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ECOWAS, once an assertive power in West Africa, reduced to a paper tiger?

Kohnert, Dirk (2023): ECOWAS, once an assertive power in West Africa, reduced to a paper tiger?

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Economic integration among West African member states was the original mandate of ECOWAS. Threats to development, peace and security led the community to expand its mandate to include conflict management. ECOWAS has established a commendable record in peacekeeping. Its intervention in Liberia ended the conflict. In Sierra Leone, it provided the necessary support to the legitimate government, but in Guinea Bissau, it failed to stop the violence. In 2004, ECOMOG was replaced by the ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF), made up of military, police and civilian personnel. As part of its missions, ECOWAS has implemented conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms outlined in its Conflict Prevention Framework (ECPF). However, the organisation relies on its member states to achieve its objectives. Unfortunately, the latter is mostly characterised by a lack of political and financial commitment. In recent years, ECOWAS has focused on counter-terrorism strategies. However, these too have been hampered by capacity constraints, the persistence of a socioeconomic environment increasingly conducive to religious fundamentalism and extremism, and varying levels of political will and commitment. The ECOWAS institution's conflict prevention tools are currently stronger than its conflict management tools. At present, the ESF lacks the logistical and financial capacity for military deployment. Nigeria, the main troop and financial contributor, was supposed to provide more than half of the pledged ESF troops. But it has internal security challenges of its own. It is therefore doubtful that it could spare its pledged troops for an ESF mission. All this suggests that ECOWAS, once a force to be reckoned with in West Africa, has been reduced to a paper tiger. It's warning to intervene, by military force if necessary, in the current conflict in Niger, where a coup has overthrown the legitimate government, was reckoned as an empty threat. Especially since the coup leaders in Mali, Niger and Guinea have been backed by Russia.

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