“The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:
West Africa Rising…in Regional Instability?
By E.K.Bensah Jr
In 2010, Spain made sports headline news for winning both the World Cup in South Africa and having its national – Rafael Nadal – become the first man to win three straight major tournaments in the same year. In 2011, the West African state of Burkina Faso has made ECOWAS history by winning both ECOWAS’s answer to the “tour de France” (the 2nd edition of the ECOWAS International Cycling Tour which ended in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire last week), and the top-job of ECOWAS Commission President. The new ECOWAS Head is former Prime Minister and current Ambassador of Burkina Faso to Brussels HE Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo who will serve in this capacity for four years.
If sports were ever a credible harbinger of politics and/or a country’s future, then Ghana’s loss at the Africa Cup of Nations 2012 (AFCON) probably should have been an indicator that the out-gone James Victor Gbeho departure was a foregone conclusion. Sadly, that logic is blown to smithereens when we realize that while Ghana earned 3rd position at the ECOWAS Cycling tour, it could only leave with its tail between it legs at AFCON, ending up a sorry fourth.
On a serious note, some might say that West Africa’s been in the news for the wrong reasons. Once again, we have what some might call the establishment of a geriatric leader in Senegal’s Wade seeking to entrench his gerontocracy by standing a third term. Despite the ‘boo’s he received at the polls during the commencement of the election on Sunday 26th, he remains steadfast in seeking his third term.
Neither the 150 election observers that ECOWAS dispatched to Senegal (comprising members from some of the ECOWAS institutions, such as the Council of the Wise; reps of the Community Court of Justice; ECOWAS Parliament; including legal and civil society electoral experts from West Africa), nor the AU/ECOWAS envoy Obasanjo has been able to do anything concrete to get Wade to consider his position. Truth be told, it is the former Nigerian leader—more than anyone—who has been tasked with the mandate of formulating a solution to the political permafrost. Regrettably, the only solution that has come thus far from Obasanjo has been for Wade—in the event of a win—to step down after two years.
Inevitably, the Western press is likely to have a field day (and frankly, so will African press!) that here is Obasanjo once again having failed to bring closure in 2011 to a crisis in Cote d’Ivoire and failing yet again in this instance. Elsewhere, some might have called for another envoy to have been appointed. It remains unclear who exactly appointed him as an AU/ECOWAS envoy. Although the decision was taken at the 40th Ordinary Session that was represented by the 15 ECOWAS leaders, it is unclear whether it was a consensus choice. Still, that a plenipotentiary-of-sorts was dispatched at all speaks volumes of an emerging structure that the sub-region and the AU so badly needs.
ECOWAS emerging structures and the Mali crisis
While it might not be very clear to West Africans and other observers how elections observers were sent to Senegal, what we do know is that—and something that must be communicated more clearly to deflect perceptions of inertia on development in the sub-region—it is under ECOWAS’ Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance that enjoins ECOWAS member states to send observer missions to member states conducting presidential elections ‘as part of its determination to ensure democratic convergence across the sub-region.’
Another important structure has been that of the ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff(CCDS) to review emerging security threats in the sub-region. In this case, however, following the 40th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State from 16-17th February, they have been tasked to review threats that pertain to the Sahel region and the Gulf of Guinea.
There is no secret to why the CCDS is meeting. The major reason has been because of Mali, where Tuareg fighters demanding an autonomous Azawad region are reported to have attacked no less than six Northern towns in the past month. Government forces have responded with helicopter gunships and heavy weapons fire. The violence has displaced at least 55000 people, with many taking refuge in neighbouring countries.
On ECOWAS’ part, while the 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. In addition, ECOWAS has called on humanitarian agencies, as well as the International Community, to join ECOWAS to take all necessary measures that would “guarantee protection, relief and succor for the populations adversely affected by the crises in Mali and Niger.”
Regrettably, it seems like West Africa is truly rising – as far as regional instability is concerned, for there remain threats of piracy and organized crime in the Gulf of Guinea. To this end, the ECOWAS Commission has been tasked to urgently develop a holistic strategic maritime policy framework to guide future actions and cooperation – even to the extent of soliciting collaboration and assistance from the Economic Community of Central African States(ECCAS) so as to ensure that challenges have been confronted in a concerted manner.
Make no mistake: ECOWAS has what is acknowledged not just among the seven other AU-recognised regional economic communities (RECs), but worldwide, what is acknowledged to be a sophisticated Peace and Security Architecture.
If you have forgotten, allow me to remind you that at a time after the fall of the Berlin Wall when a then-timorous USA and prevaricating UN Security Council was reluctant to act in Liberia, ECOWAS got involved itself in conflict management on an ad hoc basis, thanks, according to academic Dr. Niagalé Bagayoko, “to the set up in 1990 of a sub-regional intervention force, ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG)”. He continues that ECOMOG ‘acted as a buffer force in Liberia (1990-1998), in Sierra Leone (1997-2000) in Guinea-Bissau (1998-1999), in Côte d‟Ivoire (2003) and again in Liberia (2003)’. It would be in 1999, that a Protocol creating the ECOWAS Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, Peace-keeping and Security would be adopted.
Now while I may have liberally hinted West Africa is rising in regional instability, it certainly is a West Africa rising – for many more positive reasons, which will be played out over the weeks!