look into some things that happened under his watch.”

To say that it will not be easy is an understatement given that Jammeh is digging in, and he is not without his own supporters. For instance, The Gambian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Mr. Samsudeen Sarr, recently took to the social media to reiterate his “unflinching support for His Excellency Shiekh Professor Doctor Alhagie Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh Babillimansa” while attacking Senegal that “has always overtly or covertly expressed its compulsion to annex our Anglophone nation into its 8th region.”

According to Sall, raising the stakes by Jammeh may prove to be no use for him at the end, given that Charles Taylor of Liberia also negotiated his way out of power before he was apprehended three years later under circumstances that were not particularly edifying for Nigeria. The best way out for Jammeh, the Senegalese president argued, was the first option he took to concede the election before reneging. But Sall believes that he and other African leaders have a responsibility to ensure Jammeh’s exit without damage to his country and Senegal will play a decisive role in that direction…

ENDNOTE: President Sall indeed played a very critical role in ECOWAS efforts to force Yahya Jammeh out of Banjul in defence of democracy in the subregion and peace in The Gambia. It is therefore a shame that he would now seek to plunge his own country into avoidable crisis on the altar of inordinate ambition. But the greater challenge is for ECOWAS that must be worried about the state of democracy, anchored on the rule of law, and expressed will of the people within the sub-region.

…You can follow me on my X (formerly Twitter) handle, @Olusegunverdict and on   

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