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Creation of ECOWAS Regional Force 'Critical to Addressing Security Gaps' in West Africa - Experts

© AFP 2023 / KOLA SULAIMONA Nigerian soldier stands outside the new construction site of the headquartes of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) during the ground-breaking ceremony at the 62nd Ordinary Session of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government in Abuja on December 4, 2022.
A Nigerian soldier stands outside the new construction site of the headquartes of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) during the ground-breaking ceremony at the 62nd Ordinary Session of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government in Abuja on December 4, 2022. - Sputnik International, 1920, 06.12.2022
After the recent Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit, the bloc's leaders announced the establishment of a peacekeeping force to provide security in the region. Sputnik has asked scholars and experts to speak about the context of the decision and its importance.
According to David Kiwuwa, associate professor of international studies at the University of Nottingham, the primary motivation behind the creation of the ECOWAS regional peacekeeping force is to address the "security vacuum" in West Africa, which is facing "jihadist insurgency that affects multiple states, terrorism, domestic rebellions and unconstitutional regime change."

"The withdrawal and impactful draw down of multilateral forces composed of Western forces, notably the French and German forces among others, is bound to leave a security vacuum one that needs filling and quickly. Collective security has long been a core objective of ECOWAS," the expert says.

He underlines that if implemented, the initiative will establish "a quick reactionary force that will be critical to addressing security gaps and ensuring collective security," guaranteeing political stability and protecting constitutional order in the region.
According to Prof. Jo-Ansie van Wyk from the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa, ECOWAS leaders realize that conflict and insecurity has a detrimental effect, among other things making it impossible to embody "the West African ideal of free trade and that of the African Free Trade Area."
She adds that the West African security vacuum may also have been created by the lack of resources, as the international community has diverted resources from Africa to Europe in the wake of the Ukraine conflict.

Prof. Van Wyk says that the Ukraine crisis and "the concomitant insecurity of the West has surely played a part" in ECOWAS' decision to create an independent security solution. "[Western] National electorates also want to have their national and European security advanced rather than that of an area far away," she notes.

At the same time, Dr. Moses Tofa, a pan-Africanist and political analyst who leads the African Leadership Center's research agenda on Peace, Society and the State in Africa from Nairobi, notes that in West Africa, there is growing distrust of Western states in promoting peace and security efforts in the region. According to the expert, the distrust "stems from the view that the West is interfering in the internal affairs of host states," driven by its economic interests.
Dr. Tofa underlines that West African states' reliance on Western help in terms of security is becoming "unsustainable and unpredictable," with, among other factors, the future of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) "in trouble."
In November, Germany and the UK announced plans to withdraw their troops from MINUSMA, which was established in 2013 for the protection of the civilian population, the observance of human rights, and the creation of conditions for the provision of humanitarian assistance. The decision came several months after France finished the pullout of its troops that had been on a mission in war-torn Mali as part of Operation Barkhane.
French Barkhane soldiers arriving from Gao, Mali, disembark from a US Air Force C130 cargo plane at Niamey, Niger base Wednesday June 9, 2021, before transferring back to their Bases in France. - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.11.2022
France Has Its Own Interests in Sahel, Doesn't Care About Malians' Security, Historian Says
Dr. Tofa underlines that "taking the security of the region in its own hands" in such circumstances, ECOWAS is experienced in peacekeeping questions.

"ECOWAS took a bold [...] step in the 1990s, when deadly civil wars erupted in Liberia and Sierra Leone, by deploying its Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council. These conflicts erupted at a time when Africa had become irrelevant in superpower strategic considerations. For that reason, there was no appetite, except from African (neighboring) states to intervene in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is fair to say that ECOWAS is the founder of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine," he says.

According to Kiwuwa, there are some challenges to be overcome in order to achieve the initiative's goals; these issues include "logistics and force capacity, political will, mission scope and clarity, competing regional interests, legal status."
Anthony Obayi Onyishi, professor of political science and international relations at the University of Nigeria, said that the "dearth of political unity and economic weakness" – as well as external influence – should be taken into account as factors that could hinder the mission's effectiveness.

"It will be difficult to predict accurately, as yet, what the consequences of this initiative will be, but a lot will depend on the resolve of leaders to play down potential extra-regional, mostly Western, influences that usually sway their solidarity from its original goals," he says.

"Several obstacles remain on the path to success" of the ECOWAS peacekeeping initiative, says Freedom C. Onuoha, senior lecturer at the Department of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

"The issue of having predictable and sustainable funding, how best to achieve the right level of political commitment where attachment to sovereignty is high, and the nagging issue of manipulative influences of colonial and foreign powers, among other factors, will pose serious obstacles to the take-off and eventual effectiveness of the regional force," he underlines.

He adds that if important issues – such as concerns that military juntas have come to power in some of the ECOWAS countries as well as the undemocratic tendencies of some of the bloc's democratically elected leaders – are appropriately addressed, the initiative could have positive consequences for the region, being able to "halt [...] deterioration of security situation in the region amidst rise in terrorism, coups and "security traffic jam."
According to Onyishi, the initiative "holds a bright prospect of providing a rallying ground for multi-stakeholder and multi-faceted responses to violent extremism in the subregion."

"If properly conceived and developed in an inclusive manner," the ECOWAS initiative could create "a useful architecture for addressing West Africa's security problems from a truly West African angle," Onuoha said.

A similar point of view was expressed by Dr. Tofa, who deemed the initiative "good for the region" if decently implemented. He underlined that it would benefit the peace and security architecture if the region "takes responsibility for its own security" with states being "accountable to each other."
The Sahel region in West Africa has been troubled by a security crisis, mainly driven by a jihadist insurgency in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, with spillover effects on neighboring countries. Since the mid-2010s, missions such as the French-led Operation Barkahane and the UN's MINUSMA have been active in the region with the goal of tackling the crisis, and as noted by officials and observers, with little success.
Recent military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso have led to the countries being sanctioned by ECOWAS and to worsening relations with France, which, among other factors, prompted the withdrawal of Western forces from the Sahel.
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