The first troops of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) landed at the Freeport of Monrovia on August 24, 1990 at the invitation of Master-Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Republic of Liberia who was then under siege from the rebel forces of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), led by Charles Taylor.
The then President Doe had invoked Article 4 (b) of the Mutual Defence Assistance Protocol of the ECOWAS which was signed in Freetown on May 29, 1981.
That provides for a non-standing military force to be used to render mutual military aid and assistance to a member state that falls victim to external aggression.
Article 4 (b), under which Doe applied for the intervention of the ECOWAS military support, spells out a collective response where a member state is a victim of internal armed conflict that is engineered and supported actively from outside and which is likely to endanger the peace and security of other member states.
Article 18 (2) of the Protocol makes it clear that member states are not entitled to intervene militarily, if the internal armed conflict poses no danger outside the borders of the afflicted state, and if it is supported from outside.
In order to secure the military intervention of the sub-regional group, the Protocol demands that the head of state of the country desiring assistance should put it in writing to the chairperson of ECOWAS.
This force will then be known as the Allied Armed Forces of the Community (AAFC).
At the time President Doe made the request, it was commonly suspected that Libya, which trained the combatants, Cote d’Ivoire, whose President, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, was Taylor’s in-law, and Burkina Faso, whose leader, Blasé Compoare, had a Libyan backing, were supporting the NPFL.
It was, therefore, not possible for ECOWAS to put together the AAFC for military intervention in Liberia. However, at an ECOWAS Standing Mediation Committee Meeting in Banjul, The Gambia, four countries, namely; Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and The Gambia, decided to send a peace-monitoring group to Liberia.
Notwithstanding the initial setbacks of the group, the success story of ECOMOG, as it became to be known, when it was led into action by its first commander, General Arnold Quainoo of Ghana, had placed it on record as the first credible attempt at a regional security initiative since the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) tried to establish an Inter-African force in Chad in 1981.
Apart from stabilising the conflict situation in Liberia culminating in the election of Charles Taylor as President of Liberia on July 19, 1997, ECOMOG, which qualified to be described as the military wing of ECOWAS, carried out other operations in Sierra Leone (1997), and Guinea Bissau (1999).
In Sierra Leone, ECOMOG forces intervened to stop the combined forces of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) led by Major Johnny Koromah from succeeding with a military coup against President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah while in Guinea Bissau, ECOMOG troops again went into battle when fighting broke out between troops loyal to President Bernado Viera and those of his army chief, Brigadier Ansumane Mane.
ECOWAS, through ECOMOG, played a major role in brokering a peace deal leading to a general election on November 28, 1999.
ECOMOG, in its nearly 10 years of peace-keeping and conflict resolution in the sub-region, has brought about a new evolution in inter-African affairs and rekindled hope that sub-regional conflicts could be handled without recourse to external involvement.
This might have been the reasoning behind the decision by ECOWAS leaders to resort to military intervention after diplomatic efforts have failed to settle the electoral impasse in Cote d’Ivoire.
Maybe with time, ECOWAS leaders could only see the success of ECOMOG without recounting the very demanding conditions under which it operated.
Right from the word go, ECOMOG did not receive the unanimous recognition and support of the whole ECOWAS group for obvious reasons as stated earlier.
There were serious operational command problems as field commanders were divided between taking orders from home authorities and operational commanders on the ground.
Again, heads of state had not established any guidelines, principles or rules of engagement for managing internal conflicts and more seriously, not all states were willing to work together or within institutions to ensure a regional response to conflicts.
It is instructive to remember that at the time ECOMOG was conceived, the sub-region was virtually under military dictatorship or autocratic civilian governments that had very little regard for democratic credentials.
It was, therefore, very easy for leaders at the time to take decisions that suit their individual interests and what to them constituted the common good.
The two major players in the ECOMOG operations were undoubtedly Nigeria and Ghana under General Ibrahim Babaginda and Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings respectively, both military dictators.
Other military/civilian dictators at the time include General Gnansigbe Eyadema of Togo, Capt Blasé Campaore of Burkina Faso, General Lansana Conte of Guinea, Houphouet-Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire and the rest who were virtually answerable to no one within or without.
Things have changed considerably since those days and some of the countries in the sub-region cannot commit troops for international campaigns without getting the necessary backing of their elected representatives who must be convinced of the legitimacy and justification for such operations, as peace-keeping missions are not the same as combat operations.
In 1990, it was easy for President Doe to seek military assistance from ECOWAS, based on Article 4 (b) of the Mutual Defence Assistance Protocol, because Charles Taylor’s Christmas Eve attack launched from the soil of Cote d’Ivoire and tacitly supported by the President of that country at the time and other African countries qualified it to be an external aggression to justify an intervention.
How justifiable is it to qualify an electoral impasse as an external aggression to necessitate invoking Article 4 (b) of the Mutual Defence Assistance Protocol?
As of now, Allassane Ouattara is not a President and has not written to ECOWAS as the Protocol requires to apply for military support to fight an enemy aggression. So wherein lays the legitimacy of any such action?
For now, the moral strength of ECOWAS is found in the determination of the sub-regional body and for that matter other bodies to safeguard and protect democracy first in West Africa, and then on the continent.
That is the wish of many if not all.
If a free and fair election is considered one of the essential pillars of democracy, who determines what constitutes a free and fair election among ECOWAS countries?
Nigeria, the sub-region’s superpower, and the country to spearhead any military operation, should it become ECOWAS’ final trump card, cannot stick out its neck on such a matter, remembering vividly, the 2007 general election in that country which brought Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’dua and the now President Jonathan Goodluck to power.
Nobody could forget so soon how Faure Gnansigbe came to power by succeeding his father, the late General Eyadema, who himself was in power for well over 35 years till death took him away.
In Burkina Faso, Ghana’s northern neighbour, Campaore has been in power since 1982 and recently won another term as a democratic ruler whose term seems not to have any constitutional limit.
So who are going to cast the first moral stone at Cote d’Ivoire and pass the democratic test? Ghana and Benin so far have the best results in terms of adherence to constitutional provisions of electoral practice and succession even though Ghana’s case, as is evident, cannot be said to be smooth-sailing.
These are moral questions ECOWAS leaders have to ponder over as they try to solve the problem in Cote d’Ivoire. Morality and legitimacy aside, the military option which seems so fluid on the lips of some people has its own questions begging for answers.
Who pays for the military operation? Who bears responsibility for the thousands who will die and the millions who will be displaced? How do we reconcile the parties involved after the military might of the sub-region had been put on display?
By the way, is ECOWAS going to set the record as being the first sub-regional body that went to war against itself to enforce an electoral decision?
The Americans can afford to beat the war drums in far away Washington DC, the French can do so in Paris. Can we in Ghana so soon forget what led to the creation of a new township called Buduburam in the Central Region?
Do we remember that the Liberian conflict killed an estimated 200,000 people including 50,000 children?
These are just a few questions that should engage our attention as we confront the Ivorian crisis.
People like Laurent Gbagbo should not be tolerated, lest what they stand for becomes an addiction that will destroy all of us.
But they can still be handled not necessarily through military confrontation, which, as the Americans will admit, is a long a journey easy to embark upon but which hardly comes to an end with desired results.
Total isolation, if religiously enforced, can do the trick at a lesser cost.
Those far away can afford the luxury of trumpeting the virtues of military expedition.
Ghana, unfortunately, cannot afford international war next door when we have just been told we have turned middle-income and ready to enjoy the fruits of being an oil-exporting country.