West African leaders urge respect for constitutions


West African leaders pledged support yesterday for Guinea-Bissau ahead of elections meant to steer it out of a political crisis and urged peers in countries including Guinea and Niger to respect constitutional order.

Reuters reports heads of state and government from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have met in Nigeria‘s capital Abuja to discuss a series of challenges to political stability in the least developed region of the world’s poorest continent.

Until last year, the international community and investors had believed the area was emerging from decades of volatility, but a succession of coups, attacks and attempts by leaders to extend their rule have tarnished its democratic credentials.

Guinea-Bissau, which has been hit by a series of political assassinations and which is due to hold elections on June 28, was at the top of the agenda.

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, who holds the rotating ECOWAS chairmanship, paid three months salary arrears to the armed forces in Bissau and donated vehicles and equipment for the elections, according to a draft ECOWAS communiqué.

“The authority agreed to organise in Abuja an international conference of donors on Guinea-Bissau after the presidential election,” the communiqué said.

The regional grouping also agreed on the need to send an ECOWAS team to assess the former Portuguese colony’s financial needs and how it could be supported in pushing through security sector reforms.

Guinea-Bissau won independence from Portugal in 1974 after a long war but the country’s history since then has been riddled with coups, political killings and instability.

Analysts say radical military reform is the only way to end the cycles of violence, which have largely continued due to the military’s belief that it won a right to intervene in politics after playing such a key role in securing independence.

Some have called for the June 28 poll to be delayed after a leading presidential candidate and a former defence minister were killed by military police. Several candidates have also called for an international force.