The following is an interview with APN 2013 grantee Professor Oluwafunmilayo J. Para-Mallam, on the sidelines of a policy dialogue organized by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) West Africa, in collaboration with the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The event, which took place in Abuja, Nigeria, July 27–28, 2015, highlighted the current state of democracy, peace, and stability in West Africa. It also examined the role ECOWAS has played in the region and the challenges it faces, and offered practical suggestions to consolidating democracy and peace in the future.

APN: What emphasis do you put on African research and its integration into policymaking and peacebuilding practices on the continent? How do you see this policy dialogue with APN, CDD, ECOWAS, fitting into that vision?

OP: It is extremely important. Before it had been ad hoc—some would say based on a fire brigade approach—without due recourse to research-based evidence that could inform policy. We are now at a stage in Africa where we can no longer afford to make policies of any sort without clear cut, quality evidence that comes from research. I would therefore place the highest premium on evidence-based policy research.

APN: Do you think this policy dialogue has begun to address that gap, or is there need for more?

OP: I think the policy dialogue highlighted the need for more. In the Abuja Declaration the first thing we said is that there is need for more cutting-edge research that would provide a launch pad for further action—indeed critical action—by stakeholders at all levels. We cannot do this, however, without really understanding the needs and aspirations of our people in the West African subregion, and appreciating as well as understanding the issues and challenges. The peace and conflict issues that are a reality in Africa are so complex and so intricate that they demand empirical research, particularly research that is grounded in the experience and lived reality of the people. We highlighted that fact during the policy dialogue, and the reality that we cannot afford to have a top-down approach any longer. The people themselves have to be a part and parcel of the process of providing the information for research, conducting research, interpreting that research, and then taking that research forward into critical action that will bring about change. Research at every level is really a core element of what we need to produce a knowledge-based economy for African states.

APN: What role do you see or expect ECOWAS to play in the future of democracy and peace in West Africa?

OP: I think what emerged very clearly from this policy dialogue was the aspiration of West African peoples to have an ECOWAS that reflects the wishes of the people rather than states. In other words, an ECOWAS “of the people,” where we have an environment that is conducive to peace and development and that is accessible to all categories of people, whether they be women, men, youth, or children. It has to be an inclusive ECOWAS, and that will require a radical restructuring. Indeed, ECOWAS is well on its way to becoming that—in terms of what it has envisioned for itself—but there are certain structures on the ground that would not allow that to happen. Take for instance the ECOWAS Parliament. At the moment it is not a people’s parliament. It has to become reflective and constitutive of the people of West Africa who have the sufficient compliance powers and legislative powers to make or effect change, not just through an advisory role to governments, but people who can actually make binding decisions and determine the direction of ECOWAS. That is the ECOWAS we really need. This vision is in the pipeline, but it is yet to be actualized. ECOWAS itself has recognized that a lot of what has marred their operations and mandate in the past has precisely been the lack of this groundswell of citizen participation within its processes, structures, decision-making, and implementation. But without an adequate system in place to birth that vision, it will not be achievable.

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