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Opinions of Sunday, 13 March 2005

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

West Africans And Talking

For long, either because of the shortsighted of non-interference in each other?s business enshrined in the African Union treaty or in that of ECOWAS, multilateral talking shops in the context of Africa?s problems, or specifically, West Africa?s daunting problems, are frequently denounced as a waste of time and money. But the resolved political crisis in Togo by ECOWAS officials by talking, talking and talking has proved the critics wrong. The critics have asked, why should so much time and money be wasted on the hot air generated by ECOWAS meetings and talking that always promise so much but deliver nothing.

An answer might be found in the resolution of the potential anarchy that was brewing in Togo. By combining talking and sanctions by ECOWAS, by regional giant Nigeria quickly recalling its Ambassador from Lome and later Nigerian leaders standing on their feet in the face of huge undemocratic Togolese delegation to influence the unconstitutional installation of Faure Gnassingbe, and by Niger officials doing same with strong plain talk Togo might have been freed going the Cote d?Ivoire and other states such as Sierra Leone and Liberian way of civil war. Still, heavy talking help resolved the Sierra Leone and the Liberian civil wars. And more deeply, heavy talking enabled ECOWAS, fronted by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, talking former Liberian President Charles Taylor, by nature a quarrelsome person, from going on exile to bring peace to his war torn country.

When West Africa?s ?bad boy? Togo stage the region?s first coup detat in 1963, it?s surprising nature to the region did not correspond with heavy talking to return the country back to constitutional rule. The result was wide spread of coup detat in the region, from Mauritania to Nigeria. And with the long-running military misrule that stifled the region?s democratic growth and development, West Africa is the poorest area in the world. As ECOWAS find its feet in resolving conflicts and fertilizing democratic growth, we are now seeing the relevance of having permanent forum for talking: long-standing grudges that are not allowed to die, neighbours who mind their own business to the point of paranoia, and frequent spats and misunderstandings that could one day blow up into war. When ECOWAS, led by Ghana?s President John Kufour, went to Guinea Bissau last years to resolve a democratic crisis following the ?removal? of the democratically elected President Kumba Yalla from power, it was using its talking forum to resolve all the above deed-seated issues.

West Africa?s history and earlier weak attempts to resolve them by not talking more and more teaches us that the danger of silence, bad temper and suspicion were all too evident on February 5 when President Gnassingbe Eyadema died and wrong-minded and undemocratic forces twisted Togo?s constitution to install his son, Faure, who wasn?t either the Speaker of Parliament or Deputy Speaker, or the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister, or the Chief Justice or Deputy Chief Justice, or the Foreign Minister or Deputy Foreign Minister to replace the dead President Eyadema. West Africans, who lead Africa in the number of coup detat, 32 out of 37, quickly interpreted the installation of Faure as coup detat engineered by his father?s Kabiye tribal clique in the military. Shameless and demonstrating his disdain for the emerging democratic growth in the region, Faure and his clique started globetrotting to plead with West African and African community (outside West Africa Faure going to Libya and Gabon worsened matters since these countries are not democratic and have not shown any sign of doing so. In fact, Libya?s Murmur Gaddafi is partly responsible for some of the problems in West Africa by sponsoring coup detats and insurgents) that he be allowed to rule to complete his dead father?s three remaining term, forgetting the constitutional order, rule of law and the democratic aspirations of the much-suppressed Togolese people and behaving as if the world is going to finish so soon that he has rule at all cost. Faure is only 39 year old.

As a sign of democratic events to come in the region, almost all West African and African newspapers and other media outfits such as online publications, as one reads at allafrica.com, as if they have been talking to themselves, simultaneously had harsh words for Faure and his tribal military clique, condemning the constitutional disorder and calling for return to constitutional order. Either the newspapers ?talking to themselves? or ECOWAS officials moving in and out of Lome, the Togolese capital to talk to Togolese politicians to adhere to democratic norms, West Africans have been reassured that their problems will be resolved by talking to themselves to themselves than journeying to either Paris or London or Lisbon or Brussels or Washington or Madrid to talk about either Cote d?Ivoire or Togo or Sierra Leone or Liberia or Guinea Bissau or Guinea Conakry. Tetchiness and distance are no longer the norm in a region that earlier was unable to talk to itself, especially with one voice, as ECOWAS demonstrated in the Togolese case during the February 5 coup detat. The developing ECOWAS talking forum also shows that the regional body is rapidly becoming one of the most important economic forums in the world as the region braces for oil boom in some years to come and work towards a single currency.

Earlier, especially during Ghana?s President Kwame Nkrumah, Cote d?Ivoire?s President Houpheut Boigney and Nigeria?s Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, and Mali?s President Modibo Keita?s era, there was weak lubricant of multilateral diplomacy, it is little wonder that West Africa had more than its fair share of long-standing tensions as was the case between Ghana and Cote d?Ivoire, between Ghana and Togo, and Liberia and Sierra Leone and just about everyone. Why was West Africa so fractious and dialogue so fragmented? The finger has various been pointed not only at facing-saving national culture, history ? especially during the Cold War ? and the sheer scale of a region that is home to Africa?s largest and diverse population but different states in the region pursued different political and development agenda grounded in Socialism/Marxism and Capitalism or a mixture of the two and wide spread military juntas. This situation suited ex-colonial masters who continuously imagined the region as weak and cannot solve its problems without the help of its ex-colonial masters.

Now things are changing, for a talking West Africa is in everyone?s best interests. ECOWAS developing forum for talk, talk and more talk could be a ?bedroom for diplomatic intercourse, a maternity ward for economic cooperation and a graveyard for historical grudges.?


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