Wrapping up 2012 – Political and Economic Governance in West Africa

By Olivier Bucyana – (@OlivierBu1)

Political Governance – The success and difficulties facing West Africa

In the past two years, West Africa has had an unprecedented number of competitive presidential elections, which has led, on some occasions, to an improvement in the political landscape in the region. For instance, the recent elections in Senegal, although marred with many challenges, were held in a peaceful manner and the incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade, accepted his defeat by handing over power to the winner of the election, President Macky Sall. In Ghana, following the death of President John Atta Mills, power was peacefully transferred to his Vice-President, and now, recently elected, President John Dramani Mahama. In Niger, the adoption of a new constitution, with the support of all political parties in the country, was a significant step towards the restoration of democracy in the country. In Liberia, despite the low turnout, the peaceful re-election of Nobel Prize winner, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a country ravaged by many years of conflict, is a positive step towards fostering reconciliation and sustainable peace. Finally, the recent peaceful re-election of Ernest Bai Koroma in Sierra Leone will allow the country to remain in its path towards promoting long lasting peace and economic development.

Despite some of these improvements, the region still faces enormous challenges and issues such as impunity and risks of democratic reversals. For instance, despite being cited as a model of democracy in West Africa, democracy in Senegal has significantly regressed. While the 2001 constitution sets a limit of two presidential terms, Abdoulaye Wade sought re-election and tried to amend the Constitution to lower the threshold for the president to be elected with only 25% of the votes. This led to the creation of the June 23 Movement (M23) which organized massive street protests to oppose Abdoulaye Wade’s actions.

Today, one of the challenges Cote d’Ivoire faces, to address the post-election violence and to foster a long lasting reconciliation, is to provide justice in a fair and effective manner. However, as of today, the recent arrests made are only of top members of the previous regime’s security services. This form of Victor’s justice has weakened institutions, which, subsequently, may hamper the process of reconciliation in the country.

In Guinea, despite the progress made in the justice system and the indictment of a high ranking military officer for the 28th September 2009 Massacre, the country still has a long way to go. In order to fight impunity, the current regime must especially address the issue of indiscipline in the security services in general, mainly due to their involvement in the 2009 massacre.

West Africa


Economic Governance – Poverty and Transparency in the Extractive Industries

In addition to the challenges cited above, many West African countries are also facing rampant corruption and deepening poverty. According to Transparency International, Nigeria ranks 139 out of 174 on the 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, which has worsened since President Goodluck Jonathan has come to power, despite this being one of his priorities. Also, the openness of the budget is very low, which limits transparency in the dealings of the state in the extractive industry. In fact, in January, last year, the government removed subsidies on oil, triggering mass protests across the country, accusing the government of mismanagement and corruption.

Ghana, despite being cited as a model in Africa, has recently discovered oil and will have to face many challenges in the upcoming years. This discovery can be a blessing for the country and can increase growth and spending across all public sectors. However, this discovery also poses a risk. The discovery of oil can also be a curse by creating enormous disparities between the rich and the poor and may lead to a decline in terms of trade for primary commodities. Passing a Right to Information (RTI) Act will increase access to public data to limit corruption and will strengthen transparency in the governments dealings with the oil industry. This will in turn allow the government to maintain the gains it has made in the creation of democratic institutions.

Furthermore, one can’t help but notice a trend when it comes to poverty. According to World Bank Data, in Niger, as of 2005, 62,1 % of the population lived below the national poverty line, despite having one of the world’s largest reserves of Uranium. Also, as of 2007, 63,8% of Liberians lived below the national poverty line, despite having reserves of iron ore, timber, diamonds and even gold. In Nigeria as well, despite having large reserves of oil, many still live in absolute poverty.

In order to strengthen democracy in West Africa, the issue of corruption and mismanagement of natural resources must be addressed and this will pave the way towards eradicating poverty and creating strong democratic institutions.


Security – Islamist Radicalism and its Impact in West Africa

The crisis in northern Mali poses a threat to the entire West African region. Resulting from the spillover of weapons from the Libyan conflict, today over two thirds of the country is controlled by four main armed groups: The Tuareg’s separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Islamist fighters of Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Unicity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA). The involvement of some of these groups in terrorist activities, arms trafficking and drug trade will certainly affect the entire region and in particular one of it’s neighboring countries, Niger. Just like Mali, Niger has faced a Tuareg rebellion in the northern part of its country in the early 1990s and 2000s, and such a conflict in Mali may revive claims by the Tuaregs in Niger. Although a military intervention may be necessary to restore the territorial integrity of Mali, such a decision may oppose armies from the region, that haven’t had much experience fighting in a desert, with rebel groups that not only know the desert very well but may also resort to terrorist attacks in neighboring countries.


mali map


In Nigeria, democracy is also being threatened by internal violence, incited by Boko Haram in the northern part of the country. Their activities, which according to Human Rights Watch, can amount to crimes against humanity, are dividing the country. The coordinated attacks by Boko Haram on both Muslim and Christians, on newspaper offices and on the United Nations building in Abuja, has left approximately 1500 people dead. The inequalities between the north, where most Muslims reside, and the south, where oil is produced, may have played a role in the radicalization of this movement in Nigeria.


  • Security – Cote d’Ivoire and its neighbors

After the long conflict that opposed Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo in the 2010 presidential elections, Cote d’Ivoire has faced multiple attacks on its military and police installations, which the government has blamed on Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters currently in exile in Ghana. A United Nations report has stated that a military base, operated by mercenaries and supported by Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters, has been set up in Ghana to destabilize and overthrow the current Ivorian government. This increased tensions between the two countries and led the Ivorian Government to close its border with Ghana, which then was later re-opened.

In June, a cross border fire, from Liberia, led to the death of seven U.N peacekeepers and so far, Liberian authorities have arrested and extradited the individuals, they believe, are connected to this attack.

The tensions between Cote d’Ivoire and both of its eastern and western neighbors have developed tensions within a region that has already experienced multiple conflicts. As a country that used to be known for its high economic growth, Cote d’Ivoire is now struggling to regain its position as an economic engine of the West African region.


2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2012/

Liberia Data, The World Bank, http://data.worldbank.org/country/liberia

Mali: Avoiding Escalation, International Crisis Group, http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/west-africa/mali/189-mali-avoiding-escalation.aspx

Niger Data, The World Bank, http://data.worldbank.org/country/niger

Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict, http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/west-africa/nigeria/168-northern-nigeria-background-to-conflict.aspx

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s rise and rule, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-16905528



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