By Amadou Barry – Counsel at Thiam & Associes – Guinea Conakry
The democratic progress of West African states achieved over the last decades is being undermined by disruptive events like military coups.
Prior to the most recent military coup in the Republic of Guinea in September, the West African region experienced a military coup in Mali in August 2020.
These events were preceded by political shenanigans and constitutional reforms intended to allow political leaders to power.
In Guinea it is widely accepted that the recent military coup was related to the constitutional reform implemented in April 2020 by President Alpha Condé, allowing him to run for a third term, which was previously forbidden.
A similar constitutional reform led to political unrest in Cote d’Ivoire in December 2020, and in Senegal in 2012.
As long as the highest courts that are empowered to ensure a strict compliance with the constitution and its spirit are vulnerable and exposed to political pressure, the whole system remains at risk.
For instance, in Guinea, the president’s desire to remain in power was either actively or passively supported by the judges of the Constitutional Court.
At the regional level, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) appeared to accept the constitutional reform introduced by President Condé before running for a third term.
In light of the ongoing criticism levied at ECOWAS, the institution is expected to implement internal reforms that take into account the West African population’s aspirations rather than politicians’ desire to remain in power.
Thus, on September 18, 2021, while adopting sanctions against the Guinean military leaders, the ECOWAS heads of state recognised that the West African community needs to reassess its position towards democracy and political leaders’ commitment to deliver results for their population.
One may therefore surmise that there is an ongoing internal debate within ECOWAS as to how it should react to the desire of some leaders to remain in power.
The ECOWAS and African Union’s response to the military coup in Guinea indicates the internal challenges that such organisations need to address.
Indeed, both ECOWAS and the African Union suspended the Republic of Guinea on September 8 and September 10, 2021, respectively. ECOWAS further adopted sanctions against the military leaders.
However, those decisions were criticised as a sign of support for the contested overthrown regime of President Alpha Condé.
An increasing number of voices are calling for internal reforms of the ECOWAS and the African Union.
The tentative response of those organisations to the military coup in Guinea is also a sign of an ongoing debate on the legitimacy and efficiency of these organisations.
From a global perspective, the military coup in Guinea revealed the key strategic role of Guinea and other mineral-rich countries in world markets.
This is illustrated by the fact that aluminum prices rose to their highest level in 10 years in the aftermath of the coup, as widely reported.
In 2020, Guinea was the world’s largest exporter of bauxite, the raw material that is refined into alumina, a substance used to make aluminium metal.
No mining company operating in Guinea has been disrupted so far by the new regime. All mining activities have resumed, and the export of bauxite and other minerals was not halted.
It appears likely that investors will maintain their confidence in strategic mining countries like Guinea, given the measures implemented by their political leaders.
In implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) currently in place, such as ECOWAS, will play a key role.
In the long-term, the AfCFTA will replace the RECs. However those like ECOWAS with well-integrated common rules will be maintained for a transitional period.
Nevertheless, practical challenges still exist, such as decisions being made by member countries in violation of the governing rules of ECOWAS.
For instance, for years, the Republic of Guinea closed its borders with Senegal and Guinea Bissau for political reasons, which was detrimental to trade.
Likewise, when the Ebola outbreak started in the Republic of Guinea and Sierra Leone in 2014, neighbouring countries like Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal unilaterally closed their borders for health and safety reasons.