Security Regionalism in West Africa after the trade agreement ECOWAS. Smoothing the rough edges

Term Paper, 2018

16 Pages, Grade: 75.0


Table of contents







ECOWAS was formed on May 28, 1975 to promote economic integration in West Africa (Frempong, 1999). The realization of this economic integration agenda was largely due to Nigeria’s regional leadership in West Africa. However, Nigeria’s attempts were met with stiff opposition from the Francophone bloc led by Cote d’Ivoire with support from France in the 1970s. Though often blown out of proportion, there has historically been a raging antagonism between the Anglophone and Francophone blocs in West Africa (Engel & Jouanjean, 2015; Bossuyt, 2016; Aidoo, 2018). On its part, fearing Nigeria’s domination in any West African integration scheme, France supported Cote d’Ivoire’s hostility towards Nigeria. In a February-March 1971 tour in most of the former French colonies, President Pompidou warned against Nigeria’s domination and urged them to harmonize their efforts to counter balance the heavy weight of Nigeria. The result was the formation of West African Economic Community’s (CEAO) in 1973 (Aidoo, 2018). In the words of Engel and Jouanjean (2015), France perceived Nigeria as a major threat to its chasse gardée, French West Africa, as it made use of Cote d’Ivoire’s economic might and Senegal’s cultural heritage (Ibid; Bamfo, 2013; Aidoo).

According to Frempong (1999), this rather gingered, other than frustrated, Nigeria into aggressive diplomacy to approach most countries in the region to canvas for support towards this agenda. More importantly, Lagos even resorted to liberal dispensation of funds as its foreign policy inducement for support and loyalty in the 1970s after the Biafran War by General Gowon’s government. This resulted in formation of the joint Nigeria-Togo Commission in 1972, which served as the nucleus around which a full regional economic community would evolve later. As Frempong (1999: 120) observed, this Commission was significant for two main reasons: 1) it demystified the widely held mystique that linguistic differences constituted an overarching impediment to trade and economic integration in the region; 2) it also showed that a relatively small and poor country could engage in economically rewarding partnership with a large and relatively prosperous country. But it must be noted that Togo is not a core Francophone country and so this move did not come as a big surprise (Aidoo, 2018; ECOWAS Commission, 2015). By 1973, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Liberia had joined the Commission. But for Guinea, the core Francophone neighbours were reluctant to join. It took military takeovers in Benin and Niger before they were joined to the agenda. Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania remained opposed to Gowon’s proposed economic community agenda; and rather reluctantly declared their support for same at the launch of the ECOWAS in 1975. As Frempong (1999: 121) observed, for fear of being left behind, and Nigeria’s subsequent leadership in the region, they eventually declared their support for the ECOWAS but still kept the CEAO intact (Aidoo, 2018).

Perhaps, West Africa’s major challenge remains the persistent interference from external actors in protecting their geostrategic interests. This was especially glaring during the Cold War era as France, for example, adopted a divide and rule tactic to protect its interests in West Africa by establishing defence pacts, economic and common monetary policy with its former colonies. The West African Economic and Monetary Union’s (WAEMU) creation, and the existence and survival of a common monetary union are the brain-child of France. The uneasy coexistence of ECOWAS and WAEMU, with partly overlapping mandates and membership, also illustrate the conflicting historical paths masterminded largely by France in West Africa. This reflects the wider geopolitical processes in the region marked by power struggles between the Francophonese and the Agnlophonese as manifested by the use of WAEMU and similar tools to checkmate Nigeria’s dominance in the region (Bamfo, 2013; Vanheukelom, 2017; Aidoo, 2018). Considering the nature of this historical and geopolitical path, including cultural, administrative, legal and socio-economic diversities among the Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone countries, it was difficult, if not impossible, to forge any political union or security alliance in West Africa. Any effective regional integration scheme had to proceed from a functional economic union as the basis for future integration agenda that traversed the sovereignty of member states. Thus, the 1975 founding treaty of the ECOWAS focused solely on creating an economic union as a nucleus for continental common market. So, its regional security scheme was only conceived as a necessity to address the myriads of security dilemmas the region confronts (Aidoo, 2018; Vanheukelom, 2017; Caparini, 2015; Aning, 1999).


More importantly, it must be noted, ECOWAS’ evolution into security regionalism resulted from the recurrence of military coups, incessant interstate rivalries, intrastate conflicts, threats of political instability and humanitarian crisis across West Africa (Aidoo, 2018; Olawale, 2015). Since independence, with exception of Senegal and Cape Verde, who have avoided any form of coup, all ECOWAS member states have experienced several military juntas. Again, many countries in the region have been engulfed in several prolonged and recurrent civil wars. Currently, armed rebellion by secessionist groups constitute another version of insecurity and instability in West Africa. ECOWAS’ interventions to address these conditions of insecurity became both the test case and raison d’etre for the emergence, evolution and institutionalization of collective security system in West Africa. Since 1978, security cooperation has significantly been improved in the region. Member states’ embracement of robust collective security scheme is an indication that peace, security, and political stability is a precursor for deeper economic integration and development (Ibid; Kabia, 2011; Bossuyt, 2016; ICG, 2016). The ability to sustainably implement important collective security initiatives depend on certain matrix: intentions and developments within a region, actions of external actors, and nature of overall economic and political development of member states. This section briefly addresses some of the major factors influencing security regionalism in West Africa.


As a supra-state organization, dynamics of ECOWAS reflects nature and domestic characteristics of its member states. The dynamics of power, balance of forces, individual personalities, and calculations of heads of state and government affect ECOWAS’ role in undertaking any major security initiatives in the region. As Ebo (2007) rightly observed, IOs are direct reflections and products of their constituent member states, and thus, manifest the trends, contradictions, challenges and opportunities within them. The involvement or otherwise of any state in community of nations security-wise, depends on a number of issues. These may include, among other things, military capability, ideological variations, power struggle, status and composition, geographical location, historical factors and economic performance (Aidoo, 2018; Ronnback, 2008; Ebo, 2007; Uzoechina, 2014). In West Africa, issues such as pan-Africanism, geographical proximity and historical factors largely influence the success of regional peace and defence alliances. However, their weak economies, fragility of political and security institutions, ideological variations and power struggle continue to weaken any collective security missions in the region. For example, hegemonic struggle, rivalries among member states along ideological and historical (colonial) experiences continue to militate against consensus building in regional security matters (Elowson & McDermott, 2010: 43; Bossuyt, 2016: 20). Heads of state and government of member states actions with regards to collective security are largely informed by national interest calculus, loyalties and historical ties. Since the 1990s, members’ decision to contribute troops and other resources to resolve any conflict in the region and whether or not it will support any major interventionist mission at all have often been informed largely by historical political, economic and socio-cultural ties, economic and security interests, power relations between governments of empathy and animosity between heads of states. Thus, there have usually been selective ability to take collective action in the region (Aidoo, 2018; ICG’s 2016).


At the regional level, there are major issues that either facilitate or undermine collective security in West Africa. First, certain geographical characteristics and nature of insecurity in West Africa facilitate regional security alliances. For example, the closeness, fragility and porous nature states’ borders easily cause spill-over of any insecurity problem in the region. Thus, any issue in a neighbouring country becomes the problem of the rest as they are likely to be affected by the situation either directly or indirectly. This is in line with Burry Buzan’s concept of security complex: “… a set of states whose major security perceptions and concerns are closely connected that their national security problems cannot be reasonably analyzed in isolation of the rests” (Ronnback, 2008: 7; Aidoo, 2018). For example, the Malian crisis has had serious implication for its neighbours such as Burkina Faso, Niger, and Cote d’Ivoire’s internal security. These countries have on many occasions experienced spill-over attacks from militant groups in Mali and or overflow of refugees into their territories. This and many aspects of the Malian situation informed ECOWAS’ earlier security attempts to provide common regional solution to the challenge (Aidoo, 2018; Caparini, 2015; Haysom, 2014). On the contrary, certain geopolitical factors have continued to obstruct effective collective security missions in the region. First, before adopting any binding documents (legally and financially), it must pass through numerous rounds of lengthy debates, reviews and final checks in order for all members or a majority of them to accept such decisions. Also, security issues are considered the preserve of sovereign states and thus they try to keep ECOWAS away from intervening, its current supranational status notwithstanding. Usually, member states’ internal political calculus adversely affect collective security undertakings in the region (Aidoo, 2018; Bossuyt, 2016; ICG, 2016). Moreover, linguistics, administrative and other differences among the countries in the region militate against collective action security-wise. The countries in West Africa are divided along colonial experiences into Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone blocs (Zagaris, 1987; Frempong, 1999; Aidoo, 2018). Politics of collective intervention has often come along these lines especially along the Anglophone and Francophone divide. Arguably, Anglophone countries often support collective intervention to address internal security challenges of member states, with potential regional ramifications compared to their Francophone counterparts. Even though the region’s politics along this divide has significantly waned, it still influences loyalties and approach to regional security (Aidoo, 2018; Caparini, 2015; Aning & Atuobi, 2011).

Another factor that currently affect collective security in the region is the democratization (albeit flawed) experiences in almost all countries in West Africa. Unlike the past where civilian autocrats and military dictators could just order the release of funds to support peacekeeping operations in the region, currently, any decision to support collective missions of ECOWAS must pass through a number of checks, at least such undertakings must secure parliamentary approval. Again, the leaders are forced to account to the public on their stewardship in periodic popular elections. This, including mass media exposes, civil society organizations’ scrutinization of governments’ activities and contracts delay implementation of regional security initiatives (Aidoo, 2018; De Souza, 2018). Moreover, lack of commitment by ECOWAS member states to effectively implement collective security initiatives remains a major factor thwarting the region’s efforts towards building a robust collective security scheme. Member states usually have the willingness to publicly sign security instruments and other regional initiatives in a grand [celebrative] style but they often fail to provide the requisite resources and other commitment for the effective implementation of same (Aidoo, 2018). Usually, such key initiatives end up in their archival shelves. For example, according to Aning and Atuobi (2011: 18) “While there is abundant political will to sign documents and take decisions, the actions of leaders in the region reflect a glaring lack of commitment to adhere to those decisions”. ECOWAS has currently attained a supranational status and thus, its legal instruments, and decisions are directly binding on member states. But, as Aning and Atuobi (2011: 18) observed, ECOWAS “still lacks the capacity to enforce sub-regional decisions at the national level”. This hugely compound and inhibit effective, successful and sustainable collective efforts towards the effective management of insecurity and instability problems in the region. It must be noted that the 1999 Mechanism, and similar ECOWAS security instruments feature the R2P concept which encourage international organizations like ECOWAS to intervene to address humanitarian crisis situations in member states, many countries in West Africa consider especially the militant crisis as internal problems that do not warrant ECOWAS’ intervention (Aidoo, 2018; CDD, 2015). Usually, when regional support is solicited by individual member states, their problem might have grown out of hand. Also, ECOWAS has often shown that it lacks the muscles to intervene in member states without invitation to protect suffering civilians from humanitarian crisis, except when there is an unconstitutional overthrown of democratic regimes or illegitimate hold to power, as it occurred in the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Cote d’Ivoire (Aidoo, 2018; ICG, 2016).


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Security Regionalism in West Africa after the trade agreement ECOWAS. Smoothing the rough edges
University of Ghana, Legon
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security, regionalism, west, africa, ecowas, smoothing
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Gilbert Aidoo Arhinful (Author), 2018, Security Regionalism in West Africa after the trade agreement ECOWAS. Smoothing the rough edges, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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