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In West Africa, it seems that the time for coups is over and that cherub-like constitutional revisions are in fashion. The heads of state have learned their lesson: they no longer seek to cling to power but to “modernize” it. In Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali, constitutional revisions propose to contribute to lasting peace and to consolidate democracy. Still modernization, brought by this inflation of new Constitutions, should not be rejected by a restive political-social context.
In Mali and the Ivory Coast, plans for constitutional revision were underpinned by requirements enshrined in the peace agreements reached at the end of the crises which struck these two countries. The need to strengthen institutions and reconcile peoples was the main driver. However, in the sub-region, the only constitutional revision project which seems to strengthen the institutions and the rights of the people, at least on paper, is that of Burkina Faso. This was announced, from the start, through the type of commission set up to develop said project. Unlike the committees of experts from Côte d’Ivoire and Mali, whose members were carefully selected by the government,
Whatever the stated objectives of democratic consolidation of these plans to revise the Constitution, the political context in which they are introduced depends on all its success, and especially its failure.
In Senegal opposition is bothersome
In Senegal, President Macky Sall poses as a defender of democracy, by showing his wish to modernize the Senegalese institutional system through 15 measures . According to him, the 2016 Constitution strengthens the powers and independence of the Constitutional Council and inscribes new rights and duties of the citizen in the new fundamental text. Ostensibly, Senegal consolidates democracy by reducing the presidential mandate from seven to five years, but this measure will not be effective until 2019. Also, in the new Constitution, President Macky Sall expressly recognizes “the rights of the opposition and its leader ”.
And yet, this constitutional revision project quickly lost its sincerity: just a few days before the constitutional referendum, Khalifa Sall, rising figure of the Socialist Party, the former ruling party, and Mayor of Dakar, is imprisoned in a matter of alleged embezzlement of public funds. This incarceration resembles, according to several figures of the Senegalese opposition, a personal settlement of accounts against a politician who seems to be the only one capable of putting Macky Sall in difficulty during the presidential elections of 2019.
Teen looking for his dolphin
In Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Dramane Ouattara (ADO) seeks to end a decade of fratricidal tensions by proposing major changes to the 2000 Constitution which carries the seeds of the 2002 – 2007 civil war. In October 2016, the Ivorian President has carved out important powers by creating a Vice-Presidency of the Republic, considered as a maneuver to oust the former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, current President of the National Assembly and therefore number two in the order of succession to the presidency of the republic.
In the new Constitution, Ouattara however regulates the thorny question of the nationality of the parents of the candidate for the Presidency of the Republic. Only one of the two parents must be of Ivorian nationality, a change provided for in the Linas-Marcoussis Agreements signed in January 2003. The new Constitution also proposes the creation of a Senate of which a third of the members will be appointed by the head of the state. The creation of this second chamber of parliament has just been postponed to a later date due to social crises and recent mutinies which would have tested the coffers of the state.
IBK’s personal ambitions
In Mali, the same scenario with a few exceptions. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) for some months aspired to accommodate the Algiers Agreements signed in May 2015, in a new Constitution which would revise that of 1992. As if the powers of the President were not great enough, the draft constitutional revision of 2017 proposed a strengthening of the powers of the head of state. The latter could have, if the Constitution had been approved, appoint the President of the Constitutional Court, the President of the Court of Accounts and a third of future senators. He could also have amended all the articles of the Constitution by parliamentary means, without the need for a referendum stamp.
However, the definition of the “ high treason crime ” with which ministers and heads of state can be charged in the exercise of their functions is welcome. Also, the representation of the Malian diaspora in Parliament, and the introduction of proportional representation ballots in the mode of election of deputies can be considered as positive measures for democracy. Indeed, these allow a more equitable representation of all regions of the country in the hemicycle.
Following numerous demonstrations by the living forces of the nation fiercely opposed to the draft Constitution – notably under the platform “ Ante a banna », The revision project was suspended as a whole. The citizens were right to sound the alarm: among about thirty innovations brought to the Constitution of February 25, 1992, there was only the creation of a Senate which was in direct link with the Algiers Agreements. Among the innovations, one consisted in giving immunity from prosecution to the President of the Republic for the duration of his mandate. Another was to lift the requirement that ministers declare their assets when they take office. These had an almost non-existent relationship with the peace process underway and did not seem to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, on the contrary!
Despite the wishful thinking on the part of the heads of state of West Africa, these referendums are perceived in national opinion as presidential early, which crystallize the tensions between opposition and ruling party, divide the opinion and threaten an already fragile societal balance. In Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast, the new Constitutions or draft texts now allow a revision of the basic text, without resorting to a referendum. This means that the people, under the guise of a modern democracy, indeed lose their most fundamental rights. Where reality is as hard as iron, myth loses its place of honor.
Mahamadou Konaté is a professor and political analyst in several elite schools in Mali, including the National Staff School and the Alioune Blondin Beye Peacekeeping School . He is based in Bamako.
Have constitutional changes in West Africa contributed to peace and democracy or the opposite?
In West Africa, an era of coups d’état seems to have given way to a more sedate period of constitutional reforms. Heads of state have learnt that rather than seeking to cling to power, they can seek to “modernize” it. In Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali, constitutional revisions have been framed as a means to promote peace and consolidate democracy. But the socio-political context in which such modernization has occurred is critical to understanding this trend.
In Mali and Côte d’Ivoire, constitutional reforms stemmed from the provisions of post-conflict peace agreements. The primary drivers of such changes were the need to strengthen institutions, and to reconcile parties to the conflict. The only country in the region where constitutional changes would seem to strengthen the rights of citizens, at least on paper, is Burkina Faso. This was made clear from the outset with the choice of commission established to draft the new basic law. In contrast to the committees of experts carefully selected by the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Mali, the constitutional commission in Burkina Faso is representative of different social groups, including the opposition and faith-based organizations.
Whatever the stated objectives of such constitutional reforms, the political context in which they are initiated can determine their success, or their failure.
Opposition blues in Senegal
In Senegal, President Macky Sall has positioned himself as a defender of democracy, displaying a desire to modernize national institutions through a series of 15 reforms . Taking him at his word, the 2016 constitution strengthens the independence of the Conseil Constitutionnel and introduces new citizen rights and obligations. Ostensibly, democracy in Senegal is being consolidated through the reduction of the presidential term of office from seven to five years; however, this change will not be effective until 2019. In promulgating the new constitution, President Sall has expressly acknowledged “the rights of the opposition and its leader.”
Yet the constitutional reform project promptly lost its credibility when only days before the referendum, Khalifa Sall, a rising star in the Parti Socialiste (the former ruling party) and Mayor of Dakar, was detained over the alleged misappropriation of public funds. According to several opposition figures, this arrest was the result of a desire to settle scores with a political rival – perhaps the only man who could challenge the incumbent in the 2019 presidential elections.
ADO searches for a successor
In Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Dramane Ouattara (ADO) sought to bring to an end a decade of fratricidal tensions by overhauling the 2000 constitution, which had sowed the seeds for the 2002-2007 civil war. In October 2016, the Ivorian president carved out changes to executive authority by creating the position of vice-president, widely interpreted as a move to side-line former rebel leader, Guillaume Soro, who as president of the National Assembly was then number two in the constitutional succession order.
The new constitution resolves, once and for all, the thorny question of nationality. Presidential aspirants must prove that at least one of their parents is Ivoiran, a change foreseen in the Linas-Marcoussis Accords , signed in January 2003. The new constitution also lays the foundations for a Senate, in which one third of seats would be appointed by the head of state. The establishment of this second chamber of parliament has so far been delayed; a result of social and military unrest and its impact on cost to the exchequer.
IBK’s personal ambitions
In Mali, the story is broadly the same, albeit with certain exceptions. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) has, in recent months, endeavored to integrate the Algiers Accor ds, signed in May 2015, into a new constitution modeled on the 1992 basic law. As if executive authority was not sufficient, amendments proposed to further strengthen the powers of the president. If the 2017 draft constitution had been approved, the head of state would have been able to appoint the president of the Constitutional Court, the president of the national audit body ( Cour des Comptes ), and one third of Senators. Additionally, the executive would have been able to amend any article of the constitution through a vote in parliament, without the need for a popular referendum.
Nevertheless, the proposed constitution did include certain welcome measures, such as plans to define “ high treason ”, accusations of which can be levelled at ministers and the head of state in the conduct of their office. Equally, plans for the Malian diaspora to be represented in the legislature, and to use proportional representation for the election of MPs can be seen as positive developments for Malian democracy. Indeed, these would offer to more equitable parliamentary representation for all regions of the country.
Following a number of demonstrations by activists opposing the planned constitution – notably under the banner of ” Ante a banna “, the proposals were dropped. Citizens were right to sound the alarm: among the 30-odd changes to the Constitution adopted on February 25, 1992, only the creation of a Senate stemmed directly from the Algiers Accords. One innovation proposed was to give the President immunity from prosecution during his term of office. Another was to waive the requirement for ministers to declare their assets upon assuming office. Such moves have next to no relationship with current peace process, and cannot be seen as strengthening democracy or the rule of law.
Whatever the pious vows of West African heads of state, constitutional referendums are viewed locally as presidential elections ahead of time. They escalate tensions between the opposition and the ruling party, divide popular opinion and threaten to disrupt fragile social equilibriums. In Senegal, Mali and Côte d’Ivoire, new constitutions or draft texts have opened the door to further revisions without plebiscites. Thus, under the guise of a modern democracy, citizens are being deprived of one of their most fundamental rights – a say in changes to the basic law.
Mahamadou Konaté is a lecturer and political analyst at numerous institutions in Mali, notably the National Staff School and the Alioune Blondin Beye Peacekeeping School . He is based in Bamako.