Conflicts drain ECOWAS resources, dull economic vision

Monrovia- Liberia (PANA) -- Heralded as a new impetus in Africa's bid for economic integration, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is, 26 years on, having to grapple with political instability at the expense of needed economic focus.
A primary source of its security concerns has been the Mano River Union (MRU), where civil strife in Guinea-Conakry, Liberia and Sierra Leone hardly escapes the worry of ECOWAS and the wider international community.
Over a decade ago, ECOWAS first took the bull by the horns when it sent in a contingent of peacekeepers led by Nigeria, while the world watched Liberia turn into a slaughterhouse.
Caged in Monrovia by three warring groups that besieged the capital, more than one million Liberians faced death on a daily basis from bombs, bullets, starvation, disease and despair.
So, when the ECOWAS Peace Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) landed on Liberian shores 24 August 1990, a new chapter that could change its fortunes for the better was thought in the offing.
Troop-contributing countries included Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Gambia.
"This is making practical the concept of an African solution for an African problem," many Pan-Africanists opined, against the backdrop of reluctance within the wider international community to intervene in Liberia.
ECOMOG was welcomed by a beleaguered President Samuel Doe but resisted by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).
"We will make every inch of Liberian soil hot for [ECOMOG]," declared NPFL leader Charles Taylor, now President of Liberia.
Undaunted, ECOMOG landed and soon assumed its mediating role.
An instant result was the volume of relief that poured into the country thanks to security provided by the peacekeeping force.
Two weeks after its arrival, though, Doe was killed while visiting the ECOMOG headquarters on Bushroad Island, then territory of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) - a breakaway faction of the NPFL.
Sir Dauda Jawara, then President of Gambia and ECOWAS chairman, hosted a meeting of Liberian groups at home and abroad that formed an Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), which came to Liberia to fill the void created by the death of Doe.
Headed by professor Amos Sawyer, the IGNU worked along with ECOWAS in brokering a series of cease-fires among Liberian factions, which had by then grown to nearly half a dozen, and negotiating peace talks to end the carnage in the country.
A dozen or so peace talks assumed the names of venues like Banjul, Yammousokro, Accra, Akosombo, Abuja, Cotonou, Lome and Bamako peace accords, from where an equal number of political arrangements emerged.
The IGNU phased out, followed by a transitional government that led to national elections to officially end the Liberian debacle, even as another Mano River chapter, the Sierra Leonean nightmare, was already into its fifth year.
Although ECOWAS kept tap on the Sierra Leonean conflict from Liberia where it was headquartered, the body later moved to Freetown as relations ran sour with the elected government of Charles Taylor.
Taylor had been accused of supporting Sierra Leone's rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) led by Corporal Foday Sankoh, who used Liberian territory under Taylor's rebel groups to ignite the now decade-old war in the former British colony.
ECOWAS' political and military posture in Sierra Leone represented the first major foreign intervention in a country where ruthless, barbaric and inhumane acts, death and destruction was the order of the day.
But paramount among its achievements in that country was the ousting of a military junta to restore the elected government of current President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.
The presence of the ECOWAS in Sierra Leone provided an attractive buffer for foreign intervention in the areas of humanitarian relief and military operations helped ease the country towards the relative peace it knows today.
RUF and the Civil Defence Force (CDF), alias Kamajors, that opposed the rebels are today disarming to peacekeepers under the aegis of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL).
But even as peace shows its face in Sierra Leone, armed insurgents have surfaced in Guinea, once the only stable MRU state that played host to refugees fleeing the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
This new development has added to the claims and counter-claims among MRU countries that dissident activities in their respective countries were the makings of the others.
Sierra Leone and Guinea blame Liberia for the fighting within them, while Liberia not only denies the charge but also counters that Sierra Leone and Guinea have been harbouring dissident Liberians since its own war ended.
These accusations have sent ECOWAS on a new path of negotiating peace, with various ECOWAS executive shuttling across the MRU.
In July last year, a team of ECOWAS leaders, including Chairman Alpha Omar Konare of Mali, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and Yahyah Jammeh of Gambia all gathered in the Liberian capital to meet conflicting parties in an attempt to broker peace.
ECOWAS technical committees have made regular sojourns to the MRU sub-region on fact-finding missions, all in an effort to resolve the conflict in the region that has threatened stability in the entire West Africa.
An ECOWAS decision way back January 2001 to deploy troops at the borders of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea is, for unexplained reasons, yet to come off the shelf.
Nigeria would have contributed 776 troops, Mali 500, Senegal 200 and Niger 200.
But questions abound about the logistical and financial support for the mission, as well as a clear definition of its scope.
Liberia, for instance, is requiring a status of forces agreement prior to the deployment of the ECOWAS border patrol troops to avoid "hiccups" in the process of manning the orders.
While all this goes on, the economic thrust and impetus that ECOWAS should have provided the region is losing out on much needed focus.
This, because conflicts within and among member states, especially in the MRU, is drawing off valuable time, human and material resources that could otherwise be directed at economic progress.
Nigeria alone is reported to have spent a millions of dollars in peacekeeping missions in Liberia only, not to mention material and human loss in the cause of restoring peace to a sister country.
Counting the benefits of what could have accrued were such staggering amounts employed for the economic good can only leave ECOWAS citizens with a sore heart.
ECOWAS may well turn out to be a "good model" for regional peace keeping, as is suggested by many, but certainly far from the economic rudder its founders had in mind.

15 december 2001 19:54:00

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