03.04.2012 Feature Article

“The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”: Mali 2012, or a Tale of How ECOWAS has increased its Legitimacy in the Sub-region?

The Accidental Ecowas  AU Citizen: Mali 2012, or a Tale of How ECOWAS has increased its Legitimacy in the Sub-region?
03.04.2012 LISTEN

It is hard to believe a year ago, Cote d'ivoire was headline news, and that Gbago would be hours of being captured. Comparisons are likely to abound. I would like to think they are acceptable but unnecessary and, in fact, futile. Mali is in no way Cote d'ivoire, and the situations are very different. While the genesis of the Ivory Coast question stems from an electoral crisis, the situation in Mali stems from a coup. ECOWAS has responded predictably: first, requesting Mali to restore constitutional rule before suspending Mali, and ultimately threatening sanctions within 72 hours.

The prospect of hot war has been looming large, or at least that's what has been portrayed. Unlike in Cote d'ivoire, where that prospect of “hot war” was confounded by observers who felt military intervention was tantamount to a hot war, in this case, ECOWAS has been relatively clear that it is an Ecowas Standby Force that would be deployed, and that it would comprise 2000 troops.

In 2011, many observers did not know whether it would be the defunct ECOMOG or some hooded West African intervention force ready to take out Gbago. While neither the AU nor ECOWAS, in my view, has still communicated clearly what both an Africa, and ECOWAS Peace and Security Architecture involves for the respective regions, my reading of the situation suggests that more people are talking of a peacekeeping force for Mali, which is probably more accurate than was averred in 2011.

a blitzkrieg week since Mali's coup in the ECOWAS sub-region

With almost lightning speed, ECOWAS has sought systematically to reinforce a regional drive to restore constitutional order.

On 22 March, the day of the coup, ECOWAS reacted immediately, calling for immediate restoration of the constitution. Four days later—on 26 March--, ECOWAS would convene an “Extraordinary summit” in Abidjan, and issue a strong statement condemning the “usurpation of power by the military junta.” Not only did the sub-regional leaders consider it a gross “violation of [the] Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance”, but worried about how Mali's behavior was a far departure from the sub-region's attempt to isolate coup-makers. In order to reverse this illegality, ECOWAS decided on additional measures for the restoration of constitutional order to Mali.

The following day—on 27 March—ECOWAS leaders would make movement on how to handle the crisis. All ECOWAS leaders attended the summit in Abidjan – but so did special guests, which included AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra; the head of the UN Office for West Africa Said Djinnit; the UEMOA Commission boss; and Algerian and Mauritanian representatives. By close of meeting, Mali had been suspended, and a high-level delegation was to be sent to Mali within 48 hours. In the meantime, ECOWAS had instructed members of its Chief of Defence Staffs Committee from the following countries—Benin; Burkina Faso; Cote d'Ivoire; Niger; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal, and Togo—to go to Mali in the furtherance of peace and restoration of the constitution. The ECOWAS Standby Force would be put on high alert, as Burkina Faso president and soon-to-be ECOWAS envoy Blaise Compaore would be elected mediator to Mali. The Summit would also instruct the ECOWAS Commission head Kadre Desire Oeudrago to notify the decisions made by ECOWAS to the AU Chairperson, as well as to the Peace and Security Council of the African Union.

Regrettably, the meeting of the six-member delegation would prove abortive as pro-putsch demonstrators would prevent the ECOWAS plane from landing. This has far-from-deterred ECOWAS from bringing the crisis to a logical conclusion. To this end, on ECOWAS' return to base in Abuja, the bloc would meet and re-call their seven-point agenda.

First, to “deny any form of legitimacy to the Comité National de Redressement pour la Démocratie et la Restauration de l'Etat, and to demand the immediate restoration of constitutional order in Mali”. Second, to remind the CNRDRE of its responsibility for the safety and security of President Amadou Toumani Touré. Third, to “demand that the CNRDRE release all political detainees”; fourth, “suspend Mali from all decision-making bodies of ECOWAS with immediate effect, in accordance with Articles 1(e) and 45(2) of the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, and the provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, until such time that constitutional order is effectively restored”; fifth, “demand the CNRDRE to take immediate steps to restore constitutional order in Mali, in line with ECOWAS Protocols, and bearing in mind the decisions adopted by the AU Peace and Security Council on the suspension of Mali”; sixth, “ instruct the ECOWAS Commission to put the ECOWAS Standby Force on high alert for all eventualities.” Finally, “in the event of non-compliance by the CNRDRE with these Decisions, invite all Member States to impose a travel ban, as well as a diplomatic and financial embargo, on the members of the CNRDRE and their close collaborators with immediate effect.”

The ECOWAS Heads of State and Government(Authority) would eventually adopt the following sanctions on Mali: With respect to “Political and Diplomatic Sanctions”, it states: “ i) Suspend the membership of Mali from ECOWAS; ii) Recall all ECOWAS Ambassadors accredited to the Republic of Mali for consultation; iii) Impose a travel ban on members of the CNRDRE and their associates within the ECOWAS space; iv) Close all borders of ECOWAS Member States with Mali, except for humanitarian purposes.”

On “Economic Sanctions”, it resolves to “i) Freeze the assets of the leaders of CNRDRE and their associates in ECOWAS Member States; ii) Deny Mali access to seaports of ECOWAS Member States”; and on “Financial Sanctions”, it resolves to “i) Freeze the accounts of Mali held at the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO); ii) Deny the procurement of funds from BCEAO to accounts held by the Malian State in private banks; iii) Freeze all financial assistance to Mali through the West African Bank for Development (BOAD) and the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID).”.

These sanctions read like a text-book template of how ECOWAS sought to cripple Cote d'Ivoire back in 2011. For the second, time, the freezing of an UEMOA country's assets would be a noteworthy sanction to be enforced. In October 2011, I wrote in my piece analyzing the Cote d'Ivoire crisis that : “West Africa's unique case of having an AU-recognized regional economic community (REC) under ECOWAS coexisting with the smaller UEMOA (comprising eight francophone ECOWAS members) has been a reality of the sub-region since 1994. Since then”, I went on, “there have been crises in the UEMOA countries, including Guinea-Bissau, Niger, and Togo. Interestingly, this was the first time UEMOA would be proactive in sanctioning a member state. Given that the West African Central Bank is located in the country, it was even more significant, as it spoke volumes about how far UEMOA was apparently prepared to go in economically-strangling the economy of Cote d'Ivoire to ensure it would comply with demands of ECOWAS. When this was coupled with efforts of ECOWAS, it symbolized a veritable force against the obduracy of Gbagbo.”

Needless-to-say, the instrumentality of UEMOA's institutions in economically-strangling the Malian junta is not to be sneezed at, for while it is difficult to really argue in favour of a template, it is conceivable and arguable at another level that when UEMOA's member countries take the lead in messing up in the sub-region, it is not only ECOWAS that picks up the pieces, but UEMOA as well. In this respect, we can say that an ECOWAS-UEMOA nexus on resolving coups in the sub-region is beginning to emerge. As to whether it will be reflected in the ECOWAS protocols on democracy and governance is moot, for at the end of the day, ECOWAS and UEMOA are veritably separate institutions with differing mandates—and inevitably rooted in different imperatives.

Back in 2011, the UK-based Africa Research Institute reported that “Cote d'Ivoire is the latest testing ground for Africa's regional institutions.” In 2012, Mali is the new bete noire of the sub-region's policymakers. Unlike in 2011 when latent cleavages between two of the biggest financial contributors to the AU who double as hegemons in their own right – Nigeria in West Africa and South Africa in Southern Africa—were exposed, this crisis has been a fairly local affair involving what one can argue is a comparatively more proactive ECOWAS than in 2011.

Going forward, I do not foresee a Kenya or a Zimbabwe ever happening in West Africa—and not because it does not have the potential to. In my view, it is because a stronger adherence to protocols, coupled with a Zero tolerance to coups, as well as a coordinated involvement of the UN Office for West Africa, and the UEMOA Commission have all pretty much conspired to remind us that there is a veritable peace and security architecture in West Africa. And it isn't going away anytime soon!

In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" ( Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on [email protected] / Mobile: 0268.687.653.