“The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”
By E.K.Bensah Jr
As West African leaders got together for a series of important meetings last week at
ECOWAS headquarters in Abuja, I could not help but wonder how many of our Ghanaian
journalists were monitoring the meetings. According to the ECOWAS website, many of the
meetings centred on ECOWAS getting serious on the ratification of its protocols, including
that of free movement; as well as strengthening the ECOWAS Parliament to move from an
advisory role to a legislative one.
Given the furore in the country of the unavailability of gas, I could not help but wonder how
many Ghanaian journalists were equally monitoring what our policy-makers were saying
about the necessity of the ECOWAS-backed West Africa Gas Pipeline coming on board as
quickly as possible to help alleviate the gas shortage supply. When The Chairman of Ghanaian
Parliamentary Committee for Energy and Mines (Oil & Gas), Mr. Moses Asaga, lamented the inability of
the West Africa Gas Pipeline project to deliver at the stipulated period, saying the Independent Power
Projects built to the West Africa Gas Pipeline (WAGP), how many of our media practitioners took note?
How many even knew that he was speaking at the Petroleum Club meeting -- a forum for the Nigerian
indigenous oil and gas players in the upstream sector of the nation’s petroleum industry only last week?
Still, how many of the media houses know that the WAGP is the first sub-regional natural gas project in
sub-Saharan Africa, and that it was initiated by governments of Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Togo to
supply gas from the Escravos region of Niger Delta to feed gas-fired generating plants of the three
Then there’s the 17 June bombing in Abuja, where the UK-based “Daily Telegraph” reported that an AlQaeda-linked suicide bomber was behind the bombing of the police station in the home of the
ECOWAS’s major institutions. While the BBC and the Nigerian media were reporting it was the Islamic
sect Boko Haram that was behind the bombing, I was expecting its small neighbor in the Ghanaian
media to read between the lines and speculate what it would mean for regional peace and security.
Regrettably, that did not happen.
Given Ghana’s instrumentality in the Ivorian civil war—not to mention its proximity to that country (with
all the attendant peace and security implications), it beggars belief why Ghanaians did not go further to
interrogate the impact of peace and security, and its implications for the region.
Even if one can forgive the media for this lack of foresight as the world moves increasingly from a
national to regional, I believe it is important that now that the dust has settled, we take a moment to
look back briefly at the Ivorian crisis as a moment to reflect on how better to think about ECOWAS.
Back in January this year, I was heartened by the fact that there was a lot of interesting discussion
around Ivory Coast, but I want to try to put paid to erroneous theories that were being bandied around.
First, Nigeria: those who were associating military intervention with a whim of Nigeria were woefully
wrong. Goodluck Jonathon was only toeing the ECOWAS line. According to p.15 of the ECOWAS
Framework for Conflict Prevention (ECOWAS, 2008), military intervention is the last resort "in the
broader framework of peace and security architecture”. Jonathan just happened to be chairing ECOWAS
at the time of the crisis. It could have been any of the other fourteen members proposing it as a last
Secondly, ECOWAS’s ability to intervene: ECOWAS set a precedent of military intervention back in 1989
when it intervened in Liberia. The force was called ECOMOG, and 70% of it was indeed Nigerian. They
went in with the mandate of peace enforcement. There were problems, but it was not an illegal
intervention. Chapter VII of the Security Council enjoins regional organisations to utilise regional
organisations "in the maintenance of international peace and security for which the Security Council is
Third, ECOMOG vs Ecowas Standby Force: ECOWAS has had missions in Liberia (ECOMOG); Cote
d'Ivoire(2002); Sierra Leone; Guinea-Bissau. These had different acronyms and were not all known as
ECOMOG. In 2010, the African Standby Force (ASF) was born, under which the ECOWAS Standby
Force(ESF) is a regional node, a kind of rapid reaction force. Each African region has one (there are five
in total). This is what would have likely been used to intervene to depose Gbagbo. They trained in
October 2010, and have the experience to avoid maximum bloodshed. Regrettably, even Ivory Coast
correspondent for the BBC—John James—erroneously called the force “ECOMOG”.
Fourth, human rights abuses: there were many being perpetrated by both pro-Gbagbo and Outarra
supporters, including attacks of UN forces whose sole mandate was to protect Golf Hotel and Outtara. It
remains unclear what the justification in attacking UN forces was? ECOWAS has a Community Court,
which would have had full competence to hear cases of abuses of human rights.
Finally, the prospect of hot war vs cold war: fears about a war notwithstanding, without a qualification
of what "military intervention" would mean for Cote d'Ivoire, we were all making assumptions about a
"hot war", which might not have been the case at all.
In March 2008, the AU, deploying a surgical objective of removing a dictator in the island of Comoros,
went in (without South African or Nigerian troops) with AU troops in what has been termed a
"successful operation." While that island is small--and cannot be compared to Ivory Coast--it reflects the
fact that the AU has a precedent in "military intervention". Research from Swedish Foreign Ministry
about the Comoros intervention maintains there were no deaths, but some 11 civilians wounded.
Point is: before Gbagbo’s capture in April, there had been much talk about ECOWAS intervention,
through ECOMOG, in Liberia in 1989. The arguments are sound about the need to avoid a direct
comparison of the situations. What we should have been asking, though, was why ECOWAS and the AU
did not come out to clarify what military intervention would mean, given that ECOWAS has a Standby
Force of roughly 6,500 troops which could have been deployed. That Ghana stated publicly about being
unable to deploy troops never foreclosed the use of intervention by other ECOWAS member states.
The rhetoric of force in Cote d'ivoire ironically came a couple of months after the AU declared 2010 to
be the Year of Peace and Security. But what the AU failed to also do was provide sufficient information
to the wider public about what this means about Africa having a "Peace and Security Architecture",
under which regional standby forces, including the ECOWAS Standby Force, be deployed.
Even more importantly, I find it curious that neither the AU nor ECOWAS sought to correct perceptions
that there might be the prospect of an ECOMOG force--as in Liberia. I would have hoped the two leading
African protagonists be more vocal about these misperceptions. That it did not happen and why the
Ghanaian media were not asking these questions as well speaks volumes of how much work needs to be
done to ensure Ghanaian journalists are talking and speaking about ECOWAS and the AU.
It is one of the reasons why this new column was thought-up: to respond to the dearth of analyses
about ECOWAS and the AU by Ghanaian media practitioners. The real challenge now is to ensure
readers begin to accept these challenges and be ready to respond to them. Secondly, ECOWAS likes to
make a lot of noise about the sub-region moving from an ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of the people
– as per ECOWAS Vision 2020. For it to be realized, it is going to take all of us to get there. Will you join
In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42 nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses PanAfricanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel
owns "Critiquing Regionalism" (http://www.critiquing-regionalism.org). 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 email@example.com / Mobile: 0268.687.653.