Good to have you back.
Many of the African experts wonder whether ECOWAS’ most recent intervention in The Gambia marks a turning point in the history of the community’s unstable dealing with challenges to peace and security in the region.
The overall trend in West Africa suggests that ECOWAS takes political crisis case by case, and that its m.o. is to proceed with caution.
Three cases in point:
1.) In Niger in 2009, then President Mamadou Tandja forced through a referendum under flawed voting conditions that lifted the country’s two-term presidential limit. In response, ECOWAS said it no longer recognized Tandja as Niger’s president and demanded that he step down – but a military intervention was not in the works. Tandja was ultimately removed by his own military, which turned over power to a new civilian government in 2001.
2.) In Senegal in 2012, when then President Abdoulaye Wade was running for a third term, Wade argued that Senegals’ two-term limit did not apply to him, since his first term had started before the limit was imposed. His opponents viewed his candidacy as unconstitutional. ECOWAS promised a compromise: If elected, Wade should serve a two year term and then hold elections. Military intervention was, again, not on the table. Perhaps fortunately for ECOWAS, Wade list the election, rendering the compromise moot.
3.) In Mali in 2012, a complex crisis took shape that included a coup against the outgoing president, a separatist rebellion and a jihadi occupation of the northern cities. After the coup, ECOWAS swiftly imposed sanctions that pushed the coup leaders to step down in exchange for amnesty. Putting Mali back together again, however, was more difficult. The coup leaders initially retrained significant influence in politics, and northern Mali remained in jihadi hands for months. ECOWAS slowly prepared for a military intervention, but in January 2013, when the jihadis pushed into Central Mali, it was France that invaded.
While a bit of a different context, the case of Guinea-Bissau shows ECOWAS becoming more embroiled as an actor to the conflict than as an actual mediator.
In the Gambia, a many supporting factors came together, not without mentioning the fact that Jammeh did successfully negotiate immunity for himself.
Guinea-Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali still need to see a stronger and more robust ECOWAS take responsibility and overcome the internal schism created among its members.
See you then.