Democratic progress: Stakeholders launch regional dialogue programme

The Regional Citizen’s Dialogue Programme (RCDP), a collaborative initiative for preventing and responding to Unconstitutional Changes of Government (UCG) in West Africa was on Wednesday launched in Abuja .

The initiative was necessitated by the recent surge in Unconstitutional Changes of Government (UCGs) in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which has posed significant threats to the political stability and democratic progress in the region.

In a press briefing in Abuja, the Director of Research National Institute for Policy Strategic Studies,Kuru, Jos, Nigeria, Prof Dung Pam Sha, explained this troubling trend, evidenced by military takeovers and the overthrow of democratically elected governments has cast a shadow over the achievements in democratisation, including the development of political and security institutions, electoral processes, and the safeguarding of freedoms and democratic rights amongst others.

The initiative’s management structure and oversight mechanisms is responsible for guiding the process of implementation of a four-year programme for preventing and responding to UCG in West Africa.

Sha further explained that the RCDP programme lead team is comprised of the consortium partners led by the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Nigeria; the Regional Centre for Governance and Security Policy Initiative (CGSPI) accredited to the 4th General Assembly of the AU ECOSOCC, with headquarters based in Sierra-Leone; the Centre for Good Leadership and Journalism (DCLJ) Abuja Nigeria; and the International Dialogue Centre KAICIID based in Lisbon Portugal who will be supported by other regional and international actors including the African Union and ECOWAS.

According to him, the launch of the RCDP served as a platform to present, finalise and adopt a revised Programme Document, as well as a yearly implementation work plan for the initial phase of the project (February to September 2024).

He said at the end of the two-day meeting, the Programme Document, the Terms of Reference (ToRs) for the Steering Committee, and a one-year project implementation Action Plan for preventing and responding to incidences of UCG in the West Africa/ECOWAS region were adopted with minor reviews.

According to him, this initiative was necessitated by the recent surge in Unconstitutional Changes of Government (UCGs) in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which has posed significant threats to the political stability and democratic progress in the region.

He said this troubling trend, evidenced by military takeovers and the overthrow of democratically elected governments has cast a shadow over the achievements in democratisation, including the development of political and security institutions, electoral processes, and the safeguarding of freedoms and democratic rights amongst others.

He said the RCDP is an attempt by CSOs to support the operationalization of the AU Accra Declaration on Unconstitutional Changes of Government (UCG) in Africa (March 2022), and the Malabo Declaration on Terrorism and Unconstitutional Changes of Government in Africa, adopted at the 16th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union Head of States on May 22, 2022.

On the recommendations/action points arriving from the two-day launch of RCDP and the inauguration of the steering committee on preventing and responding to UCG are: Organize the First International consultative conference on the implementation of the RCDP; establish a functional joint secretariat; establish a digital innovative-information, communication and technology web portal system; and elaborate a coherent media and communication strategy.

Others are prevention of UCG through Education: Most interventions have been too focused on post-UCG engagement yielding little results and not enough on prevention, Education and continuous dialogue with local actors, stakeholders, and leaders is critical to promoting a shared vision of democracy in Africa for Africans.

Design and implement capacity building to bridge the skills gap in democracy, peace and security among citizens and policy makers and Pomote Dialogue and Diplomacy with countries in political transition.

Also, other recommendations are to Reinforce Observatories/Early Warning Hubs: Establish CSO-led Observatories/early warning hubs to monitor, document and respond to emerging threats to UCG before the situation escalates to military action or violent conflict.

This initiative recognizes the existence of AU and ECOWAS-led Early Warning hubs, and it will find ways to create linkages and requires credible and capable CSOs to participate in this initiative.

Research and Studies: Commission evidence-based researchers to study why UCG thrives in the ECOWAS Region and Africa, and document case studies and successful/failed UCG interventions.

Others are Gender, Women and Youth Inclusion: Experiences in Niger, Liberia and many countries in Africa indicate the active role that women and young people play in promoting or responding to UCG amongst others .