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By: Eruke Ojuederie

Security issues have taken an unusual turn twenty-five years after the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) actively performed peace keeping duties. These operations which brought about some peace and stability to warring states Liberia and Sierra Leone have constantly been used as reference point till date because of the outstanding successes and good image they created for the African continent. Despite these achievements, concerns are growing with each passing day on issues ranging from territorial dispute to election violence and insurgency which has fast become topic of discussion in every international conference.

Tackling security challenges is one major aspect which has been overwhelming across Africa hence, the role of the various organisations is very important in making sure that there is relative peace and economic stability in the continent. The Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) had in time past championed the crusade in ensuring this relative peace with its ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone. However, questions are beginning to well up as to the effectiveness of this unit and the ECOWAS as a whole towards fostering Peace in Africa most especially in recent times.

Some experts have in the past argued that the ECOWAS treaty did not actually say anything about conflict management and prevention, holding on to the aspect that says “to promote cooperation and integration leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa in order to raise the standards of its people, and to maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations among member states and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent”. Others have however stated that in enhancing economic stability, there is the need for ECOWAS to be involved in the safe keeping of their territories.

Be that as it may, the organisation has defied the odds to see to it that it puts the security of member states at the forefront of its agenda by making sure that at every election within its jurisdiction, a team is deployed to monitor activities during the election period. It also ensures that troops from various member countries are sent to troubled countries within and outside the region for peace keeping missions. These actions always posed a difficult task given that of the 15 member states, only a few are in support of the peace keeping missions of the organisation.

This fact tends to cripple the role of ECOWAS, in the fight against insurgency and radicalism in the West African region. A clear example is the fight against Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria, and its neighbouring states. Many have wondered the position of the organisation on this matter as little or nothing has been heard as regards intervention procedures.

Peacekeepers in Africa are generally saddled with increasingly broad mandates, including civilian protection, counter terror, and counterinsurgency operations, and operations increasingly depend on partnerships between the United Nations and African Union.

In recent times, peacekeeping missions have had mixed results in Africa. Current missions to Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, South Sudan, and Darfur, have not improved stability. These missions have failed largely because they were deployed in a context of ongoing war.

To be effective, peace operations need to be part of a broader toolbox of conflict-management instruments and a strategy to achieve conflict resolution and reconciliation. A broader use of diplomatic tools such as mediation, negotiations, peace enforcement (which can include Security Council–backed military action), and peace building may be employed to ensure effectiveness. Good relations with the host state are also crucial if the mission is to be part of a genuine process and effective political settlement.

Experts agree that the most successful peacekeeping missions are tied to an effective political strategy with clear goals, expectations and well funded. This means that governments have a significant role to play in ensuring the success of peacekeeping missions. Although many have argued that ECOWAS seems to work better with military governments rather than democratic governments, this is barely the case. Peace operations in Africa are increasingly collaborations between the UN and AU, giving ECOWAS little or no spotlight. The take-over of many African operations by the UN, has relegated the efforts of ECOWAS peacekeeping mission to the sideline and it now seems as though the organization is merely a unit under the UN.

The Director, Directorate of Peacekeeping at the Force Headquarters, ACP Lawan Jimeta, recently said “the closing of some UN missions had reduced the number of officers that could be deployed for peacekeeping operations. We used to have five UN missions but they have been reduced to three – Mali, Liberia and Somalia”.

This very reputable organisation has however resorted to active mediation rather than operations that involve its troops in ensuring peace and stability in member states. This was recorded in the Burkina Faso election crisis where the timely intervention of the ECOWAS, led to the reinstatement of President Kafando, and the recent meetings held by the mediation and conflict resolution unit of the organization.

Nevertheless, the common man seeks a louder voice from the organisation as regards issues bothering on security in member states.

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