- Amina Salihu, Senior Programme Officer, McArthur Foundation; and
- Professor Charles Ukeje, Independent Consultant/ Governance expert;
Your Excellency Ambassador Awinador-Kanyirige, Senior Advisor for Governance and Peacebuilding, African Union;
Distinguished executives and representatives of civil society in West Africa, Africa and internationally;
Respected members of the media,
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen- here physically and joining virtually;
All other protocols observed.
On behalf of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), Media Foundation for West Africa (MfWA), West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), and West Africa Democracy Solidarity Network (WADEMOS), I am delighted to welcome you to Accra, Ghana, for the inaugural Regional Civil Society Strategy Convening.
This event follows closely on the heels of the just-passed Civil Society Week in Nigeria, for which many of you, our esteemed guests, honoured us with your presence. We are eternally grateful. Among the outcomes of the event were two cardinal ones needing immediate attention, namely:
- a regional meeting of civil society to discuss the retrogression of democracy broadly and what could or should be done to rescue the situation;
- and through the meeting, collectively develop a road map on how to engage transitions to ensure the return to constitutional order.
We are therefore convening here today to begin working on these goals collectively, as we respond to our mutual and deep concern for the state of democracy in the sub-region. This is a critical juncture in our history, as West Africa is plagued by ever increasing democratic retrogression and mounting disillusionment among its citizens.
This is reflected in the Global Freedom rankings in Freedom House’s 2023 Freedom in the World report. For instance, Mali is the worst ranked country in West Africa, ranking only 29 points on a 100-point scale, while Guinea follows closely behind at 30 points. Additionally, following successive coups in Burkina Faso, the country is shown to have experienced the steepest decline in the region, losing a total of 23 points, and falling from “partly free” to “not free”. This leaves Ghana and Cabo Verde as the only “free” countries in the region, a worrying trend to say the least, as the widening cracks in democracy place a great burden on the region’s levels of peace, stability, poverty lines and overall human security. (Freedom In the World 2023),
A number of challenges and threats can be outlined as factors leading us to this point, harbouring such a fractured and restricted civic space. These include:
- The appetite for tenure elongation among some of our leaders;
- Corruption and misgovernance;
- Economic impacts of COVID-19;
- The youth bulge and corresponding youth unemployment rates; and
- The rise of violent extremism and terrorism, to name but a few.
These challenges are interconnected and pose a serious threat to the long-term stability and prosperity of West Africa. With our region’s turbulent history, it is imperative that democracy be nurtured and defended unwaveringly. It is more important than ever for civil society to play a leading role in championing and defending the region’s freedoms. We as civil society organisations are the backbone of democracy, and play a vital role in holding governments accountable, advocating for the rights of citizens, and building a more inclusive and just society.
This dialogue grants us the opportunity for us to work together to strengthen and build back the West Africa we want to see. It is an opportunity to develop a shared vision for the future of democracy in the region and a unique chance to develop a plan of action for how we can achieve this vision. That is why this dialogue is so important. We must come together as civil society actors, development partners, academics, activists, and concerned citizens to discuss the challenges facing democracy in West Africa and to develop a collective strategy for addressing them.
As we launch into today’s program, let’s all bear in mind that we want to emerge from this dialogue with a clear understanding of the following:
- The root causes of democratic erosion in West Africa
- The current forms of democracy practiced and limitations
- What form/s of democracy or democratic ideals are fit for our context
- The specific challenges facing civil society in promoting democracy
- The role of ECOWAS in strengthening democracy in the region
- The expectations of civil society for a more responsive and effective ECOWAS
Once these are clear, we will be able to begin framing a concrete plan of action for strengthening democracy and state-citizen relations in West Africa. This will not be an easy task. But I am confident that we can achieve it if we work together.
I encourage you to participate fully in this dialogue. Share your ideas and perspectives. Be open to learning from and innovating with others. Together, we can build a stronger and more resilient democratic future for West Africa.
Thank you and once again, welcome.