For three days, the Senegalese capital Dakar provided the backdrop to a meeting of West African researchers probing the state of democracy in the sub-region.
The meeting was at the behest of the young think tank WATHI.
The question how is democracy doing in West Africa dominated discussions on Wednesday, May 11, at the opening of the 7th edition of the Solution Think Tank (STT) meeting being held under the theme “Political Practices: Political, Economic Governance and Stability in West Africa.”
The three-day event is an initiative of the young West African think tank WATHI, supported by the German Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.
The Minister of State at the Presidency in Senegal, Ismaïla Madior Fall, who opened the meeting, welcomed the choice of such a theme “that addresses the real problems of our countries.”
Fall, who is also a professor of Public Law at the University of Dakar added: “We lawyers are used to considering that it is the development of standards, beautiful speeches that allow us to solve the problem”.
The former Minister of Justice (2017-2019) believes that in principle, “democracy in West Africa is an achievement in itself.
However, he said it was regrettable that political practices do not always comply with constitutional texts and laws.
“The practices of power affect the structure of governance. There are political practices that are incompatible with good governance,” he said.
Beninese economist and political scientist Gilles Yabi who is the WATHI founder and moderator, believes that there has been progress in many countries in the sub-region.
“If we look at the long term, we must not forget, for example, that there were many more coups in the past and that, at the time, they were not part of a transitional framework,” he said.
“Today, it is most unlikely that a military man will come to power permanently,” confirmed Fall, who noted that there are more and more “soft coups” which many are “more or less sympathetic to.”
His host nevertheless finds that “we must admit the reality in that when you have a coup, the damage is already done".
"We should no longer focus on the principle. The question is how do we ensure that the transitions that are in place allow not only to return to a civil and democratic power, but also to change the institutions,” WATHI's boss said.
According to Fall, the problems of democracy in West Africa should not be limited to institutional challenges.
“We have the impression that democratic progress accentuates poverty. That is the tragedy,” insisted the Senegalese Minister of State, who is nevertheless “reasonably optimistic.”
To him, the spread of security problems linked to jihadist groups everywhere does not make it easy to build democracy in this part of Africa.