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Senegal Crisis: Policy Expert Omolara Balogun Rallies Democratic Governance and Inclusive Policies in Sahel
Policy expert, Omolara Balogun has urged West African governments to prioritise democratic principles and inclusive governance as a panacea for political instability and democratic decline. Balogun, Head of Policy Influencing and Advocacy at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), made these remarks during a recent interview with Joy News, Ghana's top television network. Her comments come amidst growing concerns over political upheavals in Senegal and the unprecedented military takeovers in the Sahel region. She attributed the current turmoil in the region, including Senegal's crisis, to governance deficits, insecurity fueled by violent extremists and terrorism, inequality and poverty, and massive corruption. She emphasised the importance of political leaders adhering to the provisions of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol on democracy and good governance; the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; and the Lomé Declaration which provides political leaders a framework to respond to unconstitutional change of government across the continent. Speaking from Abuja, Nigeria on Tuesday 20 February 2024, Balogun provided extensive analysis of the ongoing political unrest in Senegal and its wider implications on regional stability. She highlighted the failure of the Senegalese government to uphold its own constitutional provisions and processes relating to the conduct of elections and power transfer, regional democracy protocols to which the country is a signatory and protect the rights of citizens to protest in a safe and enabling civic environment. Regarding the unilateral decision of the country’s president, Macky Sall to postpone the presidential elections till December 2024, Balogun commended the resilience of the Senegalese people in resisting a potential constitutional coup that could destabilise the democratic growth of the country. However, she expressed skepticism about the feasibility of holding elections on the previously scheduled date of February 25th, citing delays and political maneuvering. "We have lost about three weeks already to some of the shenanigans the state has witnessed," she remarked. Despite these obstacles, Balogun remained optimistic about Senegal's democratic future, citing its history of robust democratic institutions and citizen engagement. "I believe in the democracy of Senegal because it has stood the test of time and is one of the most desirable democracies across the continent," she stated. "With the standpoint of the Constitutional Court in the country and the resilience of the people, I believe that we are going to achieve a favorable outcome." However, Balogun acknowledged the concerns raised by civil society organisations like the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), noting the broader context for worsening democratic recession in the region and predicting even more disturbing developments soon. “A couple of days ago, we as civil society had an extensive conversation on the situation in Senegal and some of these concerns were raised. Some of my colleagues said the elections we run in Africa do not give opportunity for citizens to choose, but to accept,” she said. Balogun noted that citizens would only be able to choose their leaders based on set out rules and regulations as provided within their constitutions. Regarding the projection of further unconstitutional changes in government across the region, Balogun emphasised the need for political leaders to respect the rule of law, uphold democratic principles, protect human rights, address socioeconomic challenges, curb corruption and mismanagement of public resources, create safe civic space and adopt a collective approach to end terrorism and violent extremism, to prevent such occurrences. “It is important for west African governments to begin to rethink their approach to governance generally,” she advised. Looking ahead to upcoming elections in the region, she stressed the importance of ensuring free and fair electoral processes and upholding the rule of law.