By E.K.Bensah Jr
In February 2013, I wrote a piece entitled 'Where is the ECOWAS Sahel Strategy to Secure & Protect West Africa from Criminals? In October 2012, I penned an article entitled 'Mission: ECOWAS has a responsibility to protect West Africa from Criminals.' It summarized and reprised arguments from previous articles I had written about ECOWAS and its responsibility to secure the sub-region.
Back in October 2011, I wrote yet-again another, entitled 'Time for ECOWAS to Ratify the Criminal Investigative Intelligence Bureau'. The idea behind the piece was to argue that free movement is great for the ECOWAS sub-region, but comes at a cost - cross-border crime. The provision of free movement is possible thanks to the Protocol on Free Movement, Right of Residence and Establishment which was adopted in 1979. In 1980, ECOWAS members would ratify the first phase of the Protocol guaranteeing free entry of citizens from member states without visa for ninety days.
I also touched on how West African leaders, working through ECOWAS, had made significant strides on combating drug trafficking, crime; and what I described as 'all the attendant vices associated with un-policed porous borders'
ECOWAS structures for securing peace GIABA included!
At the sub-regional level, ECOWAS has a number of structures that are helping rein in what might otherwise be a chaotic sub-region. These include the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan on illicit drugs trafficking, organized crime and drug abuse; ECOWAS Committees of Chiefs of Security Services, and Chiefs of Defence Staff; WAPCCO; and GIABA.
Backed by the Canada-based 'The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre', the ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Security Services has assisted ECOWAS since May 2009 to create a committee that ensures proper communication and coordination efforts with member states on the police component of the African Standby Force and other regional security issues. The committee is now funded by the ECOWAS Commission's regular annual budget and meets twice a year.
The ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staffan exclusively military componentreviews security in the sub-region through quarterly meetings. The most recent meeting was some two weeks ago when they met to discuss the character of the African-led International Force in Mai (AFISMA).
The ECOWAS agency that is the Intergovernmental Action Group against Money-Laundering, or GIABA, is responsible for the prevention and control of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing in the West African Sub-Region. Critical to its mandate is the 'improvement of measures and intensifying efforts to combat the laundering of proceeds of crime in West Africa'. Incidentally, GIABA happens to be one of the ECOWAS agencies associated with Kofi Annan's newly-established West Africa Commission on the Impact of Drugs on Governance, Security and Development (WACD).
ECOWAS's formulation of a regional response through their Political Declaration of 2005 (that put forward the idea of establishing a criminal investigative intelligence bureau) has helped nip the problem in the bud. However, considering the fact that that the Criminal Investigative Intelligence Bureau (CIIB) had been proposed as far back as 2002 by Ghana for a meeting of the INTERPOL-backed West Africa Police Chiefs Committee (WAPCCO) in Abidjan, the challenge would have been better dealt with had member states resolved to establish the-said CIIB.
While ECOWAS community citizens continue to enjoy free movement in the sub-region, this is a region that has played host to internecine conflicts especially in the Mano River Union, such as the Liberian conflict of 1990 that prompted the intervention of ECOMOG. I wrote back in October 2011, 'add to that the porous border, the free movement of mercenaries, coupled with small arms trafficking and the recruitment of child soldiers and fighters to the cross-border crimes and we have ourselves a potential powder-keg that needs significant monitoring through significant systems of intelligence - as proposed by the yet-to-be-ratified CIIB'.
Although the intensity of the Mali conflict has died down - at least away from the glare of the media - there is no gainsaying that 2013 continues to be a year in which ECOWAS has not completed its work in Northern Mali; neither done with piracy nor the Sahel crisis. These are new elements forcing ECOWAS to take the bull by the horns on factoring not just the visceral peace and security instruments it is so used to, but a law-enforcement perspective that is sufficiently holistic to secure and protect West Africans from criminals and miscreants.
Way Forward for ECOWAS
At a time when African integration observers are talking of both the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) and a putative Arab Maghreb Union (AMU)-ECOWAS-CENSAD free trade area (along the lines of the tripartite COMESA-EAC-SADC free-trade area), this second FTA is unlikely to go anywhere quickly without ECOWAS getting very serious on distinguishing between what I would call 'hard'(war; drug-trafficking; human-trafficking) and 'soft'(cross-border and petty crime) conflict.
It is very encouraging to read of Joint Border Patrols in the sub-regionas prescribed by the INTERPOL-backed West African Police Chiefs Committee. A recent conference by the Mano River Union countries only two weeks ago that was held in Liberia re-visited the idea of Joint Border Patrols as a way of securing their borders. Coming from a micro-region that served as a catalyst for ECOWAS' first-ever intervention in West Africa under ECOMOG, this can only be good news that West Africa is capable of managing its own affairs.
I continue to press that ECOWAS might not have had the foresight of establishing a West African law enforcement mechanism (like the EU did with EUROPOL with respect to the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992) the very moment the Treaty of Lagos was revised in 1993 to reflect the current challenges of ECOWAS, but it can never be too late, I wrote in October 2011, 'to rectify the imperative of a sub-regional police force along the likes of INTERPOL or EUROPOL'. ECOWAS's imperative and comparative strengths on peace, security, and conflict prevention ought to give it the necessary impetus to bring to fruition the belated 'ECOWASPOL'/CIIB the sub-region so desperately needs to secure the region for its citizens.
In 2009, in his capacity as a 'Do More Talk Less Ambassador' of the 42nd Generationan NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" (http://critiquing-regionalism.org). Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on email@example.com / Mobile: +233-268.687.653.
Source: Emmanuel K. Bensah Jr.