The civilian coups in Senegal, Guinea Bissau, and ECOWAS ambivalence

Ogunsakin Mustapha
9 Min Read
Owei Lakemfa

By Owei Lakemfa

THERE are civilian or constitutional coups in Guinea Bissau and Senegal, yet the regional body, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, is pretending otherwise. It appears interested only in military coups, not those carried out by its bosses in the Heads of State Summit.

Yet, the ingredients of a coup are present in both countries where the constitution is subverted, the President assumes dictatorial powers, parliament is illegally banned as is the case in Guinea Bissau or emasculated as in Senegal, and the judiciary is under siege to do the bidding of the President.

Guinea Bissau, when it was one country with Cape Verde, produced Amilcar Cabral, one of the greatest Pan Africanists in history. Tragically for Africa, on January 20, 1973, Cabral at 48, was assassinated in Conakry, Guinea in a conspiracy linked with the PIDE, the secret service of then colonial master, Portugal.

However, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, PAIGC, which he led, survived, and led the country to independence. But the country has been plagued by violence and coups leading to Cape Verde breaking away on January 20, 1981.

On December 20, 2019, retired General Umaro Sissoco Embalo, a former Prime Minister, defeated the PAIGC candidate , Domingos Simoes in a disputed presidential election.

In May, 2022, President Embalo carried out a constitutional coup by dissolving parliament citing “persistent and unresolvable differences” with the parliament. Rather than ECOWAS sanctioning him, it elected Embalo, two months later, as the Chair of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS!

On June 4, 2023, the opposition coalition, the PAI Terra Ranka, led by the PAIGC, swept the parliamentary elections. But President Embalo refused to allow it function.

On December 4, 2023 Embalo again dissolved the parliament, claiming the Speaker, Domingos Simoes, wants to overthrow him. He also put the Supreme Court and its president under armed siege, forcing the latter to “resign”.

Despite these civilian coups by a man who was the sitting Chairman of ECOWAS, the regional body has kept mute in cold complicity. But ECOWAS will yell, if there is a military coup.

Senegal is the only West African country fortunate to have escaped a military coup. A 2012 attempt by President Abdoulaye Wade to run for an unconstitutional Third Term, was resisted, and Macky Sall was elected. In turn, Sall decided to run for an unconstitutional Third Term which in June 2023 led to street protests with 16 killed. Sall backed down, but got opposition leader Ousmane Sanko out of the race by getting him convicted.

However, as the February 25, 2024 presidential election approached, Sall decided on February 3, to extend his stay in power by indefinitely postponing the election on the basis that there is a dispute over the candidates list,

But the issue of the presidential candidates of political parties is the business of the party, electoral body and the courts, not the President of the country.

Unfortunately, ECOWAS, which has a reputation of chasing shadows, would not tell Sall the truth or defend constitutional rule. Rather, it same day, sanctioned Sall’s illegality by accepting the postponement . In its Saturday, February 3, 2024 statement, ECOWAS accepted the postponement and tamely appealed to the Sall Gang to “expedite the various processes in order to set a new date for the elections”.

Then it praised Sall: “The ECOWAS Commission salutes President Macky Sall for upholding his earlier decision not to run for another term and encourages him to continue to defend and protect Senegal’s long-standing democratic tradition.” Incredible! First, it was not in Sall’s place to decide not to run for a Third Term; it is a constitutional limit.

Also, Sall actually shed the blood of Senegalese who protested against his initial attempt to run in violation of the constitution. So, a serious ECOWAS, rather than praise him, ought to demand that he answers for the murder of pro-democracy Senegalese on the streets.

This ECOWAS statement which “…encourages him (Sall) to continue to defend and protect Senegal’s long-standing democratic tradition”, unfortunately presents Africans as idiots . This is because Sall, rather than defending and protecting the democratic tradition, is actually, endangering it. In fact, Sall is the greatest danger to democracy in Senegal.

Then after renewed street protests, the Senegalese Parliament met on Monday, February 5, 2024 on the indefinite postponement. During sitting, security forces removed by force, parliamentarians opposed to the postponement. Then rather than restore the electoral calendar, what is left of that parliament, endorsed Sall’s decision to illegally extend his tenure, by postponing the presidential election by ten months. This, of course, might be an initial date as it can always be postponed.

Rather than be concerned about the non-democratic postponement and its implications for democratic governance, ECOWAS, the next day, issued another of its pathetic statements.

Where even the United States which is not known to be a Sall antagonist, declared that the Senegalese National Assembly vote “…cannot be considered legitimate given the conditions under which it took place”, ECOWAS chose to be silent on the undemocratic process. Rather, it took refuge in bland sermons, reminding “…the population and the political class of their responsibility to maintain peace and stability in the country”.

To show the ECOWAS mindset and its lack of principles, it ended its second statement with a pledge to “…take all necessary steps to support the government and people of Senegal in their efforts to sustain the country’s democratic tradition”. How can ECOWAS pledge to support the subversive Sall government in Senegal that has no regard for democratic cultures, the will of the people and their human rights?

So, if tomorrow, such a government is overthrown, ECOWAS will be shouting about democracy and the sanctity of the constitution when it is actually in connivance with the Sall regime to subvert the constitution and democracy in that country.

In 2016, following Gambian presidential election, there was a dispute between incumbent President Yahya Jammeh and opposition leader, Adama Barrow. ECOWAS on January 19, 2017 sent a regional military force, the ECOWAS Mission in Gambia, ECOMIG, to force Jammeh out. It was tagged ‘Operation Restore Democracy’. When the over 4,000 ECOWAS troops, mainly from Senegal reached Banjul, Jammeh stepped down and left the country. The ECOWAS then installed Barrow who had been sworn in as President, not in the country, but in the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal.

The Gambian situation is way better than what is going on today in Senegal. At least in the case of the former, presidential election held, while in that of the latter, presidential election is being prevented from holding. Yet, ECOWAS is engaged in double speak and ambivalence.

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