The Role of African Elites in West African Countries
M. BACHIR DIOP
African societies have suffered from many external influences from the colonial period to the present day. This is what makes the African society characterized by both traditional and modern elite elements. Naturally; The traditional elites or the elites established on a traditional basis was the first elite to emerge in the African continent, and the colonizer was able to neutralize and replaced them after the independence, by the modern elites who most of them were formed in European educational institutions. In this article, we will try to explore the role of the political elites in West African countries in the political change in this region by focusing on electoral and democratic processes in the region.
The political elite in West African countries: Origins and formation
The political elite formed the primary elements of the various elite groups in human societies, and it assumed a central and vital role in directing and managing a social life. The period from 1960 to 1970; The management of political power in West Africa countries was mainly formed by teachers, doctors, and trade union leaders. Despite the different level of training, these early leaders tended to establish national consciousness, which was necessary to get rid of the negative effects of colonialism. We can point out that from the independence in 1960 to the 1990s, African intellectuals were divided between three main currents of thought: liberal, Marxist-Leninist and religious, each of these ideological trends has had a strong influence in the future political vision of these countries. Considering that the political elites work under the umbrella of political parties; The political parties numbers have doubled after the experience of the one-party system that dominated West African countries during the period from independence until the 1990s.
However, the correct implementation of political parties requires a political climate characterized by freedom, pluralism and social justice. Hence, Africa - since 1990 - has been exposed to the experience of imparting a kind of freedom to the state and society, with a return to integrated party pluralism to create a new generation of leaders to the political arena. The elites that consist of this party was the military, and some civilian leaders, and young politicians, many of them worked as advisers for military systems between 1970 and 1990. For example in Mali, the number of political parties reaches to 171, while the number exceeds 255 in Senegal and 113 in Burkina Faso.
Unfortunately, the deep ideological divisions of intellectual elites are the root of the failure of development discourse in West African countries in addition to the alternatives models coming from outside. This historical reminder is essential for a better understanding of the challenges that await the new generation of African leaders. Also, to understand the alarming situation of African countries in the economic and political sphere. As these countries have not been able to enhance the quality of human resources, which is a fundamental factor for the success of prosperous countries. In addition to not being able to adopt freedom policies that allow the smart exploitation of natural resources, and the creation and stimulation of appropriate values and standards in open societies.
The political elite ... and the dilemma of democracy
The phenomenon of free and pluralist elections is somehow well established in African political norms. “Since the continent's democratic turn 30 years ago, nearly 600 presidential, legislative and local elections have been held across the continent,” recalls Pierre Jacquemot, the former French ambassador and author of a recent report on developments of democracy in Africa, published by the Jean-Jaurès Foundation". But recently some dysfunctions observed during the major elections which took place on the continent this year, notably in Togo, and more recently Guinea and Ivory Coast, constitute striking examples of the weaknesses of electoral democracy in Africa and its distance from the standards of free and competitive elections.
As Africanists Nic Cheeseman and Jeffrey Smith write, a "good indicator of the health of democracy in Africa is to observe whether leaders actually step down from office at the end of their termor not". However, many of them prefer to stay in power, even if it means rewriting the law, a move that Cheeseman and Smith call "constitutional coups".
Before Guinea and the Ivory Coast, Togo was amended its Constitution to allow the Eyadema dynasty to remain in the power. This country is the only one in West Africa where no alternation has occurred since Father Eyadema Gnassingbé overthrew President Nicolas Gruntzky on January 13, 1967, by a coup d'état and led the country until his death on January 5, 2005, that is to say for thirty-eight years in power. A constitutional amendment was passed by Parliament on May 9, 2019, but it is not retroactive.
At the end of the 20th century, many African countries adopted presidential term limits as part of a broader set of constitutional rules that accompanied the transition from personal and authoritarian rule to pluralistic modes of governance. While term limits were widely embraced by the larger African public, these rules have in recent years come under increasing attack from incumbent presidents seeking to extend their tenures.
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara (78) finally confirmed on August 20 that he would seek a third term in October. A few days later, the ruling party in Guinea asked president Alpha Condé (82) to run for the third time. Such actions show that Africa is far from over with the disastrous era of lifelong presidents. Initiated in the wake of independence, and continued until the end of the 1990s, with deleterious effects on stability, democracy and socio-economic development on the continent. At the same time, the will shown by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to put an end to more than two terms was fulfilled in 2015, which was opposed by Gambia and Togo, two countries whose constitutions did not include any time limits until now.
The African Union, ECOWAS and regional organizations need to redouble their efforts to establish this two-term limit. By imposing this approach, it will be possible to prevent domestic legal manoeuvring this restriction is confirmed, the African Union will be able to punish countries that violate this collective consensus.
Said ADEJUMOBI, Political Parties in West Africa: The Challenge of Democratization in Fragile States, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance 2007, P. 20.
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