ECOWAS Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, Peace-Keeping and Security

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The Observation and Monitoring Centre
ECOWAS Commission
101, Yakubu Gowon Crescent
Asokoro District
P.M.B. 401 Abuja, Nigeria

Tel: +234-9-31 47 647 - 9
Fax: +234-9-31 43 005/ 31 47 646


Col. Mahamane Toure. Commissioner of Political Affairs, Peace and Security and Acting Director, Department of Political Affairs
Gen. C.A. Okae (retired), Director of Defence and Security


Established in 1975, ECOWAS is acknowledged to posses the most advanced peace and security system in Africa. This is underpinned by its mandate to intervene politically and militarily in member countries where a humanitarian disaster is imminent, where a serious threat to sub-regional peace and security is posed, and where democratically elected governments have been overthrown or an attempt has been made. ECOWAS also has the right to intervene in situations where the human rights of its citizens have been violated or are being threatened. The Community’s approach to addressing conflicts in the West African sub-region, borne out of the conviction that without peace there can be no economic integration and development, has been built on the basis of hard lessons learned in its interventions between 1990 and 2003.

In 1990, heads of state created the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), a sub-regional peacekeeping force which was later given a peace enforcement mandate, to intervene in Liberia’s bloody civil war. A total of 11 ECOWAS member states contributed troops to ECOMOG, as well as Uganda and Tanzania. Despite a catalogue of difficulties and reversals, ECOMOG is acknowledged to have helped end the war and facilitate democratic elections in July 1997. ECOMOG also intervened to reverse the military coup in Sierra Leone, reinstating democratic legality in 1998, and eventually giving way to a United Nations peacekeeping force (UNAMSIL) after the 1998 Lome agreement. In Guinea Bissau, despite several ceasefires, ECOMOG’s intervention to reverse a June 1998 military takeover resulted in a second ouster of President Joao Bernardo Vieira. ECOMOG also intervened in Cote D’Ivoire in 2003, eventually being replaced by a UN force (ONUCI).

These interventions convinced ECOWAS leaders of the importance of sub-regional approaches to addressing conflicts whose effects spread across borders. With this in mind—and drawing on its 1978 Protocol on Non-Aggression, 1981 Protocol on Mutual Assistance on Defence and other norms—ECOWAS leaders signed the Protocol relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security in Lome on 17 December 1999. The Protocol proposed a Mechanism made up of six organs:

  • The Authority of Heads of State and Government;
  • A Mediation and Security Council, a heads of state level body made up of 9 Member States that is empowered to take emergency decisions;
  • A 15-member Council of Elders (now Council of the Wise), bringing together one eminent senior West African from each state to mediate and reconcile warring parties;
  • An observation and monitoring system known as ECOWARN to provide early warning of impending crises, made up of a Regional Observation and Monitoring Centre at ECOWAS headquarters and 4 observation nodes in The Gambia, Benin, Liberia and Burkina Faso;
  • A standby ECOMOG peacekeeping force made up of military and civilian national contingents ready to deploy at short notice; and
  • A Defence and Security Commission made up of national chiefs of staff, security and other relevant experts, to provide technical advice.

The core of the ECOWAS’s early warning system (ECOWARN) is the Observation and Monitoring Centre, supported by four Zonal Bureaux for Conflict Prevention located in Banjul, Monrovia, Ouagadougou and Cotonou. The strategic and operational wings consists of the Department of Peace and Security (DPS), which oversees the design and implementation of all military and peacekeeping operations, as well as the formulation and implementation of policies on cross border crime, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and the control of drug-trafficking. Military officers from ECOWAS states have been seconded to its secretariat in Abuja to bolster its planning cell. The roles of the Departments of Political Affairs (DPA) and Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) include formulating political options and, designing humanitarian interventions respectively. The DPA is also mandated to organize, manage, and provide support for political activities related to preventive diplomacy and broader conflict prevention initiatives in collaboration with the Department of Human Development and Gender.

To enable ECOWAS to implement the 1998 Moratorium on the import, export, manufacture and sale of small arms and light weapons in West Africa, the Moratorium was transformed into a binding Convention in 2006. Strategic work on SALW is carried out by the Small Arms Unit within the DPS; supported by a field unit, the ECOWAS Small Arms Project (ECOSAP), which is based in Bamako and oversees operational interventions. Key programmatic goals of the DPS include strengthening institutional capacity and putting in place the ECOWAS Standby Force as the West African pillar of the African Standby Force.

Track Record

Among ECOWAS’s many achievements, the establishment of its peace and security framework and architecture stands out as highly progressive and far-sighted. An important attribute of the ECOWAS Mechanism is its holistic nature—embodying prevention, mediation, military intervention and peace-building—and its attempt to respond to crises in a systemic way. The groundbreaking Mechanism has influenced the establishment of similar structures in SADC, ECCAS, and elsewhere. Significantly, although ECOWAS has subsequently sought to align its structures with the African Union’s, the continental body drew heavily on the ECOWAS experience (which predates the AU) in its design of the Peace and Security Council and related organs.

The ECOMOG interventions have enshrined the right of ECOWAS member states to intervene in West African crises, setting an important precedent for other peace operations. Additionally, the ECOMOG experience has been pivotal in fine-tuning a now firmly established division of labor between the AU, RECs and the UN that situates Africa at the forefront of conflict prevention, management and resolution. ECOWAS troops can now intervene first and inform the UN Security Council after the fact, a development that significantly improved the response time to conflicts that would in the past have had to wait for a resolution to be passed in the Security Council.

With the creation and deployment of ECOMOG in Liberia another first, ECOWAS has registered significant progress in putting in place the military infrastructure to deliver on peace support operations. ECOMOG, already tried and tested in four conflict situations, provided a sound basis for the West Africa Brigade (WESTBRIG) of the AU-coordinated Africa Standby Force, to be established in the five sub-regions by 2010. Each ECOWAS member state has pledged to contribute a battalion to WESTBRIG. Training is being provided by West African as well as UN and other international institutions. Operational training is provided by the Kofi Annan International Peace Keeping Centre in Ghana, strategic training by Nigeria’s War College, and tactical training by a center in Mali.

Another important feature of ECOWAS’s approach has been its openness with civil society. In 2003, and in conjunction with active NGOs in the sub-region, it established the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF, see separate profile). WACSOF serves as a structured interface between civil society, ECOWAS and member states, and allows for civil society to provide systematic input into crucial decision-making processes at the sub-regional level. WACSOF is present in all the Community’s major meetings and follows its processes closely. ECOWARN collaborates actively with the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP, see separate profile), a network of some 300 CSOs that helped establish it. WANEP deploys shadow focal points in each of the 15 ECOWAS countries to help gather information and provide analysis.


There are concerns that although the ECOWAS Protocols on paper remain a viable framework for addressing conflict and security issues in West Africa, the Community has been unable to systematically translate its provisions into concrete impact on the ground. In the absence of a strategic policy framework, and without proactive leadership and a joined-up approach, the tendency is for the UN, bilateral and private actors to dominate the sub-regional space, with coordination less than optimal.

This strategic deficit is manifested in ECOWAS’s current inability to effectively address critical human security-related problems in the sub-region that transcend traditional conflicts. These include rampant poverty, devastating health pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, gender inequality and the collapse of state institutions and structures. Other challenges include the emergence and persistence of new actors in the politics of conflicts, including informal militia groups; the increasing prominence of new forms of cross-border activities including capital flight and cyber-crime; the unintended effects of post-conflict disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) initiatives in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire; the implications of growing numbers of youth in the population; and the country-level proliferation of alternative security forces, including vigilantes, militia groups, and other private security groups, reflecting ongoing insecurity in countries that are neither at war or at peace.

Much remains to be done to strike the right balance between developing ESF’s military dimensions (including improving the ability of its Military Planning Cell to plan and execute peacekeeping operations) with interventions to strengthen non-military participation in these endeavors by raising the level of the civilian component of the ESF. ECOWARN, one of the continent’s most advanced early-warning systems (CEWARN in the IGAD region is more advanced in certain aspects, though its focus is narrower), is hampered by shortfalls in capacity, funding, and sustainability, with the Abuja hub as well as zonal centers poorly equipped and understaffed. Beyond the existence of WACSOF and collaboration with WANEP, expanded efforts are needed to ensure full stakeholder ownership of different organs of the Mechanism.

Although it has played an important role in election monitoring, and to a lesser extent preventive diplomacy, the Council of the Wise is yet to be supported by an adequate secretariat staffing, and the extent to which it is proactive, its composition balanced, and its work systematic remains in question. As an advisory body, the Council lacks the clout to effectively influence ECOWAS decisions. Other limitations include the fact that Council members meet together as a group only once a year. The initial one-year terms to which members were limited by the 1999 Protocol curtailed the Council’s ability to deliver its mandate effectively (in recognition of this concern, the Council’s tenure was this year increased to 3 years). There is also insufficient interaction between the Council and wider civil society in West Africa, and its connectivity with the Chairperson of the Community’s special representatives and other organs, such as ECOWARN, is weak.

At least some of these challenges can be attributed to financing constraints. Like other RECs, ECOWAS relies on the ‘Community Levy’—a 0.5 percent tax on all imports into ECOWAS countries—to cover the financing gap that exists over and above assessed contributions that member states are bound to contribute. However, a number of member states have as yet failed to apply the levy, in large part because of competing taxes on imports designed to fund poverty reduction and other national programs. This leaves ECOWAS dependent on funding from external donors for some 25 percent of its activities, much less so that its AU counterpart (see separate profile).

Major contributors include Canada, Denmark (which pays for an adviser to work within ECOWAS), Norway, Japan, Germany, the U.S., Britain, and the EU—which, in addition to promoting ECOWAS-AU synergy through its AU Peace Facility—provides support to specific projects and programs. Denmark alone has contributed US$11 million over the 2004-2006 years towards operationalizing the ECOWAS Mechanism, supporting NEPAD activities, developing the ESF and supporting civil society activities under WACSOF. The EU has contributed 1.9 million Euros to enable ECOWAS to operationalize aspects of the Mechanism. USAID provided support ($400,000 each in FY 2004, FY 2005) to ECOWARN, for training and technical assistance, and has also provided $466,000 in FY 2004 and $449,000 in FY 2005 in support to strengthening civil society capacity for conflict prevention. Much of the donor support is pooled under the baskets of the ECOWAS Peace Fund and Pool Fund.


ECOWAS believes private foundations can help it to better deliver on its peace and security mandate in a number of ways. One way the foundations can add value is by identifying concrete initiatives to be supported financially and engaging in the process of designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluation of these initiatives. Second, private foundations could cover the cost of expertise to bridge capacity gaps in specific areas—including the design of interventions in human rights, resource governance and youth empowerment, among other areas. A third opportunity exists to help build the capacities of decentralized units of ECOWAS, including the Council of the Wise. Finally, the foundations could help support ECOWAS’s plans to link the decentralized ECOWAS structures with community groups in member States to advance the domestication of ECOWAS Protocols and initiatives.

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