10.04.2012 Feature Article

Explaining the ECOWAS Peace & Security Architecture

Explaining the ECOWAS Peace  Security Architecture
10.04.2012 LISTEN

By E.K.Bensah Jr
Back in 2011, BBC Ivory Coast correspondent John James erroneously called what might have been the deployment of an Ecowas Standby Force(ESF) as ECOMOG, the erstwhile force sent by Ecowas in Liberia in 1990, and repeated the mistake throughout subsequent reports on the fast-developing story in that country.

Now, while I was quick to cast aspersions on him for his ignorance, I was doubly-harsh on the AU and ECOWAS Conflict Prevention / Resolution Management (CPRM) security professionals for neither adequately communicating what an ESF might be, nor how and why ECOMOG remains a defunct entity. A year later, it is encouraging to read that both on the ECOWAS website and throughout the Western media, an appreciation of what an ESF might comprise is far clearer than it was a year ago.

With respect to the Mali crisis proper, it is increasingly clear that despite the resignation of ATT and the return of Traore as incumbent Head of State who will arrange upcoming elections for the next couple of weeks, Ecowas is likely to deploy an ESF for two reasons: first, to fight alongside the Malian army and preserve the territorial integrity of the country and, secondly, to enforce an eventual peace.

In 1999, Ecowas adopted a 'Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security'. After the Ecowas Authority and the Secretariat, which has been a Commission since 2007, it involves a Mediation and Security Council (MSC), in which decisions are taken by a two-thirds majority of member states. Ecowas has mandated the MSC to authorise all forms of intervention and decide on the deployment of political and military missions.

In 2001, a supplementary protocol was adopted, which dealt with democracy and good governance, and sought to establish a set of mandatory constitutional principles, including separation of powers, free and fair multi-party elections and a “zero-tolerance for power obtained or maintained by unconstitutional means.”

In 2008, Ecowas would adopt the Ecowas Conflict Prevention Framework (ECPF). According to article 89 of the framework, the ESF aims “to guarantee peace and security in situations of conflict and disaster through effective observation and monitoring, preventive deployment and humanitarian intervention, and to train and equip multi-purpose composite standby units made up of military and civilian components in Member States within the framework of the African Standby Force [ASF] arrangement”.

Why the ECPF and Ecowas mandate
According to article 27, the objective of the ECPF is to strengthen the human security architecture in West Africa. The intermediate purpose is to “create space within the Ecowas system and in member states for cooperative interaction within the push conflict prevention and peace-building up the political agenda of member states in a manner that will trigger timely and targetted multi-action and multi-dimensional action to diffuse or eliminate potential and real threats to human security in a predictable and institutional manner.”

The ECPF sets no less than nine objectives and six outputs. With respect to the objectives, perhaps the most relevant for understanding the Mali crisis is how it seeks to “enhance Ecowas' anticipation and planning capabilities in relation to regional tensions.”

It is perhaps article 23 which best articulates a conception of both the concept of the ECPF and its mandate. It touches on the background of Ecowas, maintaining that after the creation of Ecowas, violent internal conflicts erupted in Liberia (1989) and Sierra Leone (1991). This had “serious regional implications, both in their causes and effects.” Ecowas would later be confronted with similar conflicts in Guinea-Bissau and Cote d'Ivoire (2002). These “devastating conflicts soon took on a regionalized character, fuelled by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, as well as private armies of warlords, mercenaries, dispossessed youths and bandits who fed off the illegal exploitation of natural resources.”

With respect to Ecowas' mandate, it is article 34 one needs to turn to in order to obtain an insight into the legitimacy conferred on the sub-regional grouping for its efforts on conflict prevention. We learn that it is the revised treaty of Ecowas (24th July, 1993) that conferred the status of supranationality on Ecowas. Paragraph 2 of article 58 of the revised treaty on regional security “commits the member states to cooperate with the Community for purposes of reinforcing appropriate mechanisms to ensure timely prevention and resolution of inter and intra-state conflicts.” Finally, article 39 provides “the principal basis and justification for the ECPF” by stating that “without prejudice to other regional and international legal instruments, the Mechanism and the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance offer” a justification for any kind of intervention Ecowas might undertake.

The role of the AU in preservation of peace
According to the Geneva-based Global Security and Regional Responses: Conflict Management in a Fractured World, the AU is the only continental organisation that serves as a “custodian” for regional efforts. It describes the AU's “strong security and conflict management mandate” as “the only one of its kind outside of Europe and the Americas.” As one may well be aware, the most visible manifestation of the AU's putative attempts at conflict resolution and management find expression in the AU's 15-member Peace and Security Council. By December 2011, the AU's PSC had held no less than 305 sessions. By April 2012—this month—, the present session of the Executive Council is expected to proceed with the election of ten new members, seeing out, among others, continental “powerhouses” Nigeria and South Africa.

According to the report of the “Chairperson on the activities of the Commission covering the period July to December 2011”, there have been “increasing consultations between Cameroon; Niger; Nigeria; and Chad to address the additional danger that the proliferation of weapons in the Sahel and North Africa poses to regional security...” On Easter Monday, France24 reported that civil society in Niger is marching to complain and resist the Toureg's declaration of Azawad in Northern Mali, let us more-than-hope that the countries mentioned above will play critical roles in an eventual containment of the Mali conflict—long after the Ecowas Standby Force has been deployed.

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.