A core objective of this journal is to bring both mainstream scholarship and policy analysis into a fruitful coincidence with regard to the examination of socio-political and economic processes across the West African sub-region. Our choice of articles in this edition has been largely informed by this binocular vision, the aim being to capture the significant events taking place in different parts of West Africa, while acknowledging the fact that some of the issues under focus are yet to be fully resolved and as such may require further research before any reasonable conclusions can be reached. One such issue is the ongoing impasse in Cote d’Ivoire which has continued to stimulate scholarly reflections from a variety of disciplines, not least history, conflict studies, international relations, political science and social anthropology. W. Alade Fawole’s article borrows perspectives from each of these approaches, although his main attention is focused on the problems of peace- making in general. In the process, he sheds crucial light on the genesis of the conflict, the historical responsibilities of individual actors, and perhaps most crucially, the way in which the political instrumentalisation of both religion and ethnicity has plunged the country into a crisis which even the most pessimistic observer of the Cote d’Ivoire scene could not have anticipated, say a decade, ago. Fawole situates the intervention of ECOWAS, still smarting from its controversial involvement in the crisis in Liberia, within this tragic cauldron, and concludes that lasting peace can only return to the country if ECOWAS and other interested actors (including those outside the region) can put aside their differences to work together for peace. For the beleaguered country, it would seem, the future looks heavily overcast, especially given the vagaries of peacekeeping and peace making in general.
It is tempting to think that the Cote d’Ivoire can learn a lesson or two from Nigeria, clearly the driving force in ECOWAS, and itself riddled with endemic ethnic and religious contradictions. For all their apparent divergence, Fawole’s article on the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire and Abu Bakarr Bah’s reflections on the dilemma of nation-state building in Nigeria share a poignant commonality – the continuing salience of religion and, in particular, ethnicity, as different (West) African countries attempt to build democratically viable states. Thus, the theme that Abu Bah’s analysis privileges – the antinomies of national integration within the ambit of inter-ethnic struggle for resources – is one that clearly resonates, not only across the sub-region, but generally in the continent as well. Indeed, if there is any moral to be drawn from the Nigerian experience, it is that issues bordering on ethnicity and identity tend to enjoy a certain resilience, making them not problems to be solved, but historical conditions to be managed. Crucial to this process of management, Bah argues, are such factors as civic education and, more important, a deeply embedded democratic disposition.
Okechukwu Ibeanu and Nkwachukwu Orji powerfully underscore the importance of what might be called the habit of democracy in their dissection of the role of political despotism in the breakdown of relations between Nigeria and South Africa in the crucial period between 1993 and 1999. While their overarching proposition is that inter-state intercourse is more likely to be conflictive in the face of fundamental differences in regime type and attitude to established international
conventions, they amply illustrate it with the case of the regime of General Sani Abacha in Nigeria. For them, while Nigeria and South Africa may historically have been at daggers drawn for a variety of reasons (apartheid rule in South Africa and the conviction of the two countries’ respective elites of a ‘manifest destiny’ to lead the continent are two examples that come to mind), mutual tension was arguably deepened by the apparent refusal of the Abacha regime to respect the basic tenets of both domestic and international law. A good example of this stubbornness was the hasty execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow Ogonis on November 10 1995 (what Ibeanu and Orji define as ‘the threshold of irreversibility’), prompting widespread international condemnation and inevitably putting the regime on collision course with many countries, including South Africa.
Following Nigeria’s return to civil rule on May 29 1999, tensions between the two countries seem to have cooled off considerably, although strains have manifested from time to time over a number of issues, most recently the crisis in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, Nigeria and South Africa would appear to have turned a crucial corner, and the leaders of the two countries (Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki respectively) have been at the forefront of initiatives aimed at achieving greater economic and social development for the continent. The most laudable of such efforts is the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
While it is possible to attribute the new phase in relations to the political transformation in Nigeria (and both Ibeanu and Orji make this clear, although they also emphasise the importance of the international environment), there is a clear danger of romanticising what at the end of the day remains an unfolding process of democratisation in Nigeria. Indeed, as citizens of many West African countries are beginning to learn, elections and rule by civilians, important as they may be, do not necessarily guarantee real democracy. This is the focus of Nantang Jua’s paper on the democratisation process in Cameroon where a new constitution, general elections, and rule by civilians have failed to translate into genuine participation in governance by the mass of the people. According to Jua, in what amounts to a dampening of popular expectations, ‘political reform has sought to privilege the will to power rather than the will to participation’. His may be a distressing summary of the specific dynamics of democratisation in Cameroon, but its ramifications for the sub-region in particular and the continent at large can hardly be disputed. Philosophically speaking, Jua’s thesis can be construed as a fundamental rejection of the certitude underlying the dominant reading of the progress of democratisation as a continuous journey towards an increased participation of the common in the running of their affairs. If Jua is to be believed (and his argument surely has its merits), this process has actually unfolded in fits and starts, seemingly stalling in the particular case of Cameroon in what he calls ‘appeasement democracy’.
The preceding scenario pretty much sets a clear intellectual agenda for social and political research in the sub-region: the need to begin to question afresh many of the ‘truths’ generally taken for granted about liberal democracy in Africa and the role that ordinary citizens must play in bringing about social justice. These and corollary issues are taken up in the two articles by J. Oloka-Onyango and Francis Nyamnjoh in the ‘Briefings’ section.
We are hopeful that you will be stimulated by this diverse, yet interrelated, collection.