constitutional coups d'état

Open letter on Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea: Africa needs new leaders

President Alassane Ouattara and Guinean President Alpha Conde attend a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the WWII Allied landings in Provence, in Saint-Raphael, southern France, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (Eric Gaillard/POOL via AP)

The situation in many West African countries on the eve of presidential elections is exceptionally worrying.

In a few days, if all goes as planned, two elections will be held in a very tense environment. There’s Guinea on 18 October and Côte d’Ivoire on 31 October, where the candidacies of Alpha Condé and Alassane Ouattara are highly controversial.

Both incumbent presidents want to run for third terms following changes to their constitutions. The arguments invoked are riddled with contradictions, interpretations are erroneous, and deliberately misleading language is used.

These two attempts at usurping power are akin to constitutional coups d’état that seriously threaten the region’s stability.

Many citizens are shocked by leaders’ inability to keep their word. They are outraged with the refusal to recognise the hard-won political reforms in the ’90s with the advent of multiparty politics.

READ MORE African presidents extending terms: ‘Let’s express our disapproval loud and clear’

These two attempts at usurping power are akin to constitutional coups d’état that seriously threaten the region’s stability. In Guinea, several dozen people have lost their lives since the new constitution’s enactment last April after a flawed referendum. The same is true in Côte d’Ivoire, where the validation of Alassane Ouattara’s candidacy by the Constitutional Council provoked an outcry among the opposition and democrats.

Demonstrations against his third term have already caused nearly fifteen deaths and numerous arrests. The post-election crisis of 2010-2011, resulting from a power struggle between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, still haunts the country.

READ MORE Côte d’Ivoire presidential election: Opposition threatens boycott

When both men proclaimed themselves the winners, it ended in Gbagbo’s defeat after a civil war that caused the deaths of 3,000 people and a large number who were injured and displaced; hundreds of arrests were carried out, and infrastructure took a hit.

National institutions and courts are often the last resort. But the Constitutional Council and the Electoral Commission (in charge of the voters registers), have failed because of the collapse of legislative and institutional frameworks, which are crumbling from within and controlled by the Executive power.

All of this destroys the trust that citizens should have had in their state institutions. The result is a complete blockage of legal channels, while authoritarian regimes prohibit citizens from expressing themselves freely and demonstrating non-violently using repressive methods to silence any discontent.

READ MORE The rise of Africa’s new ‘old men’

The demands and street demonstrations against the results of the legislative elections in Mali, for example, were the spark that ignited the recent military putsch that deposed former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.

Too often, politics in Africa forces people to rely on identity-based affiliations rather than manifestos and policy changes. The private sphere dominates national issues to the detriment of the general interest. Populations are taken hostage for personal interests.

Growing instability brings another danger to the fore: the threat of terrorism. Al Qaeda and the Islamic state’s militants operate in the Sahel region and could take advantage of the chaos to extend their influence towards the coast.

READ MORE A grassroots response to the Sahel crisis

We are appealing to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS was established in 1975 by the Treaty of Lagos, signed by 15 Anglophone, Lusophone, and Francophone countries. Its mission is to coordinate regional dynamics to foster synergies and inject new energy into an internal market; to ensure conflict management and the collective security of member countries, without forgetting the protocol signed in Dakar in 2001, specifically on democracy and good governance.

We believe that politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians alone.

Now that Mali’s transition is under way, we believe that member countries should urgently address the question of the legality of third terms.

We are appealing to the African Union and to the United Nations to adopt a firm position to end any attempt to pervert democratic principles. In Côte d’Ivoire, it is necessary to bring the political actors of both camps to meet around a negotiating table to reach a consensus that will lead to a peaceful and transparent election.

We live in a period marked by health, social, economic, and environmental crises, yet it requires innovation, courage, and vision to emerge from them.

We believe that politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians alone. We need new African leaders who are qualified to take on the challenges facing Africa head-on.

List of signatories:

Véronique Tadjo (Côte d’Ivoire), writer, Visiting Professor at Wits University
Eugène Ebodé (Cameroon), writer, Dr. of French and comparative literature
Tierno Monénembo (Guinea), writer, Dr. of biochemistry
Felwine Sarr  (Senegal), writer, Professor at Duke University
Zakes Mda (South Africa), writer, Professor Emeritus of English, Ohio University
Makhily Gassama (Senegal), literary critic, former Minister of Culture
Boualem Sansal (Algeria), writer, engineer, Dr. of Economics
Juvénal Ngorwanubusa (Burundi), writer, former Minister, professor at the University of Burundi
Zukiswa Wanner (South Africa), journalist, writer, publisher
Lola Shoneyin (Nigeria), poet, novelist
Michèle Rakotoson (Madagascar), writer, commander of Malagasy Arts and Letters
Tochi Onyebuchi (Nigeria, United States), writer, former civil rights lawyer
Panashe Chigumadzi (Zimbabwe), Writer, journalist, essayist
Bisi Adjapon (Nigeria), writer
Frédéric Grah Mel (Côte d’Ivoire), biographer, Dr. of French Literature
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Nigeria), writer, journalist
Amatesiro Dore (Nigeria), writer, fellow of the Wole Soyinka Foundation
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr (Senegal), writer
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond (Ghana, United States), writer, poet
Kola Tubosun (Nigeria), teacher, writer, editor
Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia, United States), writer, essayist
Sindiwe Magona (South Africa), writer, essayist, storyteller, actor