‘Contagion effect’ fuels fears of West African democracy backslide


Until this year, West Africa looked to have shed its “coup-belt” moniker, winning plaudits as a model of democratic progress on the continent. But last month’s putsch in Mali is fueling fears among activists that gains of the past decade are unravelling, Reuters reports:

The power grab came at a time when the presidents of Ivory Coast and Guinea are seeking third terms after winning referendums to alter constitutions that barred them from running again. While elections are now held consistently across the region, such moves, combined with governments’ attempts to stifle political opposition, are making many West Africans lose faith in the ballot box as a way of holding leaders accountable, activists and analysts say.

“We are asking for strong institutions. But while the institutions exist on paper, the politicians manipulate them from the inside until there’s nothing left,” said Veronique Tadjo, an Ivorian novelist who co-authored a manifesto against third terms.

Malians can take through democratic means if they want to address grievances over corruption and insecurity, analysts suggest.

The Mali crisis highlights a broader lesson on how change can and must occur in fragile democratic systems so that frustrations can be channeled into constructive actions and unconstitutional power grabs can be avoided, argue Joseph Siegle, Ph.D. and Dan Eizenga of the National Defense University’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

Experience has shown the latter won’t resolve these grievances but will cost citizens their civil liberties and political rights, they write for The Hill.


Some other presidents could be toying with the idea of hanging on, Reuters adds:

After previously ruling out a third term bid in 2024, Senegal’s Macky Sall refused to confirm that position when asked by journalists last year, saying his ministers would stop working hard if he did. On Sunday, the head of the majority in parliament, Aymirou Gningue, told a radio station that Sall has the right to run for a third term.

“It is always a contagion effect,” said Christopher Fomunyoh, senior associate for Africa at the National Democratic Institute, citing previous waves of military coups and democratic reforms across the continent. “If the pendulum begins to swing backward, copycat actions … (are) quite likely.”

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