The role of regionalism in authoritarianism and democratisation. A case study of ECOWAS' dynamics of peace and stability

West African Politics, authoritarianism, peace, stability

Submitted Assignment, 2019

24 Pages, Grade: 76.5


The Role Of Regionalism In Authoritarianism And Democratization: A Case Study Of ECOWAS’ Dynamics Of Peace And Stability

West Africa is the westernmost region of Africa. The United Nations defines Western Africa as the 16 countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo, as well as the United Kingdom Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. The population of West Africa is estimated at about 362 million people as of 2016.

Since the end of colonialism, the region has been the stage for some of the most brutal conflicts, including, Nigerian Civil War, First Liberian Civil War, Second Liberian Civil War, Guinea-Bissau Civil War, Ivorian Civil War, Sierra Leone Rebel War discussed briefly bellow.

The rise in violence and conflict in West Africa since 2010 has sparked concerns that emerging threats could derail hard-won economic gains and undermine future development. Upheaval in Mali and in Nigeria shows that West Africa is still prone to violence. Drug trafficking and maritime piracy has taken root, locking some countries into fragility traps. The surge in violence and conflict comes as the sub-region has registered some of the most impressive growth rates seen on the continent in years. West Africa is the fastest-growing sub-region in Sub-Saharan Africa, having grown 6.7 percent in 2013 and 7.4 percent in 2014 (ADB (African Development Bank), OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), and UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 2013).

An Overview of Violent Conflicts and Civil Strife in West Africa

West Africa has been grappling with violent conflicts and civil strife for decades. However, the periods between the 1980s and the 1990s leading to the new millennium presented more violent and protracted conflicts which destabilized many of its economies (Aning and Bah, 2009). Notable countries that plunged into violent conflict during that period include Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Côte d’Ivoire (Aning et al, 2009).

For example, Liberia plunged into its first violent civil war in December 1989 with the invasion of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) (Annan, 2014). Taylor’s rebellion, which sought to overthrow the autocratic and repressive rule of then President Samuel Doe, not only succeeded with his ascension to power in the 1997 elections, but also resulted in the outbreak of a violent seven-year civil war (Vinck & Kreutzer, 2011). In 1996, with the support of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), violence was abated leading to a ceasefire. Nevertheless, this seeming peace was short-lived as longstanding and simmering ethnic tensions, corruption, subjugation and abject poverty of the people thrust the country back into a second civil war in 1999; two years after Taylor was elected into office as president (Kieh, 2009).

During the ensuing five-year civil war, the country was besieged by violent confrontations between Taylor’s NPFL, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) until the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2003 led to the attainment of appreciable peace and stability in Liberia (Vinck et al, 2011).

Two years after the outbreak of civil war in Liberia, violent civil conflict also erupted in neighboring Sierra Leone in 1991 hinged on a coup led by Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group against President Momoh’s regime. Clashes between the Ghaddafi and Taylor supported RUF and the incumbent resulted in over a decade long violent conflict which was officially declared over in February 2002. The conflict, arising from corruption, bad governance, social injustice, and breakdown of democratic institutions resulted in the killing of 50,000 people, and the destruction of infrastructure as well as other pertinent social services (Iyabo A, n.d).

Similarly, Guinea-Bissau and Côte d’Ivoire experienced violent civil conflicts in 1998 and 2002 respectively. Like other West African states, Guinea-Bissau’s history is characterized with periodic conflicts. However, the ‘7th June War’ in 1998 pushed the former Portuguese colony into a violent civil strife (Crisis Group report, 2012). According to Annan (2014), the 11-month conflict that ended on 7 May 1999, led by Brigadier Ansumane Mane, was supposedly caused by weapon trafficking in neighboring Senegal for the Casamance independence movement, corruption and human rights abuse which claimed the lives of thousands and entrenched poverty in the country (Voz di Paz and Interpeace, 2010).

Furthermore, the civil conflict that plagued Côte d’Ivoire, the one-time economic power house and the beacon of stability in West Africa cannot be overlooked. Deeply rooted in ethnic-religious divisions and identity aggravated by politics of exclusion, the country erupted into full-fledged civil strife in September 2002 (Ogwang, 2011). Following the explosion of the civil strife into a violent conflict, several peace initiatives were adopted but failed to resolve the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire until the successful signing of the Ouagadougou peace accord in 2007 which restored peace and stability in the country (Ogwang, 2011).

With three years of relative peace in the country, Ivoirians were ready to take to the polls in November 2010, a critical election which was anticipated to consolidate the peace the country had enjoyed and unify its stratified population. But to their disappointment, the country nearly relapsed back into a violent civil war after the disputed elections led to a violent confrontation between loyalists of incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and main opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara (Ogwang, 2011). The ensuing five-month battle led to the death of over 3000 people and the displacement of many (Iyabo, n.d).

Finally, Mali, Africa’s third largest gold producer suffered several coups and ethnic tensions until attaining multi-party democracy in 1992 with the election of President Alpha Konare (BBC News Africa, 2012). However, the democracy and relative stability in the country did not last, as there is a resurfacing of violent conflict in the north by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), Tuareg rebels and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) in 2007 and the coup d’état in 2012 resulted in killings, mass forced displacement of civilians destabilizing Mali’s political tranquility (Iyabo, n.d).

In contemporary times, even though there is a decline in large scale violent conflict and civil strife, simmering tensions, insurgency and the re-emergence of coups d’état continues to trouble the sub-region. For example the 2003 coup d’état and the 2008 attack on the president in Guinea-Bissau, insurgency in the Sahel region affecting West African countries of Mali, Niger and Mauritania, as well as low-scale conflicts in notably stable countries like Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria further makes the sub-region prone to more violent conflicts (Olonisakin 2011).

Furthermore the recent Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria, which hinged upon religion and economic deprivation, also poses security concerns in the sub-region. Since its emergence in 2002, the Boko Haram insurgency has taken many lives, displaced several thousand and destroyed state property (Iyabo, n.d). In the southern Nigeria, the prolonged Niger Delta conflict over oil has further compounded the insecurities in West Africa’s most populous nation. The Niger Delta conflict has led to several kidnapping of expatriates, casualties and the increased use of sophisticated weaponry in the region by militant groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), and more recently, the Niger Delta Avengers thereby heightening insecurity in the country and across the sub-region.

Picturing the history of conflicts in West Africa, it is evident that they are inter-state conflicts. More often than not, they have spread from one country to another, for a number of reasons such as displacement and movement of people from one country to another due to the oppression, violence and instability, other reasons can also be the influence of different leaders and their ability to fund other authoritarian leaders to start regimes often attributed to the West African region such the support for RUF’s Foday Sankoh by Taylor and Guadafi, which empowered him to challenge the government of Momoh in Siera Leone. The spiraling of civil wars and conflict can also be blamed for the prolonged violence and authoritarianism in the region (Iyabo, n.d).

Overlapping Forms of Violence in Nigeria

Nigeria underwent a successful transition from military to civilian rule in 1999. Since then it has held four elections. The transition has not been peaceful though. Within four years of the transition to civilian rule, an estimated 10,000 people died in communal violence across the country (Isaacs 2004).

The north has experienced high levels of religious and ethnoreligious violence, a trend that began in the 1980s but increased significantly in recent years with the rise of Boko Haram (ICG 2010). The Niger Delta region has experienced a local insurgency that has mutated into criminality and maritime piracy (ICG 2012; Nwankpa 2014). Urban violence has erupted in several locales (Oruwari and Owei 2006).

The Middle Belt region has experienced high levels of ethnoreligious conflict as well as clashes between farmers and pastoralists (Sayne 2012). The drivers of conflict vary. But throughout the country, violence is seen as arising from a “common matrix” that encompasses, among other factors, “multiple crises of authority, patterns of human insecurity, sociopolitical exclusion, and a deep-seated crisis of youth” (World Bank 2012, 6).

Guinea-Bissau’s Fragility Trap

Guinea-Bissau is an example of a country caught in Mcloughlin’s fragility trap (Mcloughlin, 2012). Political instability has undermined the capacity of successive governments to guarantee control of the territory, deliver basic public services and infrastructure, and create a climate conducive to economic investment. The structural antecedents of the problem lie in the inability of postcolonial governments to “fundamentally transform the institutions inherited at independence” (Andriamihaja, Cinyabuguma, and Devarajan n.d).

The 1998 civil war damaged the country’s physical capital and reduced national income by 25 percent (Andriamihaja, etal, n.d). Although growth rates have since picked up, years of political instability, weak governance, poor economic management, and corruption have taken their toll on the country’s institutional resilience (Pouligny 2010). Indeed, the Institute of Security Studies lists Guinea-Bissau as one of 10 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that is at risk of remaining stuck in a fragility trap beyond 2050 (Cilliers and Sisk 2013). The elections of 2014 seem to have changed this dynamic.

The Gambia’s decency into a preventable crisis

The political turmoil in Gambia was the result of what (Dersso, 2017) called "the curse of an authoritarian electoral defeat". It is a curse that plagues any country with long authoritarian rule where questions about the fate of the outgoing leader during and after the handover of power and about the transition from authoritarian to democratic politics remain unresolved.

Jammeh took power in Gambia in 1994 through a military coup and stayed in power for 22 years, getting regularly re-elected in, what were perceived as, unfair elections. On December 1, 2016 Jammeh's opponent, Adama Barrow, won the elections with a four percent lead, a defeat that the incumbent initially accepted (Dersso, 2017).

The Popular Insurrection in Burkina Faso

Like many other countries in the early 1990s, Burkina Faso adopted a constitution that set up democratic institutions and norms. The country’s 1991 constitution included presidential term limits, although this provision was removed for a time in 1997 before being reinstated. Wienkoop and Bertrand highlighted though that Burkina Faso’s apparent democracy was undermined by informal practices that sustained then president Compaoré’s grip on the country’s politics, giving the regime an entrenched semi-authoritarian character. Generally speaking, constitutional term limits are not a democratic panacea, but according to Wienkoop and Bertrand they can serve as a minimal mechanism for helping prevent unchecked personal rule in hybrid regimes.

In 2014, when Compaoré celebrated his twenty-seventh anniversary in power, Article 37 of the constitution barred him from seeking another term in the elections scheduled for the following year. But his party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), soon began maneuvering to remove this obstacle. As the 2015 election approached, Compaoré’s attempt to remove term limits ignited mass protests. At the end of October 2014, a million people marched through the streets of Ouagadougou and set the National Assembly on fire. In total, nineteen people were killed during the protests, and approximately 500 others were injured.

These demonstrations effectively prevented the assembly from voting on a proposal to remove the presidential term limit. In response to burgeoning public pressure, Compaoré withdrew his amendment and announced that he would not run again in the upcoming election, but this concession proved to be too little, too late. He resigned and fled to neighboring Côte d’Ivoire the next day, opening the door to a political transition. In November 2014, activists continued to apply pressure to ensure the transition would not fall into the hands of the military. A civilian-led transition was announced, with clear objectives, sound institutions, and a time limit: elections were to be held within one year.

The transition, however, did not proceed unimpeded. The old guard’s most forceful effort to reverse Compaoré’s ouster came in September 2015 when a group of soldiers from the presidential guard (known as RSP) that remained loyal to him staged a military coup. They disrupted the weekly government council on September 16, 2015, arresting then transitional President Michel Kafando, then Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, and two ministers. Although the soldiers managed to lock down the centre of the capital, protesters spilled into the streets of peripheral suburbs and erected barricades as a sign of resistance. The RSP struggled to maintain its grip on the capital, and it had no control over the rest of the country, where protests spread quickly. Ignoring a national curfew, youth occupied public squares at night.

The protesters denounced a mediation attempt by the regional bloc known as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), whose proposal was seen as overly accommodating of the coup’s perpetrators. Indeed, their crisis resolution proposal included amnesty for people involved in the coup and provisions that would have allowed Compaoré’s close allies to compete in the upcoming election, contrary to a newly adopted electoral law. The Burkinabè population resisted these terms, as well as ECOWAS’s apparent accommodation of the coup leaders’ power grab (Wienkoop & Bertrand, 2018).

ECOWAS intervention in West African conflicts: The search for peace and democratisation

In 1990, the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) was set up by ECOWAS member states as a non-standing military force consisting of land, sea and air units (Khobe, 2000). Thus, ECOWAS established ECOMOG to control the conflict in Liberia, and justified its intervention on the basis of four interrelated factors, namely: humanitarian; the provisions of the MAD (Mutual Assistance on Defense Protocol); regional security; and response to the request of the then government in Liberia (ECOWAS, 2005).

Consequently, ECOMOG's operations started in Liberia to prevent Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) overthrowing the unpopular government of President Samuel Doe (Napoleon, 2011). The force has since controlled several conflicts in the West African sub-region. To adapt to the changes that had taken place within the Community since its formation, and based on its experience in Liberia, the Authority of ECOWAS revised the Treaty which was adopted in Cotonou, Benin, in July 1993 (ECOWAS, 2005).

Committed to promoting peace and security in the sub-region through a mechanism for collective security, ECOWAS eventually adopted the Protocol relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and security on 10th December 1999. This was regarded as the Organization’s constitution on collective security in the West African sub-region (Ademola, 2005) and in many regards marks a departure from the traditional principle of non-intervention as the Protocol empowers ECOWAS to intervene in the internal conflicts of member states as well as strengthen cooperation in the areas of conflict prevention, early-warning, peace-keeping operations, control of cross-border crime, international terrorism and proliferation of small arms and anti-personnel mines (ECOWAS, 1999).

This undertaking among other things, calls for the establishment of a military force known as the ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF) which is designed to meet the security needs of the sub-region. Consequently, the ESF is employed when there is a threat to peace and security resulting from: Conflict between two or more member states, internal conflict likely to lead to a humanitarian disaster and threatening peace and security in the sub region, Overthrow or attempted overthrow of elected governments among others (Ibrahim, 2008).

Therefore, ECOWAS’ involvement and efforts in addressing critical security challenges in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Côte d’Ivoire, with the deployment of peacekeepers through ECOMOG and the key mediatory role played by the sub-regional bloc in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Guinea-Bissau helped salvage peace and stability, bringing an end to the violent conflicts (Olonisakin 2011, Annan, 2014). These intervening and mediatory roles of ECOWAS through its Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) pointed out the willingness of West African governments to quickly intervene in insecure or unstable situations in the region.

With Liberia and Sierra Leone evolving into a democratic states and a resemblance of stability coming to Cote d’Ivoire, there is the hope and indeed belief that West Africa is on the path to building strong, feasible, peaceful and democratic states. The role of ECOWAS in the regions transition therefore, cannot be overstated as the commission has been at the forefront of promoting a regional approach to addressing issues of peace and security.

ECOWAS member states established ECOMOG to deal with the insecurity that followed the collapse of the state structure in the Republic of Liberia in 1990. The force has since controlled several conflicts in the West African sub-region. Although, ECOWAS has demonstrated the willingness and capability to restore peace in the sub-region, there are some challenges in its quest for collective security.

One of the major challenges to ending conflict in West Africa is the poor understanding of the fundamental causes of the conflict. For example, the misplaced understanding of the international community that the root cause of the current Malian crisis is the terrorist activities by Islamists has in part hindered the process of finding lasting solution to the conflict (Annan, 2014).

Another major setback is the lack of resources i.e. financial, human and material resource of states and the sub-regional body hinders the resolution of conflicts in the sub-region (Annan, 2014). The unending dire financial condition ECOWAS members face has affected the capacity of those member states to support the organization to carry out its security and peacekeeping functions that need heavy expenditures. In Liberia for example, despite the acclaimed heroic intervention of ECOMOG in 1996, material challenges such as lack of equipment, arms, sea and airlift capacities and machinery to some extent, affected the effective implementation of the ECOMOG mandate which in part contributed to the re-surfacing of the conflict in 1999 after peace was restored in 1997 (Ismail 2001).

Additionally, the uncontrollable movement of people across national borders has raised security concerns for the authority of ECOWAS. This is because, ECOWAS original treaty sought to achieve a freer movement of the citizens of its member countries by abolishing visa requirements. According to Bamfo (2013), Nigeria was the first to suffer from the influx of immigrants from across West Africa when several thousand Ghanaians, Togolese, Beninois, and Nigeriens settled there from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s.

Furthermore, lack of political will of governments of West African states to create transparent and accountable governance institutions, address human rights issues and implement signed peace agreements and resolutions is also a challenge hindering the resolution of violent conflicts in the sub-region.


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The role of regionalism in authoritarianism and democratisation. A case study of ECOWAS' dynamics of peace and stability
West African Politics, authoritarianism, peace, stability
University of Namibia
African Politics
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African studies, West Africa, Politics
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Mr Joseph Nangombe Tobias Tobias (Author), 2019, The role of regionalism in authoritarianism and democratisation. A case study of ECOWAS' dynamics of peace and stability, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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