The director of governance at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa says the African Union (AU) should stick to its ultimatum for Mauritania's military junta to restore democracy this week if the AU is to maintain its credibility. Professor Okey Onyejekwe says the AU should put more pressure on the military junta that toppled Mauritania's first democratically elected president. He adds that the military regime flouted the African Union's charter, which abhors military takeovers.
This comes after the military regime warned it would turn to Arab partners for aid and development funds if Western donors slash their assistance to Mauritania.
Both the United States and the European Union have unanimously condemned the coup and have demanded the country's return to constitutional rule.
From Ghana's capital, Accra Professor Okey Onyejekwe tells reporter Peter Clottey that the biggest challenge for the AU is to ensure that democracy is entrenched across Africa.
"This is not about the West; it's more about the African Union, which has adopted a resolution and convention, which basically says that African countries or African leaders that accede to power through unconstitutional means would not be welcomed, they have to be suspended. So, this is not really about the West, it is the AU convention, Lome (Togo's capital) Convention of 2000, and also the recently ratified charter on governance, which does not allow for unconstitutional takeover of power," Onyejekwe noted.
He said the African Union faces a significant test to ensure that democracy across Africa is deeply entrenched.
"I believe that the biggest challenge in Africa now is not just democratization, but also consolidation of democracy. And one way in which African leaders in their infinite wisdom have decided to consolidate governance and democratization is that power should not be taken by the barrel of the gun. And they all ought to abide by the AU resolution for, which they (Mauritania) also are signatories to that convention," he said.
Onyejekwe said the AU should maintain pressure on the Mauritanian military regime.
"I think the AU should not relent on this because there was a previous coup de'tat for which the AU made some exceptions given the circumstances on the ground. So, this is the second time that there is also a coup that overthrows an elected government. So, in my judgment if the AU's credibility has to be maintained and in true also to the convention, which AU has adopted, I think they should stick to their guns," Onyejekwe pointed out.
He said the African Union must take the lead in the international community's quest to ensure that democracy is installed in Mauritania.
"My advice would be for the AU and the other external actors to follow the AU's lead. AU should take the lead in this matter and so in that context I think that the EU and the international community should take a back seat and let the AU take leadership. If the AU believes that sanctions are necessary to force the hands of the military junta I think they should do that. But once the EU and the US and other European powers are seen in the forefront, then it begins to challenge the legitimacy of the AU," he said.
The August 6 coup de'tat, which toppled President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the country's first freely elected head of state, reportedly prompted a freeze in World Bank lending and threats of sanctions by some Western powers and the African Union.
Meanwhile, the United States, the European Union as well as the African Union have maintained their threats of more sanctions against the leaders of the military junta unless they release the detained former Mauritanian president and restore him to office.