The Role of African Elites in West African Countries

 The Role of African Elites in West African Countries


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.

Elected on February 24, 2020, with 72% of the vote, the son Faure Eyadema, who succeeded the father in 2005, can thus run for two new successive terms (2025 and 2030) after having held power for several years.  This change was facilitated, once again, by the boycott of legislative elections, a mistake that opposition parties regularly commit on the West African countries, more than anywhere else.

Since 2013, 25 presidential elections have been held in Africa, fifteen of these ions were considered free and fair. Almost every election continues to cause the same distortions Especially in West African countries, a prior attempt to amend the constitution to obtain a new mandate – as Alpha Conde (Guinea) or Alassane Ouattara (Ivory Coast) did – or suspicions of post-election fraud – as happened recently in Gabon. All this constitutes a great challenge that the African elites have not been able to respond to, and this has contributed to impeding peaceful political change in the region.

West African countries elites and political change

The elites in human societies play a prominent role in the processes of change, basing on this the process of development in African societies in general, an elite high level of responsibility to lead society to what its members aspire to in terms of improving their living conditions and raising the efficiency of work and production. We can emphasize that one of the most important areas in which the role of elites is critical is the political change process.

Political change means “the totality of transformations that political structures in society may undergo, or the nature of political processes and interactions between political forces and changing goals, with what all this means in terms of impact on power centres so that power and influence are redistributed within the state itself or between several countries. It is usually the main indicator of the political development in society, as it includes the final steps that lead to the achievement and transfer of society from authoritarian regimes to democratic systems.

The required political change will be achieved in West African countries when the elites succeed in the processes of political reforms. That could be described as a change in the style and tools of government and.  It is a set of procedures and steps aimed at moving from ruling systems characterized by authoritarianism to a system of government based on the participation and representation of the community members, and in this case the o, officials exceed authority in accordance with the constitution.

Political reform is not limited to restructuring political institutions and a change in the members of the government, but it includes many other forms, one of the most important of this forms is the constitutional and legislative reform. This means that the texts of the constitution must reflect the changes and developments that have already occurred, and these reforms are usually done by amending articles that contradict the real democratic requirements while eliminating the gap between the texts of the constitutions and the society’s goals in democratic development, to ensure:

– The separation between legislative and executive powers

– Renewal of the forms of government to ensure peaceful ul transfer of power

The African continent, in general, has witnessed many gaps that have impeded the political reform process. These enduring democratic governance deficits formed the background against a continental solution which was sought to assume collective responsibility and offer new perspectives to improve the African democratic governance landscape. To achieve this goal, 39 countries have signed the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), created by the African Union (AU) in 2007 as a roadmap to encourage better governance across the continent. At the level of West African countries, the ECOWAS Commission is soliciting the entrenchment of democratic governance in West Africa to have the right atmosphere for stability and the economic development of the region. At the start of a two-day regional conference on electoral security in the ECOWAS Member States on the 30th of July 2019 in Abuja, Nigeria, attention was called to the several challenges of the electoral process which necessitate appropriate action by stakeholders for democracy and good governance to flourish.

West African countries elites and political fraud 

The recent political crises in most West African countries are due to the political elite;  like the two last presidential election in Guinea and Ivory Coast, many ballots were contested and accompanied by deadly violence, even if some countries experienced successful alternations. It is noticeable that the main cause of recurrent violence in this region is the problem of the president’s term limits.
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.

Seidik ABBA, Multipartisme en Afrique : les bons comptes des « présidents-fondateurs», 21/12/2017.
Tirthankar CHANDA, La démocratie recule-t-elle en Afrique? 16/12/2020.
Sékou Chérif DIALLO, L’élection en Afrique ou la délégitimation d’un « rite démocratique » 13/12/2020.
Togo: le mandat présidentiel limité à deux mais le compteur a été remis à zéro 09/05/2019.
ECOWAS Commission Solicits the Entrenchment of Democratic Governance in West Africa, 30/07/2019.


The African Center for Research and Policy Studies (AFROPOLICY): An independent institution specialized in preparing studies and research related to African political, strategic, and social affairs to provide officials, decision-makers, and development sectors with the necessary knowledge to help them make balanced decisions related to the issues of the African continent by providing them with accurate, factual professional data and reports. .

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