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Kémi Seba, Guy Marius Sagna and authoritarianism in the ECOWAS region

The sanctions imposed on Kémi Seba, recently expelled from Burkina Faso, and on Guy Marius Sagna, condemned by a court in Senegal, when both thought they could enjoy their freedom of expression and assembly without risk, call on us to reality of the protection of public freedoms in the ECOWAS region.

However, the founding fathers of ECOWAS had the deep desire to create a community of States united by deep cultural and even biological links and determined to work together for the harmonious development of their respective peoples. In this sense, in record time, they signed in Dakar in 1979, the Protocol on the free movement of persons, the right of residence and establishment.

This protocol granted, from that time, the status of citizen of the Community to all nationals of the Member States and recognized them, subject to certain completely reasonable conditions, the right to come and go freely in this space, currently composed of from 15 states.

The protocol, far ahead of the texts that govern relations of the same kind between other African countries belonging to other regions, has gone as far as possible by making it possible today to provide citizens of the community with passports and ” an ECOWAS identity card.
In this, this sub-regional organization has reached a level of integration worthy of the most advanced countries politically and economically. However, this order is often called into question by arbitrary acts of certain States.


Deportation and improper imprisonment

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The Senegalese Guy Marius Sagna, coordinator of the movement Front for a popular and pan-African anti-imperialist revolution-FRAPP France frees, was sentenced this month to 3 months in prison suspended by the court of flagrante delicto in Dakar, in a case spreading fake news.

He was accused of having written on social networks that “dishonor” had become “the new motto of the Senegalese Gendarmerie”.

However, is it really understandable to deprive an actor of civil society of his freedom for having issued a personal assessment of the behavior of a body of the State which, moreover, undoubtedly enjoys great prestige with the majority? of the social body? Can we condemn an ​​opinion leader without taking into account the reality of today’s world where, thanks to social networks, connectivity is so intense that no information can be released without being criticized or denied in the seconds that follow?

This offense made sense in times when the transmission of information was so slow that a bad intention expressed could cause enormous damage before it could be denied.

This notion, like that of “offending the head of state”, are relics of an ancient justice that should be brought up to date. In this regard, the State must prevent a blind repression from moving the place of debate outside the walls of the Republics into worlds where its authority will have little hold.

Therefore, the detention and imprisonment of an activist on these bases, it seems to us, should be understood as the expression of a state authoritarianism which should be questioned by the legislator or the judge. In this sense, the announcement last year at the annual conference of heads of prosecution, by the Senegalese Minister of Justice, Me Malick Sall, on the need to question the abusive use of committal warrants, if implemented, would go in the desirable direction.

However, state authoritarianism can take other forms, one of the most common of which is the arbitrary expulsion of ECOWAS citizens as soon as they want to express themselves outside their country of origin. certain issues deemed sensitive. In this sense, the repeated expulsions of Kémi Séba from certain ECOWAS countries show whether it was necessary that the States have difficulty in accepting this common citizenship offered by the sub-regional organization.

However, in a globalized and hyper-connected world, in a region where young people have repeatedly shown their sense of responsibility by fully playing their role as a mature and active actor in the consolidation of democracy, the expulsion of KEMI SEBA of any ECOWAS country belongs to practices of another era. Indeed, he, like other citizens of ECOWAS, must be able to participate without hindrance, in demonstrations in other countries if they are invited to do so by national associations and supervised in accordance with the laws and regulations of the State concerned without the one cannot treaties of “inadmissible immigrants” against whom the borders must be closed.


The unilateral closure of borders

The unilateral closure of borders is a common practice in Africa where the authoritarianism of heads of state often allows the most personal and fanciful interpretations of the agreements and conventions that are supposed to manage the relations between our countries.

For example, this is how we should understand Guinea’s decision to unilaterally close the September 27, 2020, its borders with three of its neighbors, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra-Leone and Senegal.

In the same logic, it should also be recalled that on January 17, 1983, Nigeria had carried out the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of foreigners in an “irregular situation”, in particular Ghanaians and will reoffend for different reasons in August 2019 in closing its land borders with Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

On a strictly legal level, it must be admitted, any sovereign state has the right to close its borders if the circumstances so require. However, generally at the international level, it is customary for the closure of borders to be linked to the existence of a peril objectively ascertainable by ordinary people. Thus, because of Covid 19 or Ebola disease, countries that felt threatened everywhere decided to close their borders. In truth, such an extreme decision must be taken in accordance with the spirit of the agreements which bind the States of the sub-region.

People’s ECOWAS

In 2008, the competent authorities decided to develop a “Vision 20020” which could found the “Peoples’ ECOWAS” which would recognize a decisive role for civil society in the development of public policies. But unfortunately, it has been observed that civil society initiatives were often equated by the governments in place with subversive movements..

Thus, our leaders find it difficult to accept that Kemi Séba and Guy Marius Sagna are, in reality, the standard bearers of a youth thirsty for sovereignty who wishes to be able to dispose of themselves by defining the public policies of their country and by determining the nature of its international relations. These young people should be considered in their respective countries, as well as in the sub-region, as people who really contribute to the deepening of democracy.

Indeed, what would democracy be without the contestation of the rulers by the ruled?

In our countries where often by social or political conformity, by economic or religious constraint, many citizens prefer to keep their opinions to themselves, the least thing is to recognize the courage of this minority, which without an explicit mandate, is the spokesperson for a part of the social body.

Conclusion

In this, Guy Marius Sagna from Senegal and Kémi Séba from Benin are real whistleblowers who, failing to be accepted by my governments in the region, should benefit from the greatest tolerance comparable to that which was previously granted to the “Village fool” if not to the “sage” simply, through whom the Kings could find out what was happening in their kingdom and what should be changed.

In this, Guy Marius Sagna from Senegal and Kémi Séba from Benin are real whistleblowers who, failing to be accepted by my governments in the region, should benefit from the greatest tolerance comparable to that which was previously granted to the “Village fool” if not to the “sage” simply, through whom the Kings could find out what was happening in their kingdom and what should be changed.

The Founding Fathers of ECOWAS certainly dreamed of a politically and economically integrated space for the benefit of nationals of different countries all benefiting from the status of citizen of the community. Those who founded ECOWAS certainly had in mind that they were the descendants of those who had founded the West African Empires, notably the Empire of Ghana in the 4th Century AD. Samory Touré in the 19th Century through the Empire of Soundiata Keita in the 13th Century.

In truth Guy Marius Sagna and Kémi Séba and the young people who share their opinion, in their own way, which may or may not please, try to make their contribution to the deepening of democracy in the ECOWAS region.

In this spirit, Guy Marius Sagna, Kémi Séba and these young protesters who fight for a common cause, which does not belong to them but for which they have decided to devote their lives, have the right to demonstrate against what they believe cannot correspond to their ideal of an independent Africa.

These activists fight for the triumph of a united Africa and for the advent of the ECOWAS of the peoples which will exist only thanks to the conscious, lucid and determined actions of the Solidarity Youth of the sub-region.

In this context, the decision of the Senegalese authorities to authorize a solidarity march on November 2, 2019 which brought together Senegalese civil society and its Guinean colleague in Dakar against a third term of Alpha deserved to be hailed as one of the actions that go in the direction of the advent of the Peoples’ ECOWAS contained in Vision 2020.

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