Kofi Annan Foundation Chair of the Board Elhadj As Sy delivered the following opening remarks on December 8 2021, in Accra, Ghana, at the 2021 Kofi Annan Peace and Security Forum.
Check Against Delivery
Mr. President, Excellencies, Commandant, ladies and gentlemen, all protocols observed.
It is an honour to welcome so many prestigious and important guests today, both in-person and online, on behalf of the Kofi Annan Foundation.
The Foundation and the KAIPTC share not only a name; we share a mission and a legacy bequeathed to us by the late Kofi Annan himself: to work for peace.
Without peace, there can be no development. Without peace, human rights are always in jeopardy. Without peace, West Africa cannot fulfil its enormous potential.
Kofi Annan knew that there could be no lasting peace without democracy, both domestically and internationally, which is why he worked tirelessly to promote and support democracy, first at the helm of the United Nations and later through his Foundation.
Academic research has amply demonstrated not only the correlation between democracy and peace, inclusive economic development, the respect for human rights, good governance and even life expectancy; it has also highlighted the link between growing authoritarianism and political instability, coups d’Etat and even insurgencies.
Put simply, if a disgruntled population does not believe it can achieve peaceful change via the ballot box, it will find alternatives. It is only a matter of time.
As we all know, much of West Africa was plagued by coups and civil wars in its first decades of independence.
But West Africa was also the first region on the continent to democratise after the end of the Cold War, setting the stage for two decades of stability and growing prosperity.
ECOWAS enshrined those democratic gains exactly 20 years ago by adopting its Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance in Dakar in December 2001. Some of the signatories of that landmark document are here today and will help remind us of its significance.
Ladies and gentlemen, events over the past few years, and particularly the coups in Mali and Guinea, have sounded the alarm; the democratic gains of yesterday are in jeopardy today.
While digital communication channels have opened a new space for political debate and civic engagement, they have also allowed the proliferation of disinformation, fake news, and hate speech, manipulating voters and weakening trust in institutions all over the world. The pandemic has only accelerated and exacerbated the anti-democratic trends at work.
Some leaders argue that democracy is over-rated and that what their people want is economic development, which is better served by so-called strong leadership.
There are at least two problems with this argument. First, the evidence, particularly in Africa, shows that democracies have economically outperformed their authoritarian counterparts in most cases.
Second, Afrobarometer, whose founders and leaders are here today, has shown year after year, for two decades now, that a large majority of West Africans want more democracy, not less.
They understand that democracy is not an abstract ideal, but means checks and balances, legitimate and accountable government and the protection of rights and freedoms. Of course, they want more of it.
What this means, ladies and gentlemen; is that if we do not shore up the democratic legitimacy of our political systems by ensuring the integrity of elections, the respect of fundamental human rights and freedoms, the political, but also economic and social inclusion of disenfranchised groups in our societies, particularly women and youth, West Africa will face growing unrest and violence in the years to come.
In other words, the crisis of democracy is already becoming a crisis of peace and security.
Kofi Annan used to say that the difference between a crisis and an opportunity is leadership, and I would hereby like to applaud His Excellency President Nana Akufo Addo for showing leadership on this issue. Not only by hosting this conference in Accra but, more importantly, by calling for a revision of the landmark Protocol on Democracy to include term limits and constitutional protections.
As the leader of one of Africa’s leading democratic success stories and an eloquent advocate, democracy in West Africa could not have hoped for a better champion.
Naturally, having worked in the multilateral system for decades, I realise that a treaty won’t alone solve a crisis, but it will send an important signal if it passes muster.
It will re-affirm the region’s commitment to the political system that has served it well these past two decades, and it will give our youth renewed hope in their future, a sine qua non for lasting peace and development.
For all these reasons, I wish to thank not only His Excellency, the President of the Republic, for his stance on these issues, and the KAIPTC for hosting this conference, but also all of the participants for joining us today.
Hundreds of experts, stakeholders and political actors are gathered here or watching us online. Together you have an opportunity to come up with solutions to West Africa’s democratic crisis.
I encourage you to end the conference with a call to action to ensure West Africa’s democratic future.
As 111 world leaders gather as of tomorrow for President Biden’s Summit for Democracy, we have an opportunity to show the world that West Africa is actually ahead of the curve.
Thank you for your time and attention.