Selected extracts from the document
The following excerpts come from pages: i-IV, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30,31.
The ECOWAS region has experienced over forty coups since the independence era and seen some of its leaders trying to keep their grip on power at any cost, or establish political dynasties. The body has also been confronted with more complex crises in the form of identity-based armed rebellion, as in Côte d’Ivoire, or jihadist threats, most recently in Mali. Since the 1990s, through the authority of its Heads of State and Government, ECOWAS has reacted to these crises systematically. It has yielded incontestable political and diplomatic results, but its military record is more mixed.
ECOWAS’s interventions in Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Burkina Faso have highlighted the organisation’s strengths, but also its limits. It has neglected several of its key objectives, including strengthening the political and security institutions of member states, reassessing all dimensions of its Standby Force and enhancing regional cooperation on transnational security threats. Such threats pose a challenge to established crisis prevention or resolution mechanisms, and cannot be overcome by traditional mediation tactics and the deployment of military missions.
Key Reforms to Achieve Peace and Security Objectives
These case studies, particularly the Malian crisis, show the strengths and weaknesses of ECOWAS. Aware of this, the Authority of Heads of State and Government asked the Commission to assess ECOWAS’s action in Mali, with a view to learning lessons for the entire regional peace and security architecture. In 2013, a long list of recommendations covered all aspects where changes were clearly necessary. These proposals pointed in the right direction and should be implemented. But can the organisation reform itself without a strong political impetus from member states that are themselves particularly fragile in the political, security and economic fields?
The Weaknesses and Limitations of ECOWAS: A Self-assessment The report, finalised in 2013 following an ECOWAS Commission seminar, was very clear about the flaws and inadequacies of the organisation’s peace and security Mechanism.94 It recommended revising some provisions of the 1999 and 2001 protocols. In the case of the 1999 protocol, it suggested clarifying the conditions for activation of the peace and security Mechanism, particularly with regard to the need or not for the country in crisis to approve the ECOWAS intervention and the moment at which the organisation should proceed without the agreement of the member country.
It also raised the question of whether ECOWAS was obliged to refer cases to the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council before intervening. As for the Additional Protocol of 2001, the report recommended amending the article that prohibits changes to electoral laws without a political consensus less than six months before elections. This provision has shown its limitations in many cases. It also advised reviewing the Mechanism for gradual sanctions to include provisions on the effective implementation, monitoring and evaluation of sanctions. The report mentioned the difficult cooperation between ECOWAS and the AU and recommended the establishment of a direct line of communication, a “hotline”, Commission. It also suggested that ECOWAS work with the other regional economic communities and the AU to clarify the principles of subsidiarity, comparative advantage and sharing responsibilities.
The tense relations between ECOWAS and the AU was a recurrent theme in the interviews conducted by Crisis Group, reflecting Abuja’s frustrations. The regional organisation believes the AU disregards it and tends to take over its role at the first opportunity. In the case of Mali, the AU could justify its involvement all the more easily given that the crisis had implications and determining factors that went beyond the geographical jurisdiction of ECOWAS, notably in North Africa.
Other recommendations addressed the internal dysfunctions of the Commission: the lack of coordination and cooperation between different departments and the slow implementation of decisions. For example, the report advised that the Early Warning Directorate should be co-located with the Political Affairs Directorate. The physical distance between these two directorates emphasised the structural organisational problems within the Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS). Meetings of directorate representatives only take place regularly in times of crisis. The organisation, be it at the level of the Authority of Heads of State and Government or at the level of the Commission departments, seems to operate properly only in a crisis management mode.
The report recommended that “the appointment of ECOWAS mediators and facilitators should be guided by the criteria of integrity and suitability to the specific conflict situation” and that the Commission should be responsible for facilitating and backstopping the work of mediators and facilitators; interpreting ECOWAS protocols in relation to the specific conflict situation; and recommending experts to advise on specific thematic areas of the conflict.
The report called on ECOWAS to accelerate, without further delay, the operationalisation of the Mediation Facilitation Division. The Commission announced its creation within the Political Affairs Directorate in 2010. It took more than five years for this division to see the light of day, even though mediation is the organisation’s main mode of action. Finally, the report analysed in detail, learning the lessons of the Malian crisis, the state of readiness of the ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF), which is the West African component of the African Standby Force. Forming the ESF was a slow process and its political framework, current configuration and deployment capacities make it unable to meet its initial objective. Among its many recommendations to improve the ESF, the report called on ECOWAS to fund and equip a two-battalion special military force capable of intervening anywhere in the region within 30 days of an emergency situation; accelerate reform of the Directorate of Peacekeeping and Regional Security, particularly by operationalising the Peace Support Operations Division, along the lines of the existing AU and UN mechanisms; and establish a fund under the management of the PAPS department to guarantee flexibility, discretion and rapid response to emergencies.
The situations described by ECOWAS officials in private show the need for a substantial reworking of the whole ESF model. One of them explained: “The concept and doctrine of the Standby Force requires contingents to be formed, equipped and ready for deployment. In fact, in member states, neither the personnel nor the equipment are in place. … The concept and doctrine of the Standby Force need to be revamped, with the help of the AU, and adapted to the economic realities of the region”. Asked to list the major weaknesses of ECOWAS, one of the organisation’s former officials said: “human resources, internal administration, including financial management, and a failure to learn all the lessons from crises”. He said that the organisation should “conduct an honest evaluation of its capacities and not claim the force is ready when it is not”. Another official deplored Abuja’s “lack of monitoring” of the operational management of deployment.
Forming the ESF was a slow process and its political framework, current configuration and deployment capacities make it unable to meet its initial objective. Among its many recommendations to improve the ESF, the report called on ECOWAS to fund and equip a two-battalion special military force capable of intervening anywhere in the region within 30 days of an emergency situation; accelerate reform of the Directorate of Peacekeeping and Regional Security, particularly by operationalising the Peace Support Operations Division, along the lines of the existing AU and UN mechanisms; and establish a fund under the management of the PAPS department to guarantee flexibility, discretion and rapid response to emergencies.
The situations described by ECOWAS officials in private show the need for a substantial reworking of the whole ESF model. One of them explained: “The concept and doctrine of the Standby Force requires contingents to be formed, equipped and ready for deployment. In fact, in member states, neither the personnel nor the equipment are in place. … The concept and doctrine of the Standby Force need to be revamped, with the help of the AU, and adapted to the economic realities of the region”.
Asked to list the major weaknesses of ECOWAS, one of the organisation’s former officials said: “human resources, internal administration, including financial management, and a failure to learn all the lessons from crises”. He said that the organisation should “conduct an honest evaluation of its capacities and not claim the force is ready when it is not”. Another official deplored Abuja’s “lack of monitoring” of the operational management of deployment.
An Ambitious Constitutional Reform Is Imperative
The ECOWAS Commission’s strategic plan for 2011-2015, prepared when Mohamed Ibn Chambas was the Commission president, made a severe assessment of the organisation’s institutional weaknesses. It points at a lack of structures, job descriptions, well-defined roles and responsibilities, the absence of a functioning monitoring and evaluation system and an inefficient communication system. It also diagnoses a lack of cooperation among the staff and between different departments, insufficient and inadequately trained human resources, possibly resulting from a lack of training programs. The plan lists some obstacles to its own implementation: weak institutional capacity, dysfunctional structures as well as a strong compartmentalisation within the Commission, which is reflected by the fact that some heads of departments and directorates work with little or no contact with other departments and do not attempt to take them into account.
These observations echo the analysis made by Commission officials and observers who emphasise that institutional weaknesses are a preeminent obstacle to greater effectiveness. There is unanimity about the extent of the problems caused by inadequate human resources, administrative and financial management, organisation of services within the various directorates and divisions, the concentration of decision-making powers at the highest level of the Commission, the lack of systematic cooperation between different directorates except in case of crisis and the absence of codified working routines necessary for a modern administration to operate.
In this context, the performance of the directorates and services is completely dependent on the competence of the people in charge. But even the presence of highly qualified and motivated officials with a good knowledge of the political and security situation in member countries cannot compensate for the organisation’s institutional weaknesses. Institutional reform itself suffers from the modes of operation it is supposed to correct.
In July 2013, the Authority of Heads of State and Government increased the number of commission leadership positions from nine to fifteen. This decision, made for political reasons (to satisfy member states by giving each a leadership position in the Commission) and without reference to the plan for institutional reform, raised questions about the wisdom of member states and their leaders when making crucial decisions. A report written by a private consulting company in 2014 recommended a multiphased wholesale change to ECOWAS institutions.
All major reforms are difficult to implement because they disturb comfortable habits and threaten vested interests. Effective implementation of the reforms needs a hard core of member states to show firm political will, commit to a precise timetable and defend the reform against any challenges. Reform will not be irreversible unless Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the region’s biggest countries, actively support it and convince the other member states to follow suit. Cape Verde, a small Portuguese-speaking country that is the most successful in the region in terms of democracy, stability and governance, could take the opportunity to play a high-profile role.
Peace and Security Reform Needs Pragmatism
The 2013 report on institutional reform recommended separating the PAPS department from other ECOWAS Commission departments to provide it with the necessary degree of autonomy for conducting complex and costly activities that generally require immediate response, such as peacekeeping operations. The peace and security mandate undeniably involves a significantly different mode of operation than the initial mandate of promoting regional economic integration. The Commission’s current architecture does not distinguish between the PAPS department and divisions dealing with infrastructure, education, science and culture, or trade.
Considering the major role played by ECOWAS in the political and security field during the last 25 years and the permanent threats facing the region, a clearer distinction should be made between institutions responsible for economic integration, which, moreover, contribute to regional security, and those specifically responsible for crisis prevention, management and resolution, and promoting the principles of constitutional and political convergence. Whether this recommendation is implemented or not, ECOWAS must set new objectives and equip itself with new means of action to better fulfil its responsibilities set out in the protocols of 1999 and 2001.
Reorganisation must have a strategic, pragmatic and realistic approach based on analysis of the situation and must anticipate political, security, economic and social developments in West Africa in all their complexity: the contrasting individual situations of the fifteen member countries; the transnational dynamics in the region and associated threats; the situation on the borders between West Africa and North and Central Africa; and the constraints and opportunities presented by the international context. The experience of conflict, instability and insecurity during the last 25 years and a simple forecasting exercise suggests two priorities for ECOWAS. .
- Provide advice and support to member countries for reforms aimed at strengthening the state’s legitimacy and effectiveness, societal cohesion and their acceptance of the values championed by the Community .
An important and most likely dominant part of the problem confronting ECOWAS flows directly from the member states: their leaders’ competence, their political cultures, the legitimacy and effectiveness of their administration, the condition of their economies, defence and security forces, and the understanding and interest displayed by their leaders in regional integration and security issues. The organisation has room, although limited, to promote changes to the way member states operate. It lies in the introduction of standards that apply to all. In this regard, the revised treaty and the 1999 and 2001 protocols are valuable achievements. The preparation and coming into force of these documents took place in a period when the region was trying to start a new chapter after armed conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, while promoting the multiparty system, democratic elections and freedom.104 Retrospectively, it is astonishing that the region ratified these protocols given the dominant political culture. All the violent crises in the region resulted from a combination of internal factors and regional or international triggers or aggravating circumstances.
The exclusively political crises stemmed from competition for power in a context of unstable political systems, a recent history of authoritarianism, weak political, economic and social institutions and diversity within societies that facilitates the exploitation of ethnic and regional identities in political struggles. Political practices are often out of step with democratic principles and the rule of law. The executive power embodied by heads of state elected by direct universal suffrage is only slightly balanced by powers like the judiciary. In most ECOWAS countries, the judiciary is formally independent from the executive, but is in fact very dependent on it and starved of resources, rendering it incapable of fulfilling its function. Although civil society has emerged rapidly and exercises a certain amount of influence in many countries, it remains insufficiently organised and, like the judiciary, its legitimacy is weakened by its dependence on governments in power or external support. For ECOWAS to be more effective in the prevention of conflicts, it must not exclusively rely on its early warning system, even reorganised, or on ad hoc mediation missions dispatched when crises are already brewing.
More effective prevention of crises requires major changes to the political systems and practices of member states and needs ECOWAS to show a willingness to encourage and provide support for these changes in member countries. The decision to create permanent ECOWAS offices in each of the fifteen member states is welcome and should serve this objective. However, having a permanent presence will only bear fruit if ECOWAS sets strategic objectives adapted to the political and security situation of each state and equips itself with the resources necessary to act. In particular, it must provide these offices with sufficient human resources able to use strategic, diplomatic and operational tools to identify the best ways of promoting change in member states.
2. Build and strengthen the capacities of member states to deal collectively with major transnational threats
The internal threats to stability, peace and security in the region have been aggravated in recent years by the criminal economy and the spread of extremist ideologies. Trade in illegal products and illegal trade in legal products in West Africa have increased like never before, as shown by the emergence of cocaine trafficking routes originating in South America. Arms, human beings and fake medicines trafficking feed corruption and the collapse of states that are subjected to enormous internal challenges. A region with strategic natural resources, West Africa is also part of the grey areas of the international trade in raw materials. Maritime insecurity off the coast of oil-rich Nigeria but also Benin, Togo, Cameroon and in the Gulf of Guinea, has taken on a new dimension with attacks on ships by organised criminal groups. Terrorism has also become a daily concern from Nigeria to the Sahel.
ECOWAS has reacted to transnational threats under the pressure of events and its Western partners, especially the EU and France. The organisation has adopted a strategy to fight terrorism and an integrated maritime strategy. Institutionalised meetings of army chiefs of staff, chiefs of police and the security services have created frameworks for exchange and indispensable cooperation.
However, ECOWAS needs to go further and create a special unit to combat organised crime that would take into account all its dimensions and ensure coherence between the different action plans on these issues, including those of ECOWAS and the many international actors present in the region. This implies working closely with member states to strengthen their capacities in the fields where they are most vulnerable and to harmonise legislations, methods and means of action. This work must be part of the mandate of the permanent ECOWAS offices in member countries.
In addition to meetings of the security services of member countries, ECOWAS should equip itself with modern and secure means of communications that would allow a continuous exchange of information among member states and all actors involved in the fight against terrorism and organised crime. Regional cooperation should take place at both political and technical levels and involve all stakeholders, including the judiciary, which is a weak link in all the region’s countries. Responding to transnational threats also requires ECOWAS to open up to its neighbours, the countries of North and Central Africa.
The crises in the Sahel and Lake Chad region have shown the geographical continuity of criminal activities and the need for coordinated responses from countries that belong to different regional organisations. ECOWAS does not have much influence in the two crisis spots in the region, the Sahel and northern Nigeria and the surrounding area, because of its inability to initiate a structured political and security dialogue with countries like Algeria, Chad and Cameroon. It needs to invest in learning about its neighbours, especially North African countries. A return to good relations with the AU is indispensable for the fight against transnational threats.
On issues such as terrorism, criminal trafficking, maritime security, money laundering and the infiltration of states by members of criminal networks, ECOWAS and the other regional economic communities must clarify the principles and areas for cooperation with the AU. A permanent framework for consultation between ECOWAS and the AU must be put in place at the highest political level to avoid overlapping responsibilities and to define an effective approach for the staff of the two organisations working on transnational threats.
ECOWAS should also develop strategic thinking on its relations with Europe, the U.S., China, India, Brazil and other emerging powers. The decisive factors for peace and security are related to all international trade, financial and human exchanges. ECOWAS should develop an active and coherent diplomacy so that the organisation can speak with one voice on major peace and security issues. It must convince its member states of the need to use regional diplomacy to complement or even replace national diplomatic efforts, which have been weakened by a clear lack of financial resources.
As part of its institutional reform, ECOWAS should consider incorporating external relations into the PAPS Department. In any case, the organisation should significantly strengthen its human resources in the field of international relations and, more precisely, boost its internal multidisciplinary expertise on the main African geographical zones and other regions of the world. To be able to anticipate peace and security issues in the medium and long term, it should put more emphasis on research and analysis.
Finally, ECOWAS needs a politically and economically strong and stable driving force, fully committed to regional integration and not worrying all other member states by projecting the image of a fragile, dangerous and threatening power. Nigeria has no rival in West Africa, given its resources and population. Its declining strength in recent years, marked in particular by the violence of Boko Haram, which has developed in a context of pre-existing security weaknesses and the inability of the government and security forces to provide an intelligible and effective response, has also weakened ECOWAS. The political, economic and military capacities of Nigeria are a decisive factor in making the organisation operate well and progress. President Muhammadu Buhari and his government should prioritise the restoration of Nigerian diplomacy, without neglecting the necessary wide-ranging reform of the Nigerian defence and security forces.