In a somewhat canted way, the Economic Community of West African States, almost always acts like an organization ruled by an oligarchy. In a way, it is. For, ECOWAS is under the thumbs of a cabal of sixteen heads of the states that constitute the institution. It is clear from decades of anecdotal evidence that Africa’s notoriously weak institutions lack a grasp of both the issues and commitment to confront the challenges that have paralyzed the continent for the better part of five decades. At the national levels, most Africans manifest an unflattering lack of nationalist fervor and a sense of altruism to serve the public good; defined, instead, by narrow, individual self-interests and family and tribal loyalties. To understand why African institutions continue to fail, a throw-back to the social dynamics of the colonial and precolonial eras is necessary.

The shocking lack of meaningful interactions between the colonizers and the colonized, accepted as an issue of social and economic hierarchy, has, in a devastatingly significant way shaped the way African leaders relate to their citizens. The social and economic classification under colonialism altered the way in which African political leaders interact with citizens; often portraying an unsettling aloofness and presumably occupying higher social profiles. Additionally, in pre-colonial West Africa, Islam, which was forced on societies, became a very powerful instrument of political subjugation and control. A submissive relationship with political authority soon developed between the governed and the governing, and continues to perpetuate a permanent underclass that is neutralized by religion from speaking truth to power. This divine moralization of politics created a malleable population whose mix of God and politics spawned the arrogant relationship with authority; relationship that has often turned toxic; even violent. The emulation of colonial social and economic stratification has created a deep and enduring fault-line between governments and the voiceless underclass, and is at the center of ECOWAS’s painful failure to pass its sensible term limit proposal.

ECOWAS’s capitulation and monumental failure, last week, affirms the level to which its leaders disregard the interest of its citizens; but it also corroborates the denunciation of African institutions as clueless and obsessed with power. When ECOWAS proposed the institution of term-limits, two weeks ago, most of its citizens were ecstatic, yet for some, last week’s term-limits failure was not completely unexpected. The familiar lack of objective rationality doomed the term-limit proposal from the very beginning, and punctuated Africa’s perennially negative political narrative with heavier doses of pessimism. African countries that lack the means to effect peaceful political transition suddenly became infused with numbing hopelessness. ECOWAS’s failure to unentangle itself from the greed and narcissism of some of its heads of states, is an indictment of the characters of leaders who failed to bend to the will of its citizens. In a rather mind-boggling way, ECOWAS lost an opportunity to preempt the possible consequences of civil strife in some of West Africa’s last bastions of tyranny and political underhandedness. The inherent failures of democracy lie in the conduct of electoral processes, and not adding muscle to the term-limit debate, left ECOWAS maligned by its citizens and hemorrhaging the goodwill of those who still have hope in the organization’s capacity to dramatically change from its leaders-based to citizens-based political triangulation. ECOWAS’s term-limit proposal must have originated from the organization’s perception of necessity, and to so cavalierly plunge this unique opportunity into uncertainty, only negates the organization’s argument for good governance, while continuing to leave many peoples’ lives in jeopardy. The seeming inability of ECOWAS to speak to its citizens’ needs, and the perpetuation of Africa’s deadly regimes, is cemented in the organization’s commitment, not to its citizens, but to heads of states many of who have demonstrated deadly human rights records and utter incompetence. But the failure to promulgate the term-limits proposal also raises a fundamental question. Whose interest does ECOWAS really serve; its people or its imperial rulers?

Clearly, the dramatic announcement of a proposed term-limit, two weeks ago, and its undramatic collapse, last week, put in proper perspective the corrosive divide between ECOWAS and citizens of the region. The current juxtaposition of political greed and citizens’ resignation, is grounds for forcing political change and altering the dynamics between the ruthless regimes and citizens coerced into intractable subservience. The idea of ECOWAS is frame-worked to reflect the philosophies of some leaders who lack the political mandates to speak for their citizens, as opposed to the majority of citizens who lack voice or the ability to change their political circumstances. The branding of ECOWAS as an unmitigated failure has stuck, but with a global political paradigm shift skewed towards democracy, an opportunity is open for ECOWAS to change its political trajectory; regardless of what some leaders want. The independence of ECOWAS should be sacrosanct, and completely impenetrable by forces still languishing in the worn-out, imperial mind-set that have reduced citizens into poverty and objects of exploitation. Last week ECOWAS failed to relieve the region of the agonizing excesses of the region’s imperial political systems,but there was, nonetheless, the marks of a new beginning, which, sooner rather than later, will undermine the power of the region’s political dinosaurs by empowering its citizens. And nowhere are the term-limits proposal more relevant than in Gambia, which unsurprisingly was one of only two countries that opposed it, but Gambia is also the country with the worst human rights record among ECOWAS member states. But as Yahya Jammeh readies for his fifth term {25 years} in office, Gambians debate vigorously as to whether to bar him from contesting elections in 2016; elections he is unlikely to lose regardless of who monitors the electoral process. One of the hallmarks of Gambia’s inability of remove Yahya Jammeh, is the prodigious failure of its self-absorbed political parties to unite and create a common agenda with civil society. Next year, with or without ECOWAS’s lack of objective rationality and moral fortitude, Gambians may decide to end Yahya Jammeh’s two decades rule of murder and mayhem.. Every long night has a day and Yahya Jammeh’s days may just be numbered.