Never a Dull Moment in West Africa...when there is a re-emergence of a new Axis of Evil? (6)

Feature Article Never a Dull Moment in West Africa...when there is a re-emergence of a new Axis of Evil? 6
MAR 20, 2016 LISTEN

The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:

Never a Dull Moment in West Africa...when there is a re-emergence of a new Axis of Evil? (6)

By E.K.Bensah Jr
It’s been barely a fortnight, but three developments have conspired to remind me why the sub-region needs more of a concerted approach to help fight some of the multiple cankers dogging it. The first had to do with the arrest of an alleged drug baron – David MacDermott – who was arrested in Ghana in connection with a plot to import 71 million pounds worth of cocaine into the UK.

Second, as if it were not bad enough that Cote d'Ivoire has barely gotten over the terrorist attacks a few days ago in Grand-Bassam!

Reports indicate that speculation is rife on French intelligence warning authorities of imminent terrorist attacks on Senegal.

Although Al-Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the attacks, some reports by experts indicate that the modus operandi bears the hallmarks of Boko Haram.

An expert at Radio France International disagrees, arguing that, “Boko Haram is very busy now with their fight in Nigeria, in Southern Niger and North of Cameroon.”

West Africa political risk analyst at Verisk Maplecroft told RFI that the next-obvious target would be Dakar, because of its link to France. Additionally, Senegal is a troop-contributor to MINUSMA – the AU/UN peacekeeping force in Mali, which might offer justification for an eventual attack.

Third, shortly after a baby in Cape Verde was born with a neurological defect microcephaly – that results in a small head due to an undeveloped brain – there are fears that, the birth defect may be caused by the dreaded Zika virus which is a pathogen carried by mosquitoes. That this disease has infected dozens of pregnant women in South America – mostly Brazil – has given vent to fears that it may cause same problems for women in West Africa – especially in countries that have been ravaged over the past two years by Ebola (specifically Guinea; Liberia and Sierra Leone). The global health expert, Daniel Lucey, is concerned that, the symptoms could be mistaken for the early signs of Ebola.

All these three points merit some scrutiny to get a sense of the imminent headache it presents for the sub-region.

Combating Drug Trafficking and Terrorism in the Sahel

Back in October 2011, I wrote a piece entitled “Time for ECOWAS to Ratify the Criminal Investigative Intelligence Bureau”. The idea behind the article was to argue that, free movement is important for the ECOWAS sub-region, but comes at a cost – cross-border crime. News of West African “aliens” having been caught entering Ghana to benefit from National Health Insurance is but one of many stories of how free movement for ECOWAS citizens, including the provision to stay ninety days in a country, can be abused. This provision is possible because of the Protocol on Free Movement, Right of Residence and Establishment which was adopted in 1979. In 1980, ECOWAS members would ratify the first phase of the Protocol guaranteeing free entry of citizens from member states without visa for ninety days.

In that article, too, I also touched on how West African leaders, working through ECOWAS, had made significant strides on combating drug trafficking, crime; and what I described as “all the attendant vices associated with un-policed porous borders”.

I still continue to argue that, with UEMOA (comprising eight francophone ECOWAS member states) using ID cards and all ECOWAS member states having adopted national ID systems, the window of opportunity must be capitalised upon by member states to get serious in securing a sub-region. My recent checks at the International Organisation for Migration reveal that the Biometric ID card that ECOWAS has been talking about was launched in Niger in January this year. Regrettably, my attempt to contact a representative from the Abuja Office of IOM for an interview has proved both frustrating and futile.

Equally important in my argument was how in almost five years since October 2008, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime launched a report[1] that “castigated ECOWAS member states for their apparently-lackadaisical approach to fighting trans-border crime in the sub-region”. Member states like Guinea-Bissau had become soft spots for drug traffickers who took advantage of often-corrupt systems of governance to use that country as a conduit for onward movement of their drugs.

In my 29 February, 2012 edition for this column, entitled “West Africa Rising…in Regional Instability?”, I wrote “while the [ECOWAS] Authority has strongly condemned the MNLA rebellion in Mali and expressed its full support for efforts being exerted by Mali to ‘defend its territorial integrity’, the sub-regional organisation has not only called for “an immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities by the rebels’’, but also approved the release of three million US dollars to assist Mali deal with the humanitarian consequences of the rebellion.”

Even with the launch of the French-led Operation Sérval, ECOWAS has done more than that. There are no less than thirteen ECOWAS member states—with the exception of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde—that had dispatched, or were dispatching troops as part of AFISMA in Mali.

In October 2012, I wrote a piece entitled “Mission: ECOWAS has a responsibility to protect West Africa from Criminals.” It summarized and reprised arguments from previous articles I had written about ECOWAS and its responsibility to secure the sub-region.

It would be in 2013 that I would write an article entitled “Wanted: an ECOWAS Sahel Strategy to Secure & Protect West Africa from Criminals”. In it, I sought to reprise issues that I had picked on since 2011 when I started writing about the region and its response to crime and terrorism. I wondered “With ECOWAS celebrating 20 years of the revision of its treaty in July 2013 to reflect peace and security components, might it not be time for ECOWAS member states to consider bringing Chad on board the ECOWAS grouping so they can offer significant synergies for better-securing the sub-region. After all, the EU has a Sahel Strategy; and the AU is planning one. Now, where is the ECOWAS Sahel Strategy?”

It would be only as recently as November 2015 that ECOWAS would meet in Abuja “to consolidate regional responses to long-term development and stability challenges of Sahel-Saharan zone, while promoting strong political dialogue with both North and Central Africa.”

While we can heave a sigh of relief that ECOWAS finally has a strategy, what is clear from the recent terrorist attacks is this: alongside non-member Cote d’Ivoire, members of the new institution of the G5 Sahel group, which was established in 2014, are reeling from the terrorist attacks as all – but Mauritania – have been attacked.

The group comprises Burkina Faso (attacked in January 2016); Chad (two attacks in June; and one in July 2015, with the latest in December 2015 when female suicide bombers blew themselves up near Lake Chad); Mali(November 2015); Niger (March 2016).

The exception to the rule has been Mauritania. Apart from the fact that it headquarters the G5 Sahel group, analysts believe the country may be playing a double game, where AQIM has made it a strange bedfellow, and offered it a truce by promising not to bomb its soil; while the country simultaneously enjoys Western support on counter-terrorism.

This speculation does not foreclose the fact that both ECOWAS and AU have possibly been found seriously wanting as far as engagement in the Sahel is concerned. Instead, it has been both the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the erstwhile UN Office for West Africa that have probably been most-engaging.

In January 2016, the UNODC published its Sahel Programme (2013-2017), which clearly indicates many of the deliverables the anti-crime agency has been able to produce. UNODC typically has unique expertise in helping Member States of the UN address organized crime and related illicit trafficking and terrorism through legislative, criminal justice and law enforcement advisory services, and technical assistance – as well as promoting regional and international cooperation.

In fact, UNODC was instrumental in the establishment of the G5 Sahel group, and increasingly, the G5 Sahel group has, since its birth, been recognised as a key partner in the fight against terrorism.

Combating Zika Virus in West Africa
The news that the Zika virus may be spreading to Cape Verde is as troubling as it is frustrating. Troubling, because one wonders whether West Africa does not have enough problems to contend with; and frustrating because the regional health agency – West Africa Health Organisation – that should be helping sensitize citizens about these threats is barely visible. Headquartered in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, it is unclear whether it is a language divide that is causing this terrible lack of visibility, or something a lot more structural.

At a time that all hands were on deck on Ebola at the national and regional levels, one wonders why WAHO has yet to start getting serious on health communication in the region. It is worrying especially at a time that Nigeria has been designated the continental Centre for Disease Control branch in West Africa.

“Foreign Policy” magazine reported in February that the East African country of Uganda possesses a Uganda Virus Research Institute. Populated by UVRI scientists who first discovered Zika in the blood of a rhesus monkey back in 1947, the scientists possess a long history of cutting-edge infectious disease research, dating back to the founding of the UVRI. Scientists at this Institute further pioneered a viral surveillance system that has played a critical role in curbing potential epidemics. The article concludes that “the presence in the country of the world’s most virulent pathogens has compelled it to become a world leader in virus surveillance.”

If there is any time than now for regional cooperation and collaboration on epidemiological surveillance, the time is now!

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.

[1] Online. Drug trafficking as a security threat in West Africa.