Sustaining Democratic Accountability in West Africa through Regional Dialogues

Yiaga Africa, a pan-African non-governmental organization whose mission is to build and support sustainable democracy anchored on the principles of inclusion, accountability, and justice through research, advocacy, and capacity development and the African Movement for Democracy (AMD) with support from the National Endowment for Democracy hosted a two-day Regional Dialogue on Democratic Accountability in West Africa. 

The Dialogue took place at the Atlantic Lumley Hotel, Freetown from 24-25 May 2023 brought together about 40 students, youth, youth organizations from Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, representatives from regional organizations such as the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), media representatives from the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), African Young Voices (AYV) as well as the ECOWAS Regional Representative in Sierra Leone – Amb. Harouna Moussa.

The Dialogue was designed to position youth at the center of the conversation on democratic accountability and governance as a major catalyst for entrenching democratic practice in West Africa. 

The West Africa subregion in recent times has witnessed coups, attempted coups, and political crises threatening the expansion of democracy and integration of democratic practice within the region. While the global decline of democracy has been observed in both developed and developing democracies, the context within the sub-region remains peculiar for several reasons. From; growing insecurity, dwindling economy, poverty to social inequality, political corruption, and marginalization, countries in the sub-region remain vulnerable to undemocratic takeovers especially as the people begin to question the value of democracy. 

According to Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, data from cross-country surveys in West Africa shows that the majority of people in the region, 75%, strongly support democracy; 71% reject military rule; and 80% of the people are against tenure elongation for politicians beyond two terms in office. Nonetheless, many political and military leaders in West Africa are acting against the wishes of their people, disrupting the democratic order and forcing a return to authoritarianism. The verdict is clear that West African democracy is confronting a significant regression because its leaders are currently unraveling and destroying the normative system and political values they had enacted themselves for the consolidation of democracy.

While the threat to democracy in the region remains apparent, there are still opportunities for engagement to redefine the narrative towards building trust in democracy and its value. One of the ways in which democratic accountability can be sustained is through placing citizens at the center of conversations and policy actions that can entrench democratic practice in West Africa.

A shift towards democratic renewal in Africa must expand platforms for state-citizens consultation, co-governance and political action and create new mechanisms for accountability to limit abuse of power and ensure respect for the rule of law. 

The Regional Dialogue on Democratic Accountability in West Africa hosted by Yiaga Africa was a unique contribution to providing solutions towards entrenching democratic practice in Africa

The Dialogue in Freetown featured conversations on ‘Regional Integration and Youth Development in West Africa: Policy vs Practice’ with Amb. Harouna Moussa, ECOWAS Regional Representative in Sierra Leone, Marcella Sesay, Executive Director of Campaign for Good Governance and Cynthia Mbamalu, Yiaga Africa’s Director of Programs where young people were informed about ECOWAS initiatives on regional integration and opportunities for youth to engagement with the regional body as well as the importance of youth participation in local and regional governance in West Africa.

Mohammed Kunta, Co-Founder/Team Leader, Young People Advocacy Network, Teloh Amandine Gbade, from Réseau Action Justice et Paix (RAJP), Côte D’Ivoire; Bernadette French from Campaign for Good Governance, Sierra Leone and Ibrahim Tommy, Executive Director, Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), Sierra Leone led the discussions on ‘Youth and Women Engagement with ECOWAS Programs and Initiatives’ which highlighted the operations of regional and continental organizations and strategies for youth and women to engage with regional and continental organizations such as ECOWAS and he African Union (AU) towards promoting democratic accountability and youth participation. In conclusion, Milicent Kargbo, from the Sierra Leone Women in Journalism contributed to the interactive session with all participants on ‘Influencing Strategy On Shrinking And Shifting Civic Space in West Africa’ where participants developed strong action points to be implemented at local and regional levels.

The Dialogue wrapped up with various presentations by participants on strategies for ECOWAS to effectively engage young people in West Africa towards promoting democracy as well as initiatives to promote youth and women’s participation as voters in the 24 June 2023 General Election in Sierra Leone.

The dialogue is also expected to lead to the development of an ECOWAS Youth Engagement Strategy for Sustainable Democracy.

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Yiaga Africa is a non-profit civic hub of change makers committed to the promotion of democratic governance, human rights and civic engagement.

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