Civil society stakeholders have condemned the wave of military coups in parts of Africa and called for multi-stakeholder efforts to achieve lasting peace and prosperity in the region.
They expressed opposition to coups and military interventions in politics as a solution to the governance challenges facing the region.
This was contained in a communique issued at the end of the maiden West Africa Civil Society Week 2023 (WACSW23), held in Lagos, Nigeria from 29 to 31 August 2023.
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The three-day conference organised by the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) and West Africa Democracy Solidarity Network (WADEMOS), supported by Ford Foundation, attracted stakeholders from over 100 civil society organisations across West Africa, and partners from East and Southern Africa.
The event which had the theme “Civil Society in West Africa: Reimagining the Role of the Third Sector in Protecting Civic Space and Consolidating Democracy for Regional Development,” was informed by the rising political tensions, poor governance in parts of Africa and the implications on democracy, human rights and survival of civil society in the region.
According to the communique, titled “Embracing Democracy, Peace, and Prosperity: A Collective Call for a Stronger West Africa,” the civil society leaders engaged in “candid discussions, shared experiences, and collectively formulated strategies and demands to address challenges and contribute to a peaceful and prosperous West Africa.”
The CSOs while noting that the recent coup in Gabon happened while the conference was going on, said the political tensions were caused by bad governance leading to public disaffection. They, however, warned that military incursion into politics is not the antidote to addressing the leadership challenges.
“While we recognize that our region is at a crossroads, with citizens increasingly expressing frustration due to unfulfilled democratic dividends and a lack of responsive governance, we unequivocally oppose coups and military interventions in politics as a panacea to the governance challenges facing the region,” part of the communique read.
“We emphasize the need for citizens’ voices to be heard, and for their legitimate concerns to be acknowledged and addressed through peaceful and democratic means.
“To this end, we strongly denounce the coups d’état that have happened in our region, and the recent one in Gabon in the Central African region. We also condemn all other forms of unconstitutional changes of government and manipulated tenure elongation that undermine the democratic principles our region aspires to uphold.
“We further express our deep concern over the disturbing trend of recession in democratic practices and values, and reiterate our commitment to democratic governance, constitutional rule, and democratic electoral practices as fundamental principles for sustainable development and peace.”
They opposed military intervention in the Niger Republic or any part of the region and called on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) “to exercise caution and prioritise peaceful approaches in responding to governance crises in the region.”
While advocating the restoration of constitutional order in the countries affected by military crises “through dialogue and negotiation,” the group urged ECOWAS to adopt the revised supplementary protocol on Democracy and Good Governance (as amended), as well as commit to a uniform application of the provisions of the protocol in response to unconstitutional change of government in the region.
They further called on the regional bloc to reassert its moral authority and regain the trust of its citizens and advocated “the operationalization of the ECOWAS Social and Economic Council (ECOSOCC) to strengthen collaboration between ECOWAS and civil society, moving forward.”
They condemned any attempt to restrict freedom of expression, association, and assembly under any form by any government in the region and emphasized the need to expand and strengthen civic space to enable civil society organisations to thrive and contribute effectively to democratic governance, national and regional development.
“We call on governments to uphold human rights and ensure the safety of civil society actors,” the communique added.
They emphasized on unity and solidarity of CSOs for more impacts and called for more engagement of young people by providing platforms, training, and resources for empowerment and ensuring that their voices are genuinely considered in the Civic Space.