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West Africa (Vol 18, 2021)

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Albert Kanlisi Awedoba
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A couple of West African countries experienced military take-overs in 2021. Presidential elections took place in some countries under conditions that did not guarantee free and fair elections and thus resulted in recriminations and dispute. The Covid-19 pandemic wrought more havoc than in the previous year due to new and highly transmissible and virulent variants of the virus that accounted for high infection rates and fatalities. The acquisition of vaccines and the vaccination of more people, coupled with border closures and impositions of travel restrictions, helped to curtail the damage. By the end of the year, there was evidence that the emergency was easing. Economies were badly affected, but nevertheless some countries’ economies rebounded, and some began to record positive growth rates. There was no let-up in jihadist and insurrectionist activities, which continued to beset some Sahelian states, aggravating displacement and creating serious problems both for those made into refugees and the states that hosted them.

See also West Africa 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2022.

Contents Volume 18, 2021.

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A couple of West African countries experienced military take-overs in 2021. Presidential elections took place in some countries under conditions that did not guarantee free and fair elections and thus resulted in recriminations and dispute. The Covid-19 pandemic wrought more havoc than in the previous year due to new and highly transmissible and virulent variants of the virus that accounted for high infection rates and fatalities. The acquisition of vaccines and the vaccination of more people, coupled with border closures and impositions of travel restrictions, helped to curtail the damage. By the end of the year, there was evidence that the emergency was easing. Economies were badly affected, but nevertheless some countries’ economies rebounded, and some began to record positive growth rates. There was no let-up in jihadist and insurrectionist activities, which continued to beset some Sahelian states, aggravating displacement and creating serious problems both for those made into refugees and the states that hosted them.

Elections and Governance Issues

From West Africa’s perspective, 2021 was the year that military coups returned to the African stage. At least two took place: one in Guinea and the other in Mali. In the Guinean case, the deposed president had just won re-election, albeit under questionable circumstances. He had pushed through a revision of the constitution to enable him run for a third term. To make matters worse, petrol prices had been increased from 9,000 to 11,000 Guinean francs ($ 1.12) per litre and new taxes and tax hikes approved to balance the budget, not to mention state-imposed Covid-19 restrictions. These measures were grossly unpopular and precipitated unrest in the weeks leading up to the Guinean coup, which can be touted as a ‘coup within a coup’. The caretaker government that had been negotiated with ecowas intervention was overthrown and the interim head of state ousted by the military strongman who held the vice-presidential position. In both the Guinean and the Malian cases, the deposed heads of state were held in military confinement. ecowas and French efforts to restore a semblance of democratic order yielded no dividend, and the threat of international sanctions on the military juntas had no effect. Despite international displeasure, the coup d’état against Alpha Condé was received enthusiastically by Malians, as Condé had long since lost the support of his people. Coup leader Colonel Mamady Doumbouya was reported to have quoted former Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings to the effect that ‘If the people are crushed by their elites, it is up to the army to give the people their freedom’.

Niger experienced a 15-minute abortive coup just hours before the inauguration of its president elect. As Niger’s 27 December 2020 presidential election had not produced an outright winner, a run-off was held on 21 February. In a two-horse race between interior minister Mohamed Bazoum and former president Mahamane Ousmane, the former emerged as the winner with 55.67% of the vote and was due to be inaugurated on 30 March when junior officers staged the abortive coup. The coup plotters, led by an air force captain, engaged the presidential guard but lost. The leader of the coup fled to Benin, from where he was extradited on 26 April. These coups signalled civilian and military dissatisfaction with civilian governments’ capacity to contain insurrectionists and jihadists in the Sahel regions; and they foreshadowed things to come, such as Burkina Faso’s January 2022 coup.

On 19 March, without explicitly accusing the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo (paigc – the party opposed to the president), President Umaro Embaló of Guinea-Bissau warned that anyone ‘attempting a coup in [his] country would be dead’. Later, amid rumours of an imminent coup in mid-October, Guinea-Bissau army chief of staff Biague Nantan denounced soldiers whom he alleged had received money to stage a coup.

The year witnessed presidential and parliamentary elections in several African countries – including the Nigerién second-round presidential elections of 21 February. Benin and Cabo Verde held presidential elections on 11 April and 17 October respectively, while The Gambia staged its presidential elections on 4 December; the Gambian elections were peaceful, contrary to predictions.

Côte d’Ivoire and Cabo Verde both held parliamentary elections, on 6 March and 18 April respectively. The elections in Cabo Verde were described as ‘peaceful and cordial’, not surprisingly for a small country with a healthy democratic record, which remains the envy of many other African nations. Out of a field of seven presidential hopefuls, one-time prime minister José Maria Pereira Neves was elected with 51.7% of the votes, thereby avoiding a second round.

In the Gambian elections, incumbent President Adama Barrow emerged as the winner with 53% of the vote, defeating five candidates. Though the opposition protested, citing concerns over the ‘inordinate delay’ in the announcement of results, there were celebrations on the streets, contrary to earlier predictions.

President Patrice Talon of Benin was re-elected with 86% of the vote, but against a background of low voter turnout, sidelining of the opposition, arrests of credible contending presidential candidates, and ultimately election boycotts. Talon’s landslide victory was predictable given the manipulation of the electoral system in the president’s favour and the political emasculation of the opposition. One example of the latter was the ‘sponsorship rule’, which demands that candidates for presidential elections be supported by at least 10% of deputies and mayors – a requirement that Talon’s challengers had difficulty meeting. The incumbent president may have scored 86% of the vote, but voter turnout was pegged at only 27%. Beninois protesters took to the streets and marched to display their discontent and anger, but to no avail; on the contrary, they were met by the military firing live ammunition. At least four people were killed and many injured.

In Côte d’Ivoire, President Alassane Ouattara, well into his third term after the tumultuous elections of 2020, seemed to calm the waters by opting for appeasement of and reconciliation with critics and the opposition. In the Côte d’Ivoire parliamentary elections staged during the year, Ouattara’s party took 137 of the 255 seats and 49.18% of the vote. Liberia too had its election issues: on 14 January, new senators were sworn into the senate following the ‘Special Senatorial Elections’ held in December 2020. The sitting government was delivered an electoral blow as it lost in five large counties, but this did not stop the Liberian president from negotiating alliances with elected senators, even if they did not belong to his party.

Senegal had had difficulties holding its local elections; they had been postponed three times already and were supposed to be held at the end of March, but they were again rescheduled – for 2022. The problem seemed to centre on the contentious and controversial ‘electoral sponsorship system’, which required prospective candidates to obtain sponsorship from 1% of the electorate before their names could appear on the ballot paper. On 28 April, the ecowas Court of Justice ordered Senegal to abolish the sponsorship law, but the 13 July amendment of the electoral code by the national assembly failed to get rid of or change the sponsorship law. Benin tried a similar system which favoured the sitting president and discriminated against his challengers. In Benin’s case, it seemed unlikely that an opposition presidential candidate would secure sponsorship from 10% of the total mps and mayors – that is, around 16 sponsors – when President Talon’s party held a majority, with 83 mps and 77 mayors.

The situation in Burkina Faso was ominous throughout the year, with evidence of unrest and street protests. In response to the situation, in November, the government restricted cellular connectivity for eight days as anti-government demonstrations rocked several cities, including the capital Ouagadougou. Some of the protests were violent, leading to many casualties; the security forces had to be called in. In June, around 160 people were killed in one village alone. An attack on a military police post in November resulted in at least 53 killed. In December, at least 41 militia members were killed in an ambush in Loroum Province. Armed groups attacked security forces and civilians alike, resulting in displacement of people, a regular occurrence in recent times. These events did not endear the civil administrators to the public, and least of all to the military.

The security threats in the West African sub-region as a whole continued to worsen, especially for countries such as Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Niger, among others, with endemic jihadist problems. There were growing fears that the jihadist/insurrectionist activities were moving south into countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, and even Ghana. Even Mauritania could not feel safe: it reported jihadi activity in the Wagadou forest in mid-July involving the abduction of three Chinese and two Mauritanians at a construction site close to the border with Mali; the situation on Mauritania’s western border was regarded as fragile. Though Senegal is relatively safe from the jihadists, in late January, outfits of a jihadist group affiliated to Malian preacher Amadou Koufa, who has Al-Qaida connections, were dismantled and four men were arrested in an eastern Senegalese border town.

The catalogue of murders, kidnappings, attacks on the military, and general lawlessness has been growing across the sub-region and seems set to continue for the foreseeable future. Islamic State West Africa Province (iswap) reportedly brazenly set up its own administrative structures in parts of Borno State in Nigeria and levied taxes. The situation was so bad that UN agencies and aid organisations there had to suspend operations.

Amid the pandemic, most countries had to deal with multifaceted demonstrations and protests, some relating to Covid-19 restrictions, others to insurrectionist activity, economic problems, political and electioneering malpractice, and a host of related causes.

Health Issues

Many West African countries experienced the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, though the effects were uneven, with some weathering the storm better than others. Countries had to deal with unfounded rumours that stopped members of the public from getting vaccinated in large numbers. Although research had found that over 50% of Togolese were willing to be vaccinated, nevertheless reluctance was encountered, attributed to the perceived unsafety of the vaccines, the perception that the Covid-19 was not as dangerous as it was claimed to be, and other misinformation about vaccination and vaccines themselves. These negative attitudes resulted in some vaccines expiring for lack of patronage. Côte d’Ivoire received 504,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on 26 February, but only 40,153 doses had been administered by 30 March, while more than 42,000 people had tested positive and 229 had died as a result of the virus. By the end of the year, Togo had reportedly vaccinated up to 1 m people – the goal it had set itself. It had fully immunised about 12% of its citizens, making it a front-runner in Francophone West Africa and exceeding the African average.

The general West African situation seemed to change as numbers of fatalities rose with the second and third waves of the pandemic. In addition to travel restrictions and adherence to Covid-19 protocols, some countries required the production of vaccination certifications on entry to public buildings. One example was Nigeria: as of 1 December, Nigerian federal government employees had to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination before starting work. Because these measures were irksome, they could not be sustained for long.

Opposition politicians and sectors of civil society raised doubts about the appropriate application of Covid-19 funds; at the same time, governments did not escape the accusation that Covid restrictions were being used to undermine freedoms. The 18 January curfew and declaration of a ‘health disaster’ by the Senegalese president seemed to enable him to bypass parliamentary, but these actions precipitated demonstrations and on 19 March, after days of violent demonstrations, the curfew had to be lifted.

According to the 2020 World Air Quality Report, published by IQAir, some West African cities ranked among the most polluted in the world. Bamako ranked as the most polluted African city. Accra ranked as the third-most polluted city in Africa and Abidjan as the 13th-most polluted city in Africa and third in West Africa.

The Economy

Fitch Ratings affirmed the issuer default rating (idr) at B with a stable outlook. It remarked that the ‘combination of oil exports and remittance inflows helped to bring the current account (ca) into balance in 2021 after a deficit of 4.2% of gdp in 2020’. Nigeria’s policy environment was described as ‘set to improve’, and its growth was expected to rebound to 2.6% in 2021. It was predicted that due to ‘persistent fiscal strains’, Nigeria’s budget deficit would be 3.1% of gdp in 2021.

Nigeria economy was projected to grow, with the rate changing from −1.8% in 2020 to +2.4% in 2021 thanks to the better performance of both oil and non-oil sectors. According to the World Bank, economic growth in West and Central Africa was expected to be at 3.2%, up from −0.8% in 2020, and estimated to grow further by 3.6% in 2022. Excluding Nigeria, waemu countries were projected to grow at 5.6% in 2021 and 6.1% in 2022, reflecting favourable terms of trade. Growth in Benin and Côte d’Ivoire was expected to be strong. It is not clear if the rumblings in the Russian quadrant already audible in 2021 were factored into these predictions.

For Ghana, the Fitch forecast was for a robust recovery in revenues and spending growth of 6.2%. It was remarked that the country was grappling with ‘a particularly high interest burden’ and that the ‘sharp rise in Eurobond yields would complicate re-financing and raise pressure to seek an imf programme’.

Niger and Liberia ranked as the fifth- and seventh-poorest countries in Africa respectively. Niger had gdp per capita of $ 1,263 and a gross national income (gni) per capita of $ 530. The country’s poverty was said to have been exacerbated by natural disasters such as drought alternating with floods and political instability, among other issues. Liberia had a gdp per capita of $ 1,428, and a gni per capita of $ 530. By nominal gdp, Nigeria was ranked the richest country in Africa and 29th in the world, while Ghana, the second-wealthiest country in West Africa, was judged to be eighth in Africa and 72nd in the world. Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal came in 11th and 17th respectively in the ranking of African countries. The Gambia, Cabo Verde, and Guinea-Bissau ranked 49th, 50th, and 51st respectively in Africa and 171st, 173rd, and 178th respectively in the world in terms of normal gdp.

Remittance inflows to sub-Saharan Africa increased by 6.2% to $ 45 bn during the year, with some West African countries making modest gains over last year’s remittances. Nigeria remained the top recipient, with a moderate rebound. Countries where the value of remittance inflows as a share of gdp was significant included The Gambia (33.8%) and Cabo Verde (15.6%). Among the ten African countries projected to receive the highest remittance inflows in the year were Nigeria (first place, $ 17.6 bn); Ghana (second, $ 4.5 bn); Senegal (fourth, $ 2.6 bn); Mali (eighth, $ 1 bn); and The Gambia (tenth, $ 700 m).

The ten best African countries to do business in included Togo – ranked eighth on the continent and 97th overall on the global index. This was a remarkable improvement compared with its previous ranking of 137th. The credit went to its many business reforms – one of which was its online platform that enables developers to obtain construction permits quickly and expeditiously. Côte d’Ivoire made the list, ranking tenth in Africa and 110th in the world for ease of doing business. It mattered that it was the world’s largest exporter of cocoa beans and could be credited with a stable political environment. Its economy was expected to grow at an average of 7% in the coming years.

The economies of West African countries seemed to rebound especially towards the end of the year, and growth rates improved by comparison with economic performance in 2020, though not up to pre-pandemic levels. For example, Liberia’s economy registered a real gdp increase of 3.6% in comparison with a retraction of 3.0% in 2020. Due to massive investments and increased gdp, Benin was classified as a middle-income country.

Youth employment remained a serious issue everywhere in West Africa, and the Covid-19 pandemic worsened things as economies suffered declines in growth rates. Governments did their best to resolve the problem, especially as political stability depended on it. On 21 April, Senegal announced the mobilisation of CFAfr 450 bn for youth employment. It expected this to result in 65,000 more young people being employed. To facilitate this objective, it set up a presidential council – the Emergency Programme for Youth Employment and Socioeconomic Inclusion.

Natural and Human-Made Hazards

Several natural and human-made hazards with serious economic and social implications affected West African countries during the year. Niger experienced heavy rains and floods, leading to widespread deaths and injuries. At least 62 lives were lost and 105,690 people were affected. The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (nhsa) reported that of the 36 Nigerian states, 27 were ‘at substantial risk of flooding in 2021’. About 100 millimetres of rain fell in Katsina in just one day, a record for the state. Nigerian coastal states also had to contend with tidal waves. Bayelsa, Delta, and Lagos were at high risk from floods resulting from rises in sea levels and tidal surge. In The Gambia, weather hazards affected 50,101 people and 11 lives were lost.

Vehicular accidents led to the loss of numerous lives and considerable property in West Africa within the year. A head-on collision between two buses on the Accra–Kumasi highway in Ghana left 19 people dead and many injured. Nigeria suffered a number of tragic losses, including that of an air force Beechcraft King Air 350i, which crashed near Kaduna International Airport, killing all 11 occupants, including the chief of army staff. On 30 November, an overloaded boat carrying more than 50 people, mostly children, capsized on the Watari Dam in Kano State, Nigeria; 29 were killed and 13 remained missing. Then, on 26 May, an overloaded boat travelling between Niger State and Wara in Kebbi State sank, killing at least 98.

On 1 November, a high-rise block of luxury flats under construction in Ikoyi, Lagos, collapsed, killing at least 42 people. On 8 November, a fire in a school in Maradi, Niger, killed 26 pupils and left more than 14 injured. Sierra Leone too experienced outbreaks of fire, such as the events of 24 March, in which a fire in a Freetown slum resulted in about 7,100 people losing homes and property and over 400 injured. Worse still, on 5 November a fire incident on Wellington Industrial Estate in Freetown, Sierra Leone, claimed more than 130 lives; more than 60 people were severely burned. The country declared three days’ mourning. An outbreak of fire in the commercial district of Accra on 5 July affected over 500 shops; considerable property was lost. The cost of damage to goods was estimated at 97.2 m Ghana cedi.

Socioeconomic Developments

There were concerted moves in West Africa to empower women politically, if not in all domains of life. On 20 October, Sierra Leone passed the Gender Empowerment Bill, which will see 30% of seats and cabinet positions held by women. The bill requires that 30% of each party’s total number of candidates be women; parties that achieve more than 50% will be rewarded with electoral funding. Similarly, Cabo Verde’s 2019 Gender Parity Law was implemented for the first time in its 2021 parliamentary elections, bringing in 40% quotas for women’s participation in national and local elections.

The year saw the election of Mariam Chabi Talata Zimé as vice-president of Benin on a joint Talon-Talata ticket. This was historic – the first time a woman had been elected to this position. Also, faithful to its gender sensitivity mantra, Benin set up the National Institute for Women and the Benin parliament adopted a law and special measures to deal with sexual offences and protect women from abuses. On another note, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the seventh director-general of the wto, took office on 1 March. She became the first woman, the first West African, and the first African to serve in this role.

Abortion continued to be widely frowned upon, especially by religious authorities, although people practise it under cover. In Senegal, there was considerable opposition to an advert purportedly supporting women’s right to abortion. Benin’s parliament, however, liberalised abortion and legalised voluntary abortion if justified on various grounds, such as the pregnancy being deemed likely to cause material, educational, and professional handicap or moral distress, or if the pregnancy militates against the interests of the pregnant woman or the unborn child. The law seemed elastic enough to count as carte blanche legitimisation of the termination of pregnancy.

The AfDB promoted gender empowerment by supporting several projects aimed at benefiting women. In March, it made a $ 320,535 grant to West African countries over a three-year period to mainstream gender in core digital financial services regulatory frameworks. On 17 May, the AfDB approved € 6 m to support the empowerment and inclusion of women and youth in agriculture.

On the ti Corruption Perceptions Index, Cabo Verde remained the best performer in West Africa, its score and standing unchanged at 58 and 39th respectively. Next to Cabo Verde was Ghana, whose rank remained unchanged, Senegal, whose ranking had dropped, and Benin and Burkina Faso, which had improved their rankings. Guinea-Bissau, ranked 162nd, had improved in ranking but remained the worse for corruption and transparency. Mali, Mauritania, Guinea, and Nigeria had worse scores and deteriorated in comparison with last year’s performances. Mauritania, ranked 140th out of 180 countries, turned in a worse performance than last year, when it ranked 134th. It was remarked that Mali’s political, institutional, and security crises, as well as its military coups and insurrectionist/jihadist conflicts not only undermined state functions but also fuelled corruption and human rights abuses, hence the drop to an abysmal score of 29. The situation in Guinea-Bissau was comparable, thus perhaps justifying its low score of 21 and a ranking of 162nd on the global index.

Nigeria had a score of 24 – considered ‘a historic low’ – and a corresponding ranking of 154th in the world. It was reported that over ‘100 powerful individuals’ had ‘used anonymous companies to buy properties with a total worth of £ 350 m. in the United Kingdom alone’. This was reportedly highlighted in the Panama Papers and FinCEN Files investigations. Lack of punitive action seemed to send the wrong message, a bad omen for the anti-corruption crusade.

The 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (rsf by its French acronym) was critical of Sahelian West African countries where insecurity and political instability impacted press freedoms negatively. Specific reference was made to the killing of two Spanish journalists in Burkina Faso, which ranked 37th in the world for press freedoms; the kidnapping of a French reporter in Mali, which ranked 99th; and the expulsion of journalists in Benin, ranked 114th. Mali performed substantially better than in 2020, with a rise of nine points from 108th to 99th place. Of the West African countries, Cabo Verde and Ghana performed better – ranked at 27th and 30th respectively. Cabo Verde had lost ground in comparison with its 2020 ranking, but Ghana maintained the same rank. Nigeria was ranked 120th out of 180 countries in the world, attributable in part to its jihadist troubles. Its performance was worse than in 2020.

Concerns about idps remained high in West Africa. Violence, insecurity, and climatic shocks were implicated as usual, just as the quest for better prospects in life compelled the youth to seek greener pastures away from their communities and homes. The iom revealed that as of March, Burkina Faso accounted for more than 1.1 m idps, Mali and Niger for 331,206 and 138,229 respectively. Nigeria alone accounted for more than 2.1 m.

Illegal migration accounted for many deaths. From the Senegalese point of view, at least 849 people were reported dead after risking the dangerous sea route to the Canary Islands on their way to southern Europe. On 28 August, a wooden boat carrying around 60 people capsized off the northern coast of Senegal; 48 people were reported missing and one was found dead. On 3 November, the Senegalese navy reported that 82 migrants had been rescued on the open sea. On 24 July, iom reported the interception of 113 irregular West African migrants, who were successfully repatriated from Algeria. They were from The Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Senegal, and included 5 women, 87 men, and 21 children. On 23 April, the Ghana Immigration Service (gis) taskforce reportedly arrested 33 illegal immigrants of West African nationalities in various operations. According to an 8 January report, Nigeria arrested more than 1,400 illegal migrants.

It would seem that the numbers of maritime crimes and piracy, a menace on Gulf of Guinea waters, have declined somewhat since 2020, according to internet sources. Natural hazards, including floods, droughts, storm, and landslides, continued to worsen the plight of West Africans in the year under review. In August, floods in The Gambia killed at least 12, and food security was threatened for over 100,000 people.

Illicit Trafficking of Drugs and Humans

A UN report found that levels of abuse of opioids and cannabis in West and Central Africa were above global averages, while cocaine was being trafficked to finance insurrectionist activities in the West African Sahel. During the year, significant amounts of cocaine were reportedly intercepted in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali and there was evidence of coastal countries such as Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, and Côte d’Ivoire serving as conduits. Large quantities of drugs and psychotropic substances were seized in Benin, a source of serious worry, as similar seizures had been reported in Côte d’Ivoire, where the police had seized ‘thousands of tons of drugs and thousands of weapons’. At Abidjan airport, a large amount of refined gold and foreign currency originating from Benin was seized, a situation which did not place Benin in good light internationally. Guinea-Bissau continued to be regarded as ‘a narco-hub in West Africa’; on 19 August, the US offered a $ 5 m reward for information leading to the arrest of a former Guinea-Bissau army chief of staff for his role in the illicit drug-trafficking business. In October, the Senegalese navy intercepted a ship off the coast of Dakar and seized over 2 tonnes of pure cocaine. On 18 April, the police seized counterfeit medicines worth $ 2.8 m from a property located in the Patte d’Oie commune of Dakar.

The debate continued about whether West African countries should follow in the footsteps of those Eastern and Southern African countries that have legalised cannabis or were about to do so. Nigeria was said to be inclined to legalise it or on verge of doing so. Meanwhile, although Ghana passed the Narcotics Control Commission Bill in 2019, allowing the cultivation and use of cannabis for medical and industrial purposes, this applies only to the hemp variety. Given the arguments that repealing the prohibition would restore social justice, reduce harm, and provide financial and economic benefits estimated at $ 7.1 bn by 2023, it seems likely that it is only a matter of time before West African countries legalise production and use of cannabis.

On 5 February, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (unodc) cited West Africa for the trafficking of humans. It reported that 3,336 victims out of 4,799 cases in 26 sub-Saharan Africa countries were in West Africa. Around 80% of West African victims were trafficked for forced labour; many were children. unodc reported further that ‘Nigeria is an origin, transit and destination country and is affected by both domestic and cross-border trafficking’. On 1 July, the US was reported to have accused Guinea-Bissau of lacking the political will to fight human trafficking. The issue of human trafficking is not limited to labour requirements but extends to organ removal and transplantation. Interpol has said that the trafficking in human beings for organ removal (thbor) in North and West Africa poses serious concerns. It argued that poverty and the displacement of populations made people and communities more vulnerable to exploitation for thbor.

In a related development, the year saw the repatriation of West African art works stolen in colonial times. On Tuesday 9 November, France transferred ownership of 26 treasure objects looted from Benin that had been in France for more than a century. They reportedly included ‘three totemic statues, jewelry, a scepter and a royal throne’. Benin’s president described the objects as ‘“our soul” rather than “cultural goods”’. It is likely that other West African countries will emulate Benin’s example and request the return of national art treasures currently found in European museums. Nigeria had already made similar requests a month earlier, and in October, Nigeria affirmed that Germany had agreed to return ‘hundreds of so-called Benin Bronzes’ in 2022.

lgbtq-related issues were in the newspaper headlines in some West Africa countries. The debate on whether to legislate seemed to polarise the community into those who call for laws restricting lgbtq rights, and those espousing a laissez faire stance of permitting same-sex relations and the expression of lgbtq identities on the grounds of human rights and individual choice. There were those in Ghana who saw it as a health issue needing psychiatric intervention.

Those opposed to a liberal stance on lgbtq rights argued that ‘African’ culture and religion – both Christianity and Islam – were averse to homosexuality. On 23 May, hundreds of demonstrators led by religious leaders gathered in Dakar, Senegal, to demand the criminalisation of homosexuality. On 11 December, Senegal’s And Samm Jikko Yi, comprising 48 Islamic organisations, drafted and tabled a law in the national assembly to tighten existing anti-lgbtq+ law. A similar bill went to the Ghanaian parliament and generated considerable furore. Western countries and the US have been known to oppose the criminalisation of same-sex relations, but the majority of Ghanaians – chiefs, opposition politicians, and most Christians and Muslims – still see such relations as a violation of family norms.

ecowas and Sub-regional Organisations

The political situation in Guinea and Mali continued to absorb ecowas energies, as several meetings and summits were held during the year in Accra and elsewhere to negotiate and return these countries to civilian rule. To recap: the Malian military backtracked on an ecowas-brokered agreement for interim power-sharing with a civilian as head of state. In a coup-within-a-coup scenario, the interim civilian head was removed by the military. Colonel Assimi Goïta, hitherto the vice-president, assumed the presidency. ecowas leaders had to go back to the drawing board to persuade the military to return the country to the status quo. ecowas initiated a round of negotiations to achieve this and also to secure the release of the detained head of state.

ecowas also had to deal with intransigent Guinea coup leaders ensconced in the knowledge that from the outset, their actions had enjoyed popular support among Guineans, even if they were widely condemned by the international community. When the coup leaders did not seem amenable to meaningful negotiations, ecowas and the au suspended Guinea’s memberships of those organisations. A high-powered ecowas mission visiting Conakry on 17 September failed to get the Guinean leaders to set a six-month maximum transition period.

As neither Mali nor Guinea would comply with ecowas demands, including the release of the heads of state in military custody, the sanction regime had to be brought back on track in Mali and new sanctions imposed on Guinea. ecowas was accused of not having done enough to prevent these coups in the first place, as a result of having failing to check the autocratic rule of the deposed heads of state and their quest for unconstitutional third terms in office.

The Ghanaian president and ecowas chair, Nana Akufo-Addo, and Alassane Ouattara, his Côte d’Ivoire counterpart, were in Mali on 17 September for talks with the miliary leaders, and Akufo-Addo was in Guinea on 17 October to mediate. These meetings, together with the efforts of ecowas mediators, did not yield the expected results. Acceptable timetables for a return to democratic rule were not agreed, as the military asked for more and more time and seemed evasive. An ecowas Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government was held on Sunday 11 July in Accra to discuss the impasse. On 8 November, the sanctions on Guinea were maintained and Mali’s transitional government also came under sanctions. The sanctions seemed to harm the populace more than they did the military juntas.

The 74th Session of the Board of Directors of the ecowas Bank for Investment and Development (ebid) approved € 61,526,000 for projects in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire. It was reported that on 9 February, the AfDB had provided financial support to West African countries to meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (ndcs) targets under the Paris climate accord.

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