Geopolitics and (Non-)Implementation of the 2013 ECOWAS Counter Terrorism Strategy

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2019

18 Pages, Grade: 75











The ECOWAS Counter Terrorism Strategy (ECTS) was adopted in February 2013 by the Authority of Heads of State and Government to address the militant crisis in the region. But, for half a decade years after its approval, no significant efforts and progress are made in its overall implementation. Available evidence in the extant literature reveals that a combination of factors, including political tension among and within member states, funding and technical capacity limitations, and external factors, continues to undermine its implementation. It must be said that the kind of politics in the region have often been blamed for the ‘non-implementation syndrome’ of major ECOWAS initiatives at the national level. Therefore, in this study, I examine the extent to which geopolitics in West Africa affect the overall implementation of the 2013 ECTS. The study adopted the qualitative case study design to enable the researcher elicit in-depth information for the analysis by engaging few security experts in face-to-face interviews. Official ECOWAS archival records (such as protocols, treaties, and communiques) will also be sourced. I suggest that harmonization of efforts and resources, strong political will and community spirit by ECOWAS member states will be the only way to go for sustained implementation of the 2013 ECTS in particular, and in building robust collective security in West Africa in general.


West Africa’s development path has been hamstrung by myriads of security challenges - civil and or identity strife, coup d’états and trans-border crimes. Notwithstanding efforts to addressing old security problems, countries in the region are currently overwhelmed by new security threats, most notably the upsurge in non-state armed (militant) groups who challenge states authority, legitimacy of governments and territorial integrity (Bolaji, 2010; Maiangwa, 2013). Arguably, the presence of militant groups in the region is not so new. Yet the growing manifestation of militant threats in recent times constitute a grave source of insecurity and instability in West Africa (Yoroms, 2007; in Nkwi, 2015: 80; Onuaha & Ezirim, 2013).

Several geographical, environmental, political, economic, governance and religious factors make the emergence and survival of militant groups more likely in West Africa (Caparini, 2015). Geographically, proximity of the region to the vast Sahel region, and the porous borders coupled with low capacity of law enforcement agencies make militant groups and other criminal networks activities more pronounced. Currently, militancy constitutes a major source of threats to peace, security and stability in the region. Again, militancy is deeply engrained structurally in the region. Moreover, the activities of militant groups have adverse spill-overs on neighbouring countries and larger implications for regional security and stability. Thus, currently, militancy constitutes a serious humanitarian concern which requires urgent and concerted efforts to address same (Onuaha & Ezirim, 2013; Adigbuo, 2014; Haysom, 2014; Alcaro & Pirozzi, 2014; Caparini, 2015). The presence of militant groups such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Tuareg rebels, Ansar Dine in Mali, and Boko Haram in Nigeria, amidst political instability, acute poverty and lack of livelihood opportunities to escape same, as well as bad governance, marginalization, injustices and chronic corruption constitute serious threats to [human] security in the region (Onuaha and Ezirim; 2013: 1; Salihu (2015). For Salihu (2015), these militant groups are a major source of threats and constitute the arc of instability in West Africa.

It was against this backdrop that the ECOWAS Counter Terrorism Strategy was adopted on February 28, 2013 by the Authority of Heads of State and Government to serve as a common operational framework to encourage member states harmonize and harness their efforts and resources to pre-empt and eradicate the militant menace from the region (ECTS, 2013; CDD, 2015). The 2013 ECTS provides the necessary normative toolkits for addressing the militant menace in the region. It aims at giving effect to relevant international, continental, regional and national instruments. The main purpose of the 2013 ECTS is to enhance operational capacities of member states to enable them effectively respond to the militant threats across the region. It is anchored on three major strategic pillars: prevent, pursue, and reconstruct; with much emphasis on prioritizing actions to prevent militancy from occurring in the first place.

It is worth noting that the militant crisis in the region has long been treated as internal security challenge of individual member states that does not warrant regional intervention, with exception of the Malian situation. For instance, Nigeria has rejected proposals by ECOWAS to assist its operations against the Boko Haram insurgency. The resort to formation of joint taskforces among affected neighbouring countries also run into serious operational challenges, including coordination problems (Haysom, 2014; CDD, 15; 2016a; 2017a; 2018). More so, in most of the affected communities, civilian taskforces and non-state armed vigilante groups are formed to fight militants owing to governments’ failure to protect them with its own attendant evils. Moreover, several initiatives are currently underway by the region’s development patrons - the United States, France, European Union, and the World Bank among others aimed at salvaging the militant crisis across the region. But, these initiatives have often been disjointed, poorly coordinated, overly militarized, and failed to appreciate and address the root causes of the menace (Caparini, 2015).

Thus, the 2013 ECTS presents the necessary toolkits and possess the potential to addressing these gaps (ECTS, 2013; CDD, 2015; Birikorang, 2015). However, over half a decade years after its approval, the document still remains a ‘good intentions on paper’ . Available evidence shows that the 2013 ECTS largely risks non-implementation by member states (CDD, 2018; ECOWAS Commission, 2015). Arguably, West African countries have reputable record in collective security initiatives. ECOWAS has also been forthcoming with the relevant normative instruments for addressing any form of vulnerabilities and threats of insecurity and instability across the region. Nonetheless, ECOWAS initiatives often risk non-implementation. It is not uncommon for the countries in West Africa to make sound political declarations and in the end fail to follow through with the implementation (Aning & Atuobi, 2011).

The divisive geopolitics in the region is often blamed for the non-implementation of collective security undertakings at the national level (CDD, 2018; ECOWAS Commission, 2016). Indeed, the historical Francophone-Anglophone divide, the principles of non-intervention, sovereign equality and territorial integrity continue to hinder any security policy initiatives’ execution in the region. I therefore intend to ask: To what extent or in what significant ways, if any, has geopolitics in the region stalled or enhanced the implementation of the 2013 ECTS? The overarching purpose of the current paper is to help address this problem.

1. What is the nature of geopolitics in West Africa?
2. How do geopolitical factors affect the 2013 ECTS’ implementation?


The Qualitative Case Study research design is employed to enable an in-depth exploration and description of the phenomenon under scrutiny (Hancock & Algozzine, 2006). The essence is to help provide complex experiential accounts of individuals on the phenomenon (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994; Cresswell, 2009; Hashemneshad, 2015). The design used enables a thorough exploration and description of in-depth information about the phenomenon under scrutiny using flexible tools and methods. Both primary and secondary data were sourced. The primary data are sourced from official ECOWAS documents (treaties, protocols, conventions etc.); and interviewing of seasoned security and international relations experts in face-to-face interview sessions (Hancock & Algozzine, 2006). The secondary data are derived from relevant published and electronic sources: books, journal articles, news items, reviews etc. Data gathered are content analyzed, using the qualitative content analysis technique under well-defined themes (Given, 2008; Mayring, 2014; Bengtsson, 2016).


3.1 The Concept of Geopolitics

The term, geopolitics, was coined by Rudolf Kjellen, a Swedish Jurist and Political Scientist, in 1899 (Dodds, Kuus & Sharp, n.d.) to describe the geographical representations, rhetoric and practices that underpin international politics. It was concerned with how the geographical assumptions, labels and understandings influenced global politics. In its original sense, the word meant that thinking globally on behalf of particular states was explicitly connected by formal geopolitical reasoning to their potential for acting globally. Contemporarily, the term is used to describe phenomena such as international boundary disputes, the structure of global finance, and geographical patterns of election results, etc. (Scholvin, 2016; Sempa, 2002).

It is not a gainsaying that, ways of thinking and acting geographically implicit in the phrase of ‘world politics’ had begun much earlier, but, when the intellectuals of statecraft of the European states - leaders, military strategists, political theorists - pursuing their ‘interests’ had to consider their strategies in terms of global conditions revealed to them by their encounter with the rest of the world. During the Renaissance, Europeans drew upon older sources (particularly the cosmography of Ptolemy) to direct their understanding of the world. What was new, however, was that the world they encountered corresponded increasingly to the earth as a whole rather than to the geographically limited worlds known to the ancients thinkers (Scholvin, 2016; Bailes and Cottey, 2006; Sempa, 2002).

The onset of the capitalist world economy and the growth of the European territorial state gave rise to a novel set of understandings about the partitioning of terrestrial space. The layering of global space from the world scale downwards created a hierarchy of (four) geographical scales through which political and economic realities are seen - in order of importance, - the global (scale of the world as a whole); the international (scale of the relations between states); the domestic/ national (scale of individual states) and the regional (scale of the parts of the state). Problems and policies have been defined in terms of the geographical scales (either domestic / national or international / or foreign) at which they are seen as operating within a global context. Consequently, world politics is understood as working from the global scale down. It is at the global scale, therefore, that the term ‘geopolitics’ is usually applied (Scholvin, 2016).

3.2 Modern Conception of Geopolitics

The modern geopolitical imagination is a system of visualizing the world with deep historic roots in the European encounter with the world as a whole. It is a constructed view of the world, not a simple spontaneous vision that arises from simply looking out at the world with ‘common sense’. As a system of thought and practice, the modern geopolitical imagination has not existed and does not exist in a material vacuum. It first developed in a Europe coming to terms with both a new global role and the disintegration of the religious-based image of universal order formerly dominant among its intellectuals and leaders. An insistence on taking charge of the world is a key feature of European modernity. Its realization has changed significantly over time as the material context (dominant technologies, modes of economic organization, scope of state organization, capacity for violence) has changed (Agnew & Corbridge 1995; Scholvin, 2016).

This historical geopolitics, focused on practical geopolitical reasoning, needs to be distinguished from what is sometimes called critical geopolitics, taken either with exposing the hollow claims of particular geopolitical writers to having found the ‘truth’ in world politics or with identifying the representational basis to particular foreign policies (Dodds, Kuus & Sharp, n.d.). The phrase ‘world politics’ itself conveys a sense of a geographical scale beyond that of any particular state or a locality in which states and other actors come together to engage in a number of activities (diplomacy, military action, aid, fiscal and monetary activities, legal regulation, charitable acts, etc.) that are intended to influence others and extend the power (political, economic and moral) of the particular actors who engage in them. But the activities also rest on more specific geographical assumptions about where best to act and why this makes sense (Agnew & Corbridge 1995; Scholvin, 2016).

The world is actively spatialized, divided up, labelled, and sorted out into a hierarchy of places of ‘greater or lesser importance’ by political geographers, academics and political leaders. This process provides the geographical framing within which political elites and the masses act in the world in pursuit of their own identities and interests. A couple of illustrations can be used to explain the ways in which the geographical framing at the heart of the modern geopolitical imagination takes place. Central Europe, for example, has actively figured in United States, German, Soviet and other Great Power foreign policies for many years. It was the primary focus of Nazi German territorial expansion before and during the Second World War. Czechoslovakia was portrayed on Nazi geopolitical maps in the late 1920s and in the 1930s as a ‘dagger’ pointing at the heart of German territory. During the Cold War, it was the main arena of ‘geopolitical tension’ between the United States and the Soviet Union. Today it has re-entered world politics largely in relation to the geographical expansion of the European Union (Agnew & Corbridge 1995; Sempa, 2002; Scholvin, 2016).

As a second example, in his State of the Union address in January 2002, President George W. Bush not only declared war on terrorism but also identified what he called an ‘axis of evil’ in world politics, with the three states of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as its geopolitical anchors. Formerly referred to, with a list of others, as ‘rogue states’, these three were singled out because of firstly their quest to possess ‘weapons of mass destruction’ - biological, chemical and nuclear; secondly their hostility to the United States in particular and the contemporary global distribution of power in general; and thirdly their alleged support for terrorist groups and other rogue states. That Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, for example, might equally qualify for membership in the ‘axis’ because of Pakistan’s supply of bomb-making equipment to North Korea and its own pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and Saudi Arabia’s long-term support of fundamentalist Islamism and financial support for bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorists underscores the importance of the criterion relative to the others (Agnew & Corbridge 1995; Scholvin, 2016).


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Geopolitics and (Non-)Implementation of the 2013 ECOWAS Counter Terrorism Strategy
University of Ghana, Legon  (Department of Political Science)
Political Science
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geopolitics, non-, implementation, ecowas, counter, terrorism, strategy
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Gilbert Aidoo Arhinful (Author), 2019, Geopolitics and (Non-)Implementation of the 2013 ECOWAS Counter Terrorism Strategy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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