ECOWAS emerges as key player in regional conflict management

West African bloc ECOWAS, which meets Thursday after threatening to intervene in the Niger crisis, has become a key player in the management of regional conflicts.

ALSO READ: ECOWAS delegation fails to restore Niger’s elected government

First set up in 1975 to promote economic development among its 15 members, it has since stepped in in conflicts from Sierra Leone to Mali.

15 members (ECOWAS)

ECOWAS, based in the Nigerian capital Abuja, has 15 members: Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, all French speaking, along with Anglophone Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and two Portuguese speaking countries, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau.

Of those, four have been suspended or sanctioned following military coups: Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and most recently Niger.

ALSO READ: Niger’s military rulers insist on talks with ECOWAS: PM

The organisation is dominated politically and economically by regional giant Nigeria, which accounts for more than half the bloc’s population and GDP.

Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the current ECOWAS president of its supreme decision-making body.

Single currency a dead letter

The Lagos treaty which set up ECOWAS was signed on May 28, 1975 in the Nigerian economic capital, with the aim of removing economic, political and linguistic barriers to trade.

But ECOWAS gradually had to scale back its economic ambitions. The Eco, the single currency that its members were due to adopt in 2020, is probably dead in the water.


The bloc has however seen its political clout grow. It has intervened directly in conflict resolution across the region.

In 1993 it adopted a new statute formally giving it responsibility in the prevention and settlement of regional conflicts.

ALSO READ: ECOWAS team in Niger for military intervention after coup

In June 2004 West African military chiefs approved the creation of a 6,500-strong force, including a rapid intervention contingent, in case of conflict.

In November 2005 a five-year training programme was adopted to allow peacekeeping operations.

Military interventions

ECOWAS played a key political role during the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, setting up in 1990 a West African force of several thousand men.

It played a key role in bringing peace to Liberia in 1997.

ECOWAS also intervened in Guinea-Bissau during the armed rebellion in 1998-99 and after the coup d’etat in 2012.

In 2003 it weighed in in Ivory Coast after a rebellion and a decade later in Mali to help Bamako retake control of the north which fell into the hands of jihadists.

ALSO READ: President Ramaphosa praises ECOWAS anti-coup drive

In The Gambia in 2017 it intervened when outgoing president Yahya Jammeh, who had lost elections, refused to step down.


© Agence France-Presse

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