Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Never a Dull Moment in West Africa(3)…especially with a Mali War!

The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:
Never a Dull Moment in West Africa(3)…especially with a Mali War!
By E.K.Bensah Jr

I spent the better part of the long weekend browsing through social and traditional media for any updates on Mali. There’s an obsession to keep one’s eye on the ball, especially given how rapidly things change here in the sub-region. In one moment, we are at peace; in one foul sweep, there’s a coup in a member state. Need I mention Guinea-Bissau or the designs that the French and Portuguese have for the sub-region?

The French Connection
Those following the sub-region will know enough to know that this region is populated by the collective ECOWAS of 15 member countries. Out of these fifteen, there are eight member states that have chosen to stretch their resources by becoming members of UEMOA since 1994. Forget the fact that they were afraid of Nigerian designs for ECOWAS, it is interesting that they would think creating a parallel sub-regional structure for the largely-francophone ECOWAS would be an easier way of avoiding the hegemonic aspirations of the Anglophone Nigeria! If that does not reflect the French and their penchant for being circuitous, I do not know what is!

The Portuguese Connection
Some may not know that ECOWAS has three working languages—English; French and Portguese. The latter is an important language as Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau as two ECOWAS member states speak them. But there is an interesting point about the Portuguese that must be mentioned: Guinea-Bissau is also a member of UEMOA. Tomes can be written about how the apparently-more-organised UEMOA could accept a troubled and beleaguered country to the francophone club, especially when that country is even lusophone. Why not the more-successful Cape Verde, which has been touted as an ECOWAS success? One can never understand the French—neither can one understand reports that claim the French are willing and ready to use drones.

Still on Cape Verde, monitoring the news was a source of bemusement.

Here is little Cape Verde calling for UN intervention in its fellow lusophone country of Guinea-Bissau, when ECOWAS troops have been in that country since May 30, 2012. Why the call for UN intervention at a time when Mali went to call on the UN to intervene? Was it coincidental that the Portuguese President of the European Commission was visiting Cape Verde at the time? Did the aid that the EU gave Cape Verde amount to a “thankyou”” package for making the EU’s work in the sub-region easier? Or could it be that Cape Verde was doing the bidding of the Lisbon-based Community of Portuguese-Speaking countries (CPLP) that seem to be aggrieved that ECOWAS has taken the bull by the horns in Guinea-Bissau with the establishment of the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (ECOMIB)?

Whatever conclusion one might draw on the French or Portguese connection in the Mali Question and the sub-region, one cannot help but wonder what other designs Western countries might have for the sub-region.

Wrapping up the communication of ECOWAS/AU
Communication is an ongoing process, and for a complex and lively region like this one, it is terribly challenging. This will certainly not be the last time this writer will be writing about it. Suffice-to-say, it is important to be reminded of two important sources of information that those interested in Africa and the sub-region might be interested in.

The first is PANAPRESS.Com. One of the major positives about this website with Pan-African aspirations is that it is regularly updated. That makes up for its execrable design that seems to stuck in a time warp. For those who understand web-design it is so first-generation web-design (HTML), it is not funny. There is no allowance for social media at all. Sadly, too, the French news “sur le fil”, or on the wire, are infrequently updated. As of today, it still dates back to 15 October, when the Portuguese and English sections of “on the wire” are updated every day! Given that is based in Dakar—a francophone city—it beggars belief why we have a situation where the French releases are some weeks old!

The second is Also based in Dakar, it does everything the AU-backed PANAPRESS avoids. First, all the stories are regularly updated; and secondly, all language sections are updated accordingly. Finally, they have an active social media outfit. At the time of writing, 244 people have “liked” their page on Facebook. Articles that can be read either in French or English are ticked in green. It is almost-immediately easier to see at a glance which articles can be read in full or are behind a pay-wall. Unlike PANAPRESS that regularly offers newspaper digests for free on the wire, however, all the press digests of APANEWS are behind a pay wall.

Coming up in West Africa
  • The secretary general of the West African Power Pool (WAPP), Amadou Diallo, said on Monday in Abuja that the sub-region needed US$26 billion to fix its power challenges. Diallo told the media at the 7th WAPP General Assembly othe region was putting an interconnectivity system in place to put all ECOWAS member states together through electrical Network. "Now we have Nigeria, Benin Togo, Ghana ,Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Niger, Mali, Senegal, and Mauritania interconnected through the integration region, he said.

  • Major players in West Africa’s energy sector are meeting in Accra from Monday, 29th October 2012 to establish a regional framework for the attainment of the three critical targets set by the UN under its Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4ALL) by 2030.  The SE4ALL seeks to extract the commitment of Member States to take concrete actions towards ensuring universal access to energy services; doubling the share of renewal energy in the global energy mix and doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

  • The ECOWAS Commission is in the process of establishing a Mediation Facilitation Division (MFD) within its Directorate of Political Affairs, as part of its determined effort to strengthen its mediation architecture for the sustenance of  peace and security in the region.  To this end, the Commission, with the support  of the United Nations and other partners, is organizing a three-day needs  assessment workshop in Lagos, Nigeria from Tuesday 30th October 2012, for  stakeholders to fine-tune the concept, mandate, structure and requirements of  the Division.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Communicating the ECOWAS Message (2) Mali: Time for Permanent ECOWAS and AU missions over Africa!

The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:
Communicating the ECOWAS Message (2) Mali: Time for Permanent ECOWAS and AU missions over Africa!
By E.K.Bensah Jr

 By the time you read this, it would have been more than 48 hours since a counter-coup in the West African state of Guinea-Bissau. It would have been some 96 hours since ECOWAS met up with the African Union, the European Union, the United Nations and other stakeholders in Mali to make take decisive steps for an intervention in Mali.

In all this, one wonders what the AU message has been. Considering the fact that the AU is the superintendent of the African Standby Force (under which there are regional nodes, such as the Ecowas standby force currently in Guinea-Bissau), why has it not been seen to be articulating the message that any troops from Ecowas would be under the umbrella of the Africa Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), under which the African Standby Force is a direct outcome.

And what of Ecowas? Where is Sunny Ugoh, the Communications Director of Ecowas? Unlike Nato and the EU, I am yet to see a spokesperson for the Ecowas Commission. Even at the African Union, the Deputy President Erastus Mwencha acts like the unofficial spokesperson of the President-proper. While it is true that the Vice-President of Ecowas has been a bit more visible than his francophone predecessor, we probably cannot point the finger of blame to him on why Ecowas has arguably failed in communicating its message over Mali.

I am keen to avoid an elaboration of the timeline that led us to what might be an ineluctable slide to intervention in the northern part of Mali. All I would need to say is that had Mali not taken the matter to the United Nations to seek Chapter VII-approval, an Ecowas standby force (ESF) might just be in that country now and Malians would have probably felt less trepidation about an eventual intervention.

If the penny has yet to drop on the point I am making, then let me make it very crystal-clear: like in the Ivorian crisis, and Libya in 2011, both Ecowas and the AU have failed woefully to communicate yet-again on what kind of policy is directing them in their decisions in Mali—never mind Guinea-Bissau, which has just experienced a counter-coup and will need Ecowas leadership to show the way.

Liberia in 1990  vs Mali in 2012
In order to get a sense of why communication has failed, we need to return to history.

As you may well now know, Ecowas broke out onto the stage in 1990 when it went into Liberia under ECOMOG. Its intervention happened at a time when there was fatigue by the so-called international community on Africa. There was no Chapter VII-approval before intervention as the UN itself was playing a wait-and-watch game. Despite the fact that the United States was Liberia's biggest Western ally, not once did the US step into offer its assistance as explicitly as it has done in the case of Mali. Instead, intervention was left to the English-speaking countries of Ecowas to spearhead. It must be noted the francophones were very uneasy about intervening in Liberia, and, frankly, they feared Nigeria as well.

According to one Comfort Ero, currently  Crisis Group's Nairobi-based Africa Program Director since January 2011, who has written extensively on ECOMOG in Liberia as well as peace and security in West Africa,  there are three reasons why Ecowas went into Liberia.

First of all, ECOWAS believed that "regional instability was inevitable due to the overflow and displacement of refugees in neighbouring countries." Consequently, there was a fear that the conflict would trigger lateral pressure to such an extent that refugees would feel compelled to spill over into neighbouring countries, such as Sierra-Leone, Ghana, the Gambia, Guinea, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.
Secondly, ECOWAS went in purely for humanitarian reasons. According to Ero, "in its Final Communiqué, the Standing Committee gave a strongly humanitarian rationale for its decisions, {to that effect} adding that presently, there is a government in Liberia which cannot govern contending factions which are holding the entire population as hostages depriving them of food, health facilities and other basic necessities of life." Moreover, an ECOWAS statement in August 1990 was more "explicit in emphasizing a humanitarian objective.” In it, it stated that there needed to be a "stopping {of} the senseless killing of innocent civilians, nationals and foreigners, and to help the Liberian people to restore their democratic institutions."

Finally, justification for intervention was predicated on the 1981 ECOWAS Protocol relating to Mutual Assistance in Defence. According to Article 16 of the Protocol, "the Head of State of a member country under attack may request action or assistance from the community."

Twenty-two years later, there seems to be fudge because, it seems, Mali has not had sufficient faith in its own sub-regional institutions. Guinea-Bissau seemed quite happy to allow an Ecowas Standby Force—much to the chagrin of the Lisbon-based Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP)--into the country to replace the UN troops in May 2012. Even with Guinea-Bissau, Lisbon saw itself as needing to be seen to be playing a critical role in the resolution of the crisis. 

Weeks before the 30 May withdrawal of Angolan troops, Portugal claimed that the CPLP reserves the right to call for intervention from the Security Council. This, in my view, seemed to reflect a more stylistic approach to any resolution of the crisis in Guinea-Bissau than substance, for whether Portugal likes it or not, the former remains a member of ECOWAS, and it is that bloc that is and was that bloc that was likely to power-broker any solution to the coup!

Back in May, the Pan-African News Agency (PANA) reported that Burkina Faso would become the first troop contributing nation to deploy to the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (ECOMIB) when the first batch of its 170-member Formed Police Unit (FPU) landed in Bissau. It continued that apart from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire and Togo were also expected to contribute to the 629-strong regional force, which would replace Angolan troops.

As the Angolan security mission in Guinea-Bissau agreed to fully-withdraw by 30 May, ECOWAS defence chiefs ended their one-day meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, Monday 14 May with an agreement to begin the deployment Friday 18 May 2012.

Among its functions, ECOMIB will seek to support the restoration of constitutional rule, provide security for VIPs and guarantee the freedom of movement of humanitarian agencies in the country, ahead of the planned Security Sector Reform in that country.

At this stage, it is premature to do a direct compare-and-contrast of the Ecowas Mission to Mali (Mission de la CEDEAO au Mali), and it is encouraging that there is already a mission in the formation. I want to discourage a finger-pointing at Ecowas; instead I would want to know why Mali did not espouse sufficient confidence in Ecowas, especially at a time when there were reports of Malians calling for Ecowas intervention. The questions I am seeking are unlikely to be answered in the here and now, so one might just have to settle for the historians to do the speculation—wherever West African historians and political scientists may be!

What I do know is this: following the meeting in Mali of 19 October, the UN and AU have both decided to establish permanent missions in Mali in order to coordinate developments around an eventual intervention. I would like to think that Ecowas might consider establishing a permanent mission there, as well, in the way the AU has established AMISOM in Somalia.

In the meantime, here are my humble proposals for Ecowas to move forward in attempts at communication.

Recommendations for ECOWAS
First, ECOWAS should re-configure its ECOWAS National Units into permanent missions and reduce the fiction that they are liaising with the public. Even if they never intended to do that, it should have been one of their aims: serve as the link between the ECOWAS institutions and its community citizens. In Ghana, they are a desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration.

Ecowas has sufficient internally-generated funds to be able to afford establishing a mission in every Ecowas member state. If the AU can establish a permanent mission in Brussels (which is regrettably largely-funded by the EU!), then it should be able to also establish missions in at least “strategic” AU countries.

Failing that, the ECOWAS National Units should establish a website, and regularly-provide citizens information on what Ecowas is doing. Few people have sufficient time to be checking the website of ECOWAS every day. The Ecowas National Unit should be bringing Ecowas to community citizens, and not expecting us as citizens to find out what they are doing. Simply put, they must be accountable. And in this era of New and Social Media, Ecowas should hurry up and re-design its website so that everything on their site can be shared to an Ecowas page on Facebook. Even the AU is beginning to appreciate the necessity of being on Facebook and Twitter. Ecowas must do same quickly or face continuing to be considered an irrelevant institution by a large part of its community citizens!

Direct action!
As a direct outcome of last week’s article, a journalist from the Global Media Alliance-sponsored ETV Ghana, Fred Smith, decided to establish a group on the whatsapp social networking site to enable interested media practitioners, journalists, and communicators work together to promote the idea of an Africa press wire service here in Ghana. While some exist already through PANAPRESS and the Africa Press Organisation, no such organisation exists in Ghana. For a country which first President promulgated Pan-Africanism, is regrettable to say the least! Interested parties can contact me directly. The list-serv to carry this idea forward can be found on


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Communicating the ECOWAS Message (1), and why we need Pan-African News Agency (PANAPRESS) Offices all over Africa!

The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:
Communicating the ECOWAS Message (1), and why we need Pan-African News Agency (PANAPRESS) Offices all over Africa!
By E.K.Bensah Jr

In September, I wrote a piece entitled “Troubles in the West AfricanPipeline; trouble in West African cooperation.” It was a characteristically-critical piece on why we were not getting more communication from the ECOWAS agencies (ERERA; WAPP) and the private sector –supported ECOWAS collaboration of the West Africa Gas Pipeline (WAGP) on the gas pipeline. Suffice-to-say, there are few people who now do not know the state of play of the gas pipeline, and that it will be restored by December. This is probably because the WAGP has done a comparatively-better job in communicating to the wider public. So much so that Communications Coordinator of the West Africa Gas Pipeline company Nuna Senaya would contact me to write: “The WAPCo Website is and not WAGPA, the West African Gas Pipeline Authority is the regulatory body for the West African Gas Pipeline Company (WAPCo) and the two organisations do not share the same website.”

That said, last week, two stories conspired to remind me of the necessity of ECOWAS needing to effectively communicate its message of integration to the wider ECOWAS community of citizens.

The first was the Fifth Trade Forum of the West Africa Monetary Zone that took place right here in Accra; and the second related to a conference that would start 15 October about “Human Rights Democracy and Good Governance: Role of the ECOWAS Court of Justice.” I don’t know about you, but I would have thought that two ECOWAS-related conferences like these ought to have been better-publicised. It is already a good start that the organisers are copying Ghana News Agency, from where many Ghanaian media outlets pick general stories from Ghana. As to whether it is standard practice for the communication outlets of the West Africa Monetary Institute and the ECOWAS Court to send releases only to GNA, though, is moot.

In order to expedite West African integration, the Heads of State and Government of Anglophone-speaking countries of The Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Liberia; Nigeria; and Sierra Leone signed in Accra on 20 April, 2000 a Declaration on the creation of a second monetary zone after the CFA-franc zone. The Second Monetary Zone would be formally launched and named the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) at the Bamako Mini-Summit of Heads of State and Government of member countries in December 2001.

WAMI is based in Ghana right at Tetteh-Quarshie and must know that we have more media outlets than the GNA. I would not know whether they copied other media outlets, but the reports seem to have all culled excerpts of GNA’s report. The news was reported on TV3 and ETV. I know because I saw it on those two stations. That is also encouraging—but certainly insufficient. Normally a conference like this would have attracted more coverage than what it did. I cannot think it was only because it was a small meeting. We can forgive the ECOWAS Court/UNDP communications outfit for not publicising this conference on 15 October more than they have done, but we certainly cannot excuse WAMI. 

Where is the Pan-African News Agency?
This concern can only give vent to questions about where on Earth our Pan-African News Agency is. I forgot: Africa no longer has one; what we do have in PANAPRESS. Twenty-five years ago -- on 3 October, 1997—PANA was dissolved and replaced with a limited liability company called PANAPRESS. In June 1998, it would take a major step by privatising PANA in announcing the sale of 64,742 shares, representing 75 percent of capital reserved to investors from then-OAU member states. With the assistance of UNESCO; African private investors; and some African member states, PANAPRESS, based in Dakar, has been offering news hot off the press that concerns Africa for the longest time. It has not all been free, however. Much of the fresh news is paid-for content.

Back in early October, communication officers of the African Union and its institutions met in Addis to deliberate over “Communicating about Africa.” Reports reveal that this kind of communication is now a “major strategic activity as Africa seeks to rebrand itself.” The naysayers are likely to say it’s ten years too late, and they may not be far off the mark. Still, better late than never!

The meeting of communication managers and officers from the organs, offices, programmes of the AU and RECs met under the direction and supervision of the Director of the Information and Communication (DIC), Mrs.Habiba Mejri Cheikh who coordinated the whole process. Participants were expected to work from a draft document produced by an expert consultant.

The idea was for the AU Communication strategy document to focus on both internal and external communication. Seeking to review the current situation of communication within the AU, it would seek to monitor and evaluate the progress made – as well as the challenges faced.  Interestingly, they have identified that social media/New Media is an important part of the communication as it speeds up communication. For the blogging community of citizens, this is great news. It means that we are likely to see more of the AU on Facebook; Twitter; and Google Plus!

The Way forward
In African integration circles, the way forward is never that straightforward. It would be encouraging to read that given this unprecedented meeting, the AU has seen the proverbial light and will act quickly and efficiently. Given how heavily-influenced it is by donor money, we are likely to see a lot of tergiversation.

That said, let us dream for a minute: we know of the Dakar-based PANAPRESS. How about calling for a PANAPRESS office in ALL AU member states? Given how financially— and politically-independent they have been for decades, this surely ought to be possible. Imagine Ghanaians being able to obtain the latest information about the AU from a PANAPRESS office in Accra, and knowing they can get timely, reliable, and efficient reporting of Africa from PANAPRESS on, say, Facebook or Google Plus?

Perhaps, there might be a discount for students and members of civil society? Ambassadors and policy-makers of course have to pay premium rates to ensure that even when the plenipotentiaries and their coterie of diplomats sleep at meetings, the reporters will be making enough money to expose their inattention. But this will not stop here. At the PANAPRESS Office in Accra, we will find a desk for all the eight regional economic communities, with at most three reporters with expertise in covering and writing about the RECs.

Yes, we can dream. TIA. This is Africa, which means that the expectation of this radical kind of change will not happen anytime soon. But I forget: hope springs eternal on the continent, so, maybe, we can just hope communicating the African Union and ECOWAS message will be more meaningful and more impactful sooner than later!

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  / Mobile: 0268.687.653.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy October! Happy new month!

I am alive! Yes, I am alive. If you are reading on my Trials and Tribulations... blog, allow me to just say that apart from living life to the full, some serious tectonic changes have taken place in my life seriously obviating the ability and desire to write full-blown entries. 

July is too long a time to have written an entry. Let me just say that it is a new month, bringing a lot of hope and excitement in my life--so be prepared to read more entries of life in Ghana. There's so much going on you would not believe. 

For my Accra Daily blog, I want to thank my loyal readers who keep coming back to read old entries, or who have just uncovered--or discovered--the blog. There are many pictures waiting to grace the blog, and they shall do so this month!

With regard to my Africa Union Citizen blog, let me just say that a paucity of entries is far from a reflection of no-work. I have written quite a bit on the African Union for the past couple of months--just that I thought it was not always necessary to post the entries on that specific blog. Instead, let me direct you to the site where you can find those entries:

I still love Ghana very much; I still love taking pictures of Accra; and I very much love writing about the AU. 

Expect so much more this month--and when you think I am not delivering, write me:

See you on the other side!

Psst...The picture of SMART TV is a note-to-self about getting smarter on my blogging!;-)



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