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ECOWAS vs WAEMU: competition over peace and security roles in West Africa.
Owusu-Ampaw Maxwell Ako

Post-graduate student, Assistant, the department of Theory and History of International Relations; Peoples' Friendship University of Russia

117198, Russia, Moskva oblast', g. Moscow, ul. Miklukkho Maklaya, 10/2
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The questions of peace and security are of utmost importance for the government of each African state. In Africa, the conflicts flare up much easily that in majority of countries in the world. After the end of cold war, over a third of peacemaking operations of the United Nations worldwide took place in Africa. As the regional and subregional organizations adopt the path of helping to maintain peace and security in Africa, the role of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the sphere violence control in the West African subregion is being doubted by a the strategic mechanism for peace and security of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). This article examines the peacemaking capabilities of ECOWAS as a regional authority tasked with maintaining peace in the subregion; as well as discusses the structure of its establishment, application of its mandate in conflict resolutions, organization’s tasks in fulfilling its obligations, and the success it was able to achieve. The article traces the connection between France, as former colonial power in Africa and WAEMU, implies a program that duplicates ECOWAS’s role in maintaining security, peace and order in the West African subregion. This author underlines that WAEMU can manifests as a geopolitical mechanism of France for regaining its dominance over the West African states and Africa as a whole.

Keywords: geopolitical mechanism, deploy, brigade, modernization of armies, community levy, West Africa, ECOWAS, WAEMU, Standby Forces, peacebuilding



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The unity of Africa is part of a trend called Pan-Africanism, born in the United States of America after the Civil War. It tended to fight against racial discrimination for equal rights. Originally, it was a movement of solidarity among blacks of African descent, the British West Indies and the United States of America. The philosophy of Pan-Africanism was transplanted to Africa by Georges Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah. The idea of Pan- Africanism therefore became the root of African regionalization towards the struggle for independence.

At independence, the question of the unity of Africa resurfaces with two opposing groups: the "Casablanca Group" and the "Monrovia Group". The "Casablanca group" included Ghana, Guinea and Mali. They were already involved in a process of union and met with other states in Casablanca from 4 to 7 January 1961. They adopted an African charter creating the "Casablanca group" and at the same time adopted a number of resolutions. States belonging to this group were regarded as revolutionary states and wanted a renunciation of sovereignty for the United States of Africa.

The "Monrovia group", on the other hand, consisted of so-called reformist states. Those are essentially French-speaking countries. They wanted to expand the African and Malagasy Union (AMU) to the largest number of African States. The group conference was held in Monrovia on May 8, 1961. The conference adopted the creation of an international organization inter-African and Malagasy (now Madagascar) intergovernmental consultative body and wanted cooperation between African states.

These two groups had divergences views on integration in Africa, in particular between Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, but their merger gave birth to the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The objective of the OAU was to achieve inter African cooperation which does not imply a transfer of sovereignty from States to OAU. To ensure the maximum effectiveness of the application of Article 3 (4) of the OAU, concerning the peaceful settlement of disputes, the States had already envisaged the creation of a Commission of Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration (CMCA). The composition and rules of operation of this commission were defined by a Special Committee and approved by the First Conference of Heads of State and Government of the OAU on July 21, 1964 in Cairo. The CMCA consisted of 21 appointed magistrates for five years. It was an autonomous body independent of the Council of Ministers and the Conference of Heads of State and Government. It enjoyed relative autonomy similar to that of the International Court of Justice [1].

At the end of the cold war the liberalization of political regimes multiplied tension on the continent impoverishing the OAU’s strength in the management of conflicts. The 29th summit of its Conference of Heads of State and Government adopted the Cairo Declaration on 30 June 1993 in Egypt, which creates the mechanism for the prevention and resolution of conflicts by consolidation of peace through diplomatic action and negotiations.

The Cairo Declaration proved to be ineffective because it was not legally binding and unsuited to the complexity of the new African conflicts marked by mass atrocities and abominable crimes like Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Thus, in Sirte, Libya in1999 a commitment was made to create the African Union. The organization adopted in 2002 a protocol that brought in the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). This APSA provides for an African Standby Force (ASF) which is prepositioned in the countries. Each Regional Economic Community (REC) should be a brigade of this force. In West Africa, it is the Economic Community of West African States the states (ECOWAS) that assumed this role.

Theoretical perspective

To analyze the new competition for peace and security role in West Africa, the theoretical perspective that would seem most applicable is field theory, a psychological theory that studies the pattern of interaction between an individual and his environment, developed by Kurt Lewin. Defining the theory in sociological terms, the field refers to a space in which actors compete or struggle for the monopoly of efficient capital resources and positions therein, as well as for the transformation or preservation of the force that structure the field. The stake of the internal field is the power that commands access to specific profits that are at stake in the field. The State field refers to a set of relations of competition and complementarity articulated around the state power existing between political actors.

West Africa therefore, can be compared to a field where several actors coexist. The theory of the field makes it possible to account for a social world which is integrated, structured and differentiated [2].

Mediation and Security Council (MSC)

The Mediation and Security Council of ECOWAS is composed of 9 Member States of which 7 are elected by the ECOWAS Conference of Heads of State and Government. The two others members that are the presidency of the conference and the immediately preceding presidency are automatically ex-officio members of the Mediation and Security Council. They are elected for two years renewable. The MSC takes on behalf of the Conference of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS decisions on issues related to peace and security in West Africa and ensures the implementation of the provisions of the Protocol mechanism for conflict prevention, management and resolution, peace and security [3].

The MSC performs several other functions: it decides all questions relating to peace and to security; it implements the policies of prevention, management and settlement of conflict, peacekeeping and security; it authorizes all forms of intervention and decides in particular on the deployment of political and military missions; and terms of reference of these missions; it periodically reviews these mandates and terms of reference depending on the evolution of the situation; on recommendation of the President, the Commission appoints the Special Representative of the President of the Commission and the commander of the force [4].

In addition, the work of the MSC takes place at three levels: at the level of Heads of State and Government, Ministers and Ambassadors. The Heads of States and Government meet at least twice a year in san ordinary session. The President-in-Office may, if necessary or at the request of the majority members of the Council, convene special sessions. It is at the level of Heads of State that terms of reference for field missions are approved. At the Ministerial level, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Interior and security of the MSC meet at least once every three months to review the general political situation and security in the sub region. They can as well meet frequently as the situation demands. The recommendations of this ministerial work are submitted to the Heads of State and Government sitting on the MSC. Finally at the level of Ambassadors, the ambassadors of the MSC member states, permanent representatives from their countries to the President of the ECOWAS Commission, meet once per month to review issues related to peace and security of the sub region. They can also meet more frequently when needed. Reports and recommendations resulting from their work are forwarded by the President of the Commission to all MSC Member States and the States concerned. These reports are also submitted for consideration of the MSC Ministers Meeting [5]. The MSC can rely on expertise of the Defence and Security Commission to inform its decisions.

The Defence and Security Commission

The Defence and Security Commission of ECOWAS is composed of Chiefs of Defence Staff or their equivalent; the heads of ministries of the interior and security; and experts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of each country. Among the agenda of the Defence and Security Commission are issues relating to immigration, customs, the fight against drugs and narcotics, and the security of borders or civil protection [6].

The function of the Defence and Security Commission is to study the technical aspects and to determine logistical requirements for peace operations. It also assists the MSC in formulating the mandate of the sustaining peace; developing the terms of reference of the force; to the appointment of a Commander of the force or determination of the composition of the contingents. The Defence and Security Committee meet once a quarter and when needed to review the reports produced by the observation and monitoring center, and make recommendations to the MSC.

Even though the military has the expertise of war and peacekeeping, the community leaders considered it appropriate to establish a Council of Elders who can perform good offices and mediations.

The Council of Wise Men, so unusual mediators

The President of the ECOWAS Commission prepares each year a list of eminent personalities who can, on behalf of ECOWAS, use their good offices and their skills to play the role of a mediator, conciliator or referee. These personalities can come from the various layers of society, including women, political leaders and traditional leaders. This list is approved by the MSC at the level of Heads of State and Government. They must be neutral, impartial and objective. These personalities are solicited whenever necessary by the President of the ECOWAS Commission to deal with a given conflict situation. The composition and terms of reference of the Council of Elders are defined by the President of the Commission according to the mission to be accomplished.

The Standby Force of ECOWAS

The Standing Force of ECOWAS, a structure composed of several polyvalent modules of civilians and military personnel waiting in their countries of origin and ready to deploy as fast as they can. This force is responsible for several missions such as observation and monitoring of Peace ; the maintenance and restoration of peace; support for humanitarian actions; the application of sanctions including embargoes; preventive deployment; peacebuilding , disarmament and demobilization; police activities, including the fight against fraud and crime.

Peacekeeping operation requires planning and mission management. And since the maintenance of peace and security was not part of ECOWAS’ original mission, it was not prepared for such a task. The result was felt during its interventions. There have been problems with articulation, and cooperation of the different contingents who do not have the same military culture, nor the same formations and equipment. In addition, countries that are confronted with internal problems cannot afford to send either a large number of soldiers or to equip them. Also, the staff was often deployed without the administrative support for their work, especially means of communication to be in contact with the populations which is important in a peacekeeping operation.

The Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Center stressed the lack of coordination with relief humanitarian organizations because ECOWAS does not have a guide for cooperation with civil organizations. However, a civilian component including political advisers, experts in logistics, human rights and public relations are necessary for a good execution of a peacekeeping operation. The Commission lacks the capacity to plan and manage conflicts.

But in the early 1990s, ECOWAS became an example and experimental laboratory for other African sub regions and even for African Union peacekeeping. Thus, the intervention of ECOWAS in Mali is of strategic importance because it marked the maturity of the organization in terms of peacekeeping. And its Standby strength which is one of the African Union's pending force brigades. This intervention was the first opportunity to test the effectiveness of the force. In the aftermath of the coup d'état of March 22, 2012 in Mali, ECOWAS, like the Western chancelleries, condemned the act in a statement from the ECOWAS Commission. It reads:

"The ECOWAS Commission has just learned with deep consternation and big disappointment the announcement of the overthrow of the government of the Republic of Mali led by His Excellency Amadou Toumani Touré in the early hours of March 22, 2012 and his replacement by a military junta of young officers called the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR) led by the Captain Amadou Aya Sanogo. The Commission strongly condemns this usurpation of power of the democratically elected government, just one month before the nation goes to ballot boxes to elect a new President. The action of the junta is completely in contradiction with the provisions of the ECOWAS Additional Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance and seriously compromises the gains that have been difficult for ECOWAS over the past two decades to bring about democratic culture and the rule of law "[7].

ECOWAS member states then decide to send troops to Mali. But the readiness of the Standby ECOWAS force is noticeable on the one hand by the weakness of the organization's peace operations capabilities notably the lack of financial difficulties. Chapter 14 of the 1993 Revised Treaty of Cotonou provides for the provisions concerning ECOWAS. At the end of Article 70 of this text, it says: “the ordinary budgets of the Community and its institutions shall be financed by a Community levy and any other sources that may be determined by the Council of ministers. Pending the entry into force of the Community levy, the budgets of the Community and its institutions are fed by the annual contributions of Member States”. The method of calculating the contribution of States is determined by a protocol. This Protocol sets the contribution of each Member State on the basis of a coefficient of the gross domestic product of each State and the per capita income of all members. For this purpose, the coefficient must be calculated as representing half of the ratio between the gross domestic product of each Member State and the total gross domestic product of all Member States, plus half of the ratio between the per capita income of each Member State and the total per capita income of all Member States. The statistics and others data published by the United Nations on gross domestic product and per capita income of Member States are used to calculate the contribution of each State. This coefficient is reviewed every three years. For payment, States must pay their contributions in the first three months of the financial year. Some states however, drag their feet on contributions. For example, for the 2006 financial year, according to the Secretary of the ECOWAS Executive Board: “During the period from January to September, the level of income received by the ECOWAS institutions amounted to 45,725,840 units of account, an equivalent of 55% of the budget for the year” [8].

But, ECOWAS receives other resources from donors and since the entry into force of the Community levy in 2004, States no longer pay direct contribution. ECOWAS also benefits from the support of partners in development in terms of financial contribution. This support translates into a considerable flow of financing granted to the Commission for the implementation of its programs, in particular peace and economic integration. This is how the donor fund was created by the three main donors of ECOWAS, France, Canada and UK. A donor funding management unit was put in place. Its mission is to manage the financing in a judicious manner while respecting the procedures set by donors. In 2005, for example, the Japanese government gave 99,423 units of account, the World Bank 75,156 units of account, Canada through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) donated 81,494 units of account and France contributed around 40,889 units of account [9]

However, to circumvent the payment difficulties of its Member States, ECOWAS drawing on the model of the Common External Tariff (CET) of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) adopted in 2003, the system of community levy. The Community levy is a 0.5% solidarity tax levied on imports of products entering the ECOWAS Zone.

Basically, the main problem of ECOWAS in financial matters is that unlike the UN, it does not have a peacekeeping budget and program budgets. When conflict erupts in the sub-region, it is obliged to appeal to foreign lenders and development partners to pay its peacekeepers and assist them in acquisition of equipment and logistics. But partners can sometimes be caught in other theatres of operation. Also, ECOWAS abolished the contribution of Member States to the ordinary budget and replaced it by the Community levy. Part of this Community levy is paid to the peace fund. This fund, which revolves around a million dollars, is not capable of supporting a peacekeeping operation which surely is far expensive.

The peace and security project of WAEMU, usurping ECOWAS’ authority

The rise of terrorist actions in West Africa pushed member states of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) to create a new agenda which in many respects compete with ECOWAS. WAEMU drafted a strategic program for peace and security which was validated by the Governments of the sub-regional organization on 24 October 2013 by a protocol establishing the common WAEMU policy in the field of peace and security.

According to Article 3 of the common WAEMU policy in the field of peace and security, its main objectives include: to contribute to the prevention of conflicts and crises; to strengthen political governance; to identify the fight against terrorism by placing it in the dynamics of international cooperation ; to prevent cross-border crime and to fight effectively mafia networks, including drug trafficking, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons; trafficking in human beings, cybercrime and the laundering of capital; to enhance the security of citizens and economic activities within the union [10].

The common security and peace policy of WAEMU, according to its designers, covers all the security challenges of the sub region, including prevention of conflicts, contribution to conflict management, peacebuilding and the creation of conditions for better political and institutional governance. As such, it favors the development of projects within the framework of strengthening internal security; the coherence of national security policies; capacity building of security forces; and stabilizing and securing risk areas.

As clearly shown above, WAEMU’s objectives as set out by its projects and programs are in direct competition with functions of ECOWAS. Whether it is the prevention of conflicts and crises, cross-border crime or the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. All of these are components of the ECOWAS security policy. This therefore raises the question of as to whether WAEMU is set out to compete with ECOWAS.

The excuse of modernization of African armies

It is no hidden fact that the Members of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) are former French colonies. Is WAEMU an instrument of the France to step up its geopolitical influence in Africa? In principle, helping to modernize armed forces and restore peace are positive actions which must be welcomed by all. They can help train professional soldiers for Africa and avoid mass crimes. But it's the hijacking of objectives and the politics of duplication of standard that alter this good intention.

In fact, military relations between France and Africa originated during the colonial period. Indeed, during the First and Second World Wars, Africa participated in the war effort by sending soldiers and raising taxes for the metropolis. From independence, these relations have been maintained with the defence and military cooperation between France and most of its former colonies. France maintains bases in Africa. The total human and financial cost of these deployments represents over 10,000 men and 760 million euros a year. This is the third of French troops outside the metropolis. They are prepositioned in Senegal, Gabon and Djibouti [11]

At the end of the Cold War, as more crises erupt on the content of Africa, France embarked on a process of modernization of the African armies. In 1997, France launches its program to strengthen African capacity to maintain the peace. This was called Reinforcement of African Capacity to Maintain Peace (RECAMP). The RECAMP program has three components: training, logistical and financial support. The training intends to give know-how exclusively in the field of peacekeeping to African soldiers. But the RECAMP can also be seen as an instrument of French geopolitics in Africa. This program may allow France to regain confidence in Africans and their leaders. It can also allow a popularization of French war material beyond francophone countries in Africa so as to open the market for the purchase of military equipment thereby allowing French and European companies to increase and diversify their clientele; to reinforce their knowledge and control of the African countries.


The question of who takes up the role of maintaining peace, security and order in the West African sub region is now torn between ECOWAS and WAEMU who have both clearly defined solutions to help address these needs. The African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) of the AU have foreseen a pending force of which each Regional Economic Community (REC) is to provide a brigade. This strength was planned to be operational in 2010 and again in 2015. To date, it is not yet really functional and the Malian crisis has provided a perfect illustration. It is due to the lack of preparation of Africans forces that France deployed “the Operation Serval” to oust Islamic militants from the north of Mali who had begun to push into the center of Mali. Today with the terrorist threat, France wants to rely on another lever namely WAEMU, which is one of the few African international organizations to be in good financial state. Most African international institutions are plagued by financial difficulties at both regional and sub-regional levels. In West Africa, it is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that assumes the role for managing peace and security. How then does one explain the involvement of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU)? The main argument is that behind the WAEMU, there is a former colonial power (France) who wants to torpedo integration processes in Africa.

ECOWAS Protocol on the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security, Lome, ECOWAS, 1999.
Merand F. The field, vector of globalization, 10 sociological concepts in international relations, Paris, CNRS Publishing, 2015.
Ibid p. 10
Ibid p. 14
Ibid 17
Ibid 21
ECOWAS, ECOWAS Communiqué after the coup in Mali, Abuja, ECOWAS Commission, No. 074/2012, March 22, 2012.
ECOWAS, Annual Report of the Executive Secretary, Abuja, Nigeria, 2006.
Op. cit.
WAEMU, Protocol Establishing the Common UEMOA Policy in the Field of Peace and Security signed in Dakar (Senegal) on 24 October 2013.
Mbembe A. About the African Scriptures of Self, African Policy, No. 77, 2000, p.16-43.
Adam B. Mali. From the French military intervention to the reconstruction of the State, Brussels, GRIP, 2013 p.33
Barnett M. Partners in Peace? The UN, Regional Organizations, and Peacekeeping, Review of International Studies, vol.21, No 4, 1995, p.411-433.
Barrera B. Operation Serval, war notes: Mali 2013, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 2016, p.448.
Bellescize G. The maintenance of peace: France and the RECAMP program, Contemporary Africa, No. 191, 1999, p.7-28.
Manigat M. The Organization of African Unity, French journal of political science, vol.21, No 2.
Mbembe A. About the African Scriptures of Self, African Policy, No. 77, 2000, p.16-43.
Morin D. Maintenance of Peace and the Francophone Space, Peacekeeping Newsletter, No. 96, November 2009, p.4.
Protocol that creates the peace and security architecture of the AU, July 10, 2002, Durban.
Pugh M. Reflections on Aggressive Peace, International Peacekeeping, vol.19, No. 4, 2012, p. 410-425.
Sindjoun L. Reflective Political Science and Knowledge on Political Practices in Africa black, Dakar, CODESRIA, 1999b, p. 45.