The creation of a regional force in West Africa opens more questions than it closes

ECOWAS member states met in Nigeria to announce the creation of a joint force to combat jihadism and end the wave of coups d’état sweeping the region

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided last Sunday to create a joint military force to “guarantee the stability of the region” to stop the wave of “jihadism” and “coups” that have hit West Africa since the last years. The leaders of some of the member states of the organization met in Nigeria at their 62nd regular session and agreed to do so. Alieu Touray, president of the ECOWAS commission, announced that the organization is “determined to create a regional force that will intervene at any time of need, whether it is in the area of ​​security, terrorism, or restoring constitutional order in the member states.” ”.

The news has been welcomedby the media in France and other countries involved, who see the creation of a regional force as an extension of the well-known phrase “African solutions to African problems”, thus opening the door to greater independence for European armies that they generally operate in the region in case of dire need. We find recent examples of European military interventions in West Africa in the Ivory Coast (with a French presence since 2011) and in the countries that make up the G5 Sahel (where France and the European Union have operated since 2012). The growth of jihadism in the region and the “alarming number of successful coups” in Mali, Guinea Conakry and Burkina Faso are the fundamental reasons that have led to this decision.

The creation of a joint force in ECOWAS almost coincides with Emmanuel Macron’s speech last November, when he announced the end of Operation Barkhane that France has been deploying in the Sahel since 2012. Macron then said that France would develop a new strategy of the fight against terrorism and that it would take more into account the States involved, advocating to strengthen the partnership between France and West Africa with these measures. At first glance, it would seem that West Africa has gained independence from recent events. Because there is no doubt that, as far as the fight against terrorism is concerned, a joint African force would be an important step forward in stabilizing the region.

The fine print

Going through the fine print of ECOWAS’s latest announcement, however, there may be worrisome chiaroscuros that could cause problems in the future. First, the decision to create this new regional force does not have the support of a handful of nations belonging to the community: Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea Conakry. Three nations that are currently governed by separate military juntas that came to power in recent years thanks to coups d’état, and that slowly but steadily have moved away from ECOWAS policies to suffer international isolation that only facilitates the increase of jihadism in the region.

But if these three countries have not endorsed the decision of their neighbors, does this mean that the joint force could not operate in them without their permission? And if you could operate without your permission, on what legal basis would you do so? The norms of International Law are very strict with regard to intervening militarily in a country without the permission of its Government. In the hypothetical case that the joint armies of Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria take the decision to seize power from Colonel Assimi Goita(Mali) through a military operation, said action could well be considered as a full-blown aggression against a sovereign State, even if the other is a coup plotter. The laws are fine, cowardly, and they would not see a coup plotter, a Gadhafi, as a rookie coup plotter who limits his murders to the inner circle and whose mere appearance still causes thousands to shout his name .

Who is a coup plotter and who is not?

And in the case of carrying out said intervention, what moral parameters would you follow so that it can be justified? The closest example of an armed intervention carried out by ECOWAS “to guarantee institutional order” in a neighboring nation is found in Guinea Bissau. Since its current president, Sissoco Embaló, took power illegally in 2020Various contingents from Senegal and Nigeria (to which must be added an indeterminate number of mercenaries that can be seen today in the capital) have settled in the small African nation to keep Embaló in power. Said intervention was carried out without the endorsement of the Bisauguinean Parliament and is seen by members of the opposition as an invasion; something that, if we closely study the laws of International Law, can be considered.It is no secret in West Africa that Sissoco Embaló governs Guinea Bissau thanks to the help of Macky Sall (President of Senegal)., Muhammadu Buhari (president of Nigeria) and Adama Barrow (president of Gambia) and the military brought from these countries. Does the new ECOWAS decision mean that the abuses committed against democracy in Guinea Bissau will now have a legal framework that justifies them? Who decides who is the coup leader in this type of situation, whose friend you have to be to govern illegitimately without causing us problems?

The decision to create a joint force sounds like a good idea, but it is both confusing and dangerous. Of fourteen countries that make up ECOWAS, only four are on the list of the 100 countries with the highest corruption perception index, and none make it to the list of the top 50. The responsibility that nations may acquire for what will happen in third countries must be closely linked to the transparency of the system followed by those involved, or any action to be taken will inevitably be tainted with the shadow of doubt. Taking what happened in Guinea Bissau as a reference, what guarantees are there that ECOWAS would not place a puppet to govern the nation they decide to liberate?