This year’s first quarter edition of DEVELOPMENT AGENDA dwelt on the ubiquity of grinding poverty in West Africa despite the abundance of natural resources, including highly priced minerals. In this edition, we are hinting at contributions of political instability to the obstruction of development efforts.
There are many consequences of unresponsiveness of governments. The recent wave of coups d’état with its attendant uncertainties is just an addition to the list.
When there is evident curtailment of basic freedoms, personalization of public offices and corruption even in a democracy, there is a tendency for wide-spread disenchantment. Bad governance truncates development. There are many consequences of unresponsiveness by governments. The recent wave of coups d’état with its attendant uncertainties is just an addition to the list. What exactly is at the root of this unending anxiety and restlessness that define the political atmosphere in West Africa? How has political instability become the major impediment to development? West Africa is home to 429 million people spread across sixteen countries with a combined GDP of $725 billion representing 0.75% of global GDP. With regard to the Huma Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations, virtually all the indices are pointing downwards in the key dimensions of human development; be it in life expectancy, education, per capita income, standard of living etc. The average quality of life in West Africa is below par and unarguably deplorable. Governments and relevant institutions cannot be pretending to be doing much when the facts on ground indicate worsening conditions in many spheres.
With well-implemented mitigation and adaptation programmes, every part of West Africa can cope with the effects of climate change. In other words, every part of West Africa ordinarily has the capacity to support quality life under normal circumstances.
Apart from the abundance of mineral resources, West Africa has a mixture of climates linked to various biomes from dry savannah lands through cool Afrotropical montanes, to very wet tropical rainforests and deltaic biomes. Thus, if climate mitigation and adaptation programmes were well-implemented, every part of West Africa could and might better be prepared to cope with the effects of climate change. In other words, every part of West Africa ordinarily has the capacity to support quality life under normal circumstances. However, due to poor governance, the various ecosystems of West Africa are under severe pressure. We heap the blame at the feet of the various national and subnational governments whose duty it is to develop environmental conservation and restoration programmes necessary for the maintenance of the biological heritage of the region.
The untheorized hijack of the levers of power by a few civilians profiting from weak institutions cannot be described as democracy in the authentic sense of the word.
What type or system of government might best lead the region to the envisaged future of a sustainable and healthy environment? Many analysts believe that democracy is the solution to many of the development challenges facing the region. We agree; with proviso and to the extent that what is being referred to, is true and real democracy. The untheorized hijack of the levers of power by a few civilians profiting from weak institutions cannot be described as democracy in the authentic sense of the word. An unplanned, groundless and poorly implemented ”democracy” breeds corruption, misallocation of resources, weak economy, deficit of infrastructure, mass youth unemployment, weak and bridled institutions, wastage of resources and warped leadership recruitment processes. In the region currently, there sadly are some cases of poorly articulated constitutions which are riddled with contradictions, inadequacies and lacunae. Rather than reviewing the constitutions towards the consolidation of democratic ethos of checks and balances and inclusiveness, what we witness is the manipulation of the constitution on the part of incumbents to consolidate hold on power and even achieve outright tenure extension; most often against the wish of the majority of the citizens. Such undemocratic actions have grave consequences which in many countries are evidenced by the overconcentration of powers in the hands of few individuals, lack of independence of the judiciary, absence of freedom of expression and information and the rule of law and sometimes the suppression of the opposition. These are the harbingers of mass discontent, unhealthy rivalry, violence and revolt. It is unsurprising that the recent upsurge of military regimes in Africa has a preponderant presence in West Africa.
Since 1952, there have been 75 military coups in West Africa with about half of them successful. Seven coups d’état have taken place in the region this year alone. Apart from inordinate ambition on the part of some military officers, bad governance and foreign interference have been fingered as key drivers of this recent surge of military intrusion into politics. It has negatively affected foreign relations and slowed down Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) into the affected countries.
A recent report by SBM Intelligence rated only eight out of 47 African countries safe in terms of political risk for business. None of the countries rated is in West Africa even though Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, Republic of Benin, The Gambia and Nigeria are rated as just stable.
There is no gainsaying the fact that achieving mitigation and adaptation to climate change requires among others a stable political environment and inclusive, representative and responsive government.
This is not very good news for a region that is grappling with myriad development challenges. Is it a surprise that three out of the four West African countries currently under military rule, namely, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali are in the Sahel belt? This is an axis prone to extreme weather events and limited adaptive capacity to climate variability. The effects of climate change are more pronounced in some countries than others. There is no gainsaying the fact that achieving mitigation and adaptation to climate change requires among others, a stable political environment in addition to inclusive, representative and responsive government.
In conclusion, military incursion into politics will only worsen a bad situation with regards to development in West Africa. Also, democracy must be practised in a manner that guarantees equal access for all people to power. There must be social justice and a level playing field to leverage economic, social and political influences. This is the fertile ground for sustainable human development to thrive.