Supporting peace, democracy and solidarity in the Sahel
17-18 March 2013
Building on the discussions and decisions of the recent SI Council regarding the situation in the Sahel, a meeting of the Socialist International Africa Committee was held in Niamey, Niger, on 17-18 March, to focus on the crisis in Mali and its implications for the region and the continent. Hosted by the SI member party in Niger, the Party for Democracy and Socialism of Niger, PNDS, it included a broad participation of leaders and representatives of many parties from the region and beyond.
The meeting opened with a large public session on 17 March with the presence of over two thousand people who were addressed first by the President of the PNDS and Foreign Minister of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum; then by the Secretary General of the Socialist International Luis Ayala; followed by Harlem Désir, leader of the PS France; and SI Vice-Presidents Nouzha Chekrouni from USFP Morocco, Ahmed Ould Daddah from RFD Mauritania, and Ousmane Tanor Dieng from PS Senegal.
The working sessions of the Committee took place on 18 March. This being the first meeting of the Committee after the last Congress, the agenda included the election of the Committee Chair and Vice-Chair to serve for the current inter-congress period. Following the democratic and transparent election procedure used for the first time at the past SI Congress for elections with multiple candidates, an electoral commission headed by SI Vice-President Nouzha Chekrouni, with Pedro Chaves from MPLA Angola and Kofi Attor from NDC Ghana as members, was appointed to organise and supervise the vote which was carried out by secret ballot. Emmanuel Golou, leader of the PSD of Benin was elected as Chair and Ebrahim Ebrahim, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from the ANC of South Africa, was elected Vice-Chair.
In the debate on the Malian crisis, participants examined the underlying reasons for the crisis and the current challenges facing the region before addressing the options ahead for achieving peace and stability.
It was generally recognised that a number of factors had led to the outbreak of the crisis in January 2012 when armed rebel forces started occupying the north of the country. First, strategic errors had been made in dealing with past revolts, for instance when a national pact envisaged the creation of an army composed of armed rebels while retrieving the state army from the North, implicitly allowing terrorist groups to settle in that area. Second, the growing democratic deficit within the state structures led to a weakening of the democratic institutions paving the way for increased corruption, less accountability and fraudulent elections as was the case in 2000 and 2007. The so-called Malian consensus which had been applied since 2002, whereby all political parties represented in the National Assembly were part of the government, created a vacuum within the democratic opposition and the much needed control over the government’s actions. Furthermore, insufficient supervision of the decentralisation of power increased the vulnerability of local representatives to corruption and facilitated the entrenchment of drug trafficking.
Regarding the main challenges that needed to be addressed, some key elements were highlighted by participants. The military intervention taking place had to result in a full recovery of the territorial sovereignty for Mali and the UN forces mandate needed to be clearly defined in this regard. It was emphasised that good governance was the only foundation for peace and stability and had to be restored, and state institutions had to recover their strength and independence. Violence was a monopoly of the state and therefore the disarmament of rebel groups had to be undertaken while making sure that errors of the past were not repeated. The army had to be brought back to its initial purpose, not interfering in the political and social spheres, as there would be no legitimacy as long as the military was involved in the decision making. The recently founded National Commission for Reconciliation and Dialogue had to include representatives from all parts of society in order to be successful, without military presence or interference. Equal rights and freedoms for all ethnicities from all regions, irrespective of gender or religion, had to be ensured if the reconciliation process was to be a success.
A particular aspect which was widely stressed by different speakers was the question of elections and in which context they would take place. There was general consensus that the upcoming elections, tentatively scheduled for July, had to be free, transparent and democratic in order to lay the foundations for a strong, democratic state and the respect for the rule of law. A number of issues were seen as serious obstacles which had to be resolved in order to create the right environment for the elections. First, the presence of the military is a destabilising factor, as it is unlikely that they would abstain from interfering and accept a democratic vote, giving up the position of power they currently held. Second, the independence of the National Electoral Commission and other actors in the electoral process such as the judiciary and administration is not guaranteed, therefore casting serious doubt over the possibility of holding free and fair elections. Furthermore, there were technical problems like the updating of electoral lists which might not be accomplished before July. Third, the political class has failed to find an agreement on common objectives or to set up transitional institutions, thus allowing the military to maintain its position and at the same time weakening the democratic voices in Mali.
Participants unanimously agreed that the way out of the crisis had to lead to a transition to a democratic state where freedoms and rights were respected. The international community had to give all its support but first and foremost the democratic forces in Mali had to work together to ensure that differences were overcome and that a democratic future was possible. The Committee urged the two member parties of the International in that country, ADEMA-PASJ and the RPM, to unite their forces in order to become a leading reference in the transition phase. The Committee further decided to set up a working group on Mali to closely follow developments and make recommendations for the tasks ahead to ensure that democracy would once again prevail in this country.
Following these discussions, the Committee adopted a Declaration reflecting the outcome of the debates and reaffirming its solidarity with the people of Mali and the Sahel and its support for its two member parties in Mali.
The activities of the Committee in Niamey concluded with a meeting of the participating SI Presidium members and the heads of delegations with the President of the Republic of Niger, HE President Mahamadou Issoufou, at the Presidential Palace. The President was informed of the discussions and decisions of the meeting which he welcomed, underlining the importance of the SI’s commitment and support in regard to Mali and the issue of security in the whole Sahel region. He gave an overview of his plans and objectives for his country and the progress made in terms of democracy, infrastructure, accountability and the economy. He stressed the aim of making the democratic gains irreversible and was proud to cite as an example, that in regard to freedom of the press in Niger, under his government it had moved in the world ranking from 104th place to 29th. He highlighted that in all these endeavours, no country could go it alone and he placed great importance on the value of regional cooperation and integration which he was working towards.
The Committee also adopted a Motion of thanks in which it expressed its gratitude to the PNDS and the people of Niger for their warm and fraternal welcome, and particular appreciation for President Mahamadou Issoufou.