Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Sub-Regional Security Co-Operation in West Africa: The ECOWAS Mechanism for Conflict Management in Perspective

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Sub-Regional Security Co-Operation in West Africa: The ECOWAS Mechanism for Conflict Management in Perspective

Article excerpt

Dr Sola Akinrinade Senior Lecturer, Department of History Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Nigeria (*)


Certain post-Cold War developments including the intensification of conflicts in Africa, the systemic trend towards sub-regionalisation of conflict management, declining great power interest in African conflicts, the lessons of the ECOMOG initiative, and the adoption of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty constituted the background to the adoption of the new ECOWAS Mechanism for Conflict Management. The Mechanism recognises the holistic nature of security and provides for an elaborate structure for addressing sub-regional security needs, incorporating and transcending previous protocols. However, it raises a number of questions including its practicality and financial sustainability. It is more financially demanding than previous arrangements and it is doubtful if ECOWAS leaders would be able to muster the requisite political will and financial resources to ensure its effective implementation. The conscious emphasis on the multilateralisation of decision-making, funding and troop contribution ignores the practical need for a sub-regional hegemon ready to deploy the required resources when necessary. If the ECOWAS approach to conflict management were to be developed into a model for sub-regional security co-operation, these problems would have to be addressed.


Like most other sub-regional organisations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) began life as an economic co-operation agency. When the ECOWAS Treaty, 1975, setting up the organisation was signed, hardly any provision was made for co-operation in security matters. Indeed, matters relating to political co-operation, governance and human rights only received passing mention. The sub-region was politically volatile with frequent extra-constitutional changes in government in several states. This fluid political environment caused the leaders of cooperating countries to emphasise that the organisation they were establishing was basically economic in nature and transcended political regimes.

The nature and pattern of post-colonial relationships among the states of the sub-region did not help matters. Of the various sub-regions into which the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has divided the continent, West Africa is the most polarised and most diverse in terms of size of countries, colonially inherited languages, levels of economic development and patterns of internal and external linkages. Nine of the 16 countries in the sub-region are Francophone, five are Anglophone, while two are Lusophone. The totally different concepts and experiences of colonialism have been reflected in post-colonial legacies and have affected the pattern of inter-state relations in the sub-region. As Adeniji notes: "The language barrier created by the pattern of colonialism and the perpetuation of the vertical link with the former imperial power at the expense of the horizontal link with neighbouring states, discouraged much meaningful relations across the Anglophone/Francophone divide".(1))

The divisions were further complicated by the atmosphere of mutual distrust and suspicion that pervaded relations among these states. For different reasons, Ghana -- the most radical of the Anglophones during the immediate post-independence years -- and Nigeria -- the largest and most powerful state in the sub-region -- were never trusted by their relatively less endowed Francophone neighbours. The potential dominance of any sub-regional co-operation mechanism by Nigeria was one reason why the birth of ECOWAS went through such a protracted process. ECOWAS was the first major organisation to bring all the countries of the West African sub-region together in a co-operative body. It was meant to provide a pan-West African economic organisation that would replace similar existing bodies of limited membership and eliminate the distrust between the Anglophone and Francophone states. …

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