Tuesday, 09 July 2024 04:44

Editorial: ECOWAS at a crossroads: Tinubu's second chance

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President Bola Tinubu’s re-election as the chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) presents a crucial opportunity to mend the fractures that emerged during his first term. Under his prior leadership, ECOWAS witnessed the unprecedented withdrawal of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, reducing the 15-member bloc to 12 and marking a significant setback for regional unity. This disintegration stemmed from the heavy-handed approach towards these nations, particularly the ill-advised threats of military intervention and sanctions, which ultimately pushed them further away.

Tinubu’s previous stance, characterized by aggressive rhetoric and punitive measures, proved counterproductive. The people of Niger, in particular, rallied behind their military government, viewing the external pressures as a violation of their sovereignty. The resulting sanctions exacerbated the situation, leading to the formal renunciation of ECOWAS membership by Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. This episode serves as a critical lesson: the use of force and coercion often undermines diplomatic efforts and regional cohesion.

As Tinubu steps into his second term, it is imperative that he adopts a more conciliatory and inclusive approach. Restoring ECOWAS to its full strength necessitates earnest efforts to re-engage with the aggrieved nations. This begins with acknowledging the legitimate concerns of these countries and initiating dialogue aimed at reconciliation and reintegration. Tinubu must prioritize rebuilding trust and fostering a sense of shared purpose within the community.

Furthermore, Tinubu’s continued advocacy for the establishment of a regional standby force is fraught with risks. The experience with Niger demonstrates the potential misuse of such a force, where powerful member states might employ it to enforce subjective standards on others. Instead of promoting stability, this could lead to further divisions and resentment within the bloc. The focus should shift towards enhancing diplomatic channels, strengthening economic cooperation, and addressing security threats through collaborative, non-military means.

The establishment of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) by Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso underscores their resolve to pursue a path independent of ECOWAS. This confederation, born out of shared security challenges and a desire for sovereignty, signals a significant realignment in the region. ECOWAS must recognize and respect this new reality, seeking avenues for cooperation rather than confrontation.

Tinubu’s legacy will be judged by his ability to navigate this complex landscape. He has the opportunity to transform a period of crisis into one of renewal and stronger unity. By prioritizing diplomacy, showing respect for the sovereignty of member states, and fostering inclusive economic development, Tinubu can steer ECOWAS towards a more resilient and cohesive future. The path forward requires humility, wisdom, and a commitment to the founding principles of ECOWAS—principles of cooperation, mutual respect, and collective advancement.

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