The Role Of ECOWAS In The First Liberian Crisis

Project and Seminar Material for International Relations

The Role Of ECOWAS In The First Liberian Crisis


There is a wide array of information available on the performance of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its military arm, the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG), in restoring peace to Liberia. Managing complex situations with very limited human and financial resources for ECOWAS implies setting priorities, clearly identifying what it can achieve in the short, medium and long term and map out differentiated strategies taking into account the most imminent threats to peace and security in each of the countries within its community space, I was intrigued that West African nations could work together in promoting peace when their differences have impeded other collaborative endeavors. This paper examines some of the ECOWAS states and the underlying reasons for their involvement in Liberia.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a sub-regional organisation in West Africa, with a membership consisting of Cape Verde, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, Cote d’ Ivoire, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. In this project, I seek to examine the role played by ECOWAS as well as its military component, the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), in the Liberian conflict, and to consider its performance as a conflict-management mechanism.

The first Liberian civil war ended over seventeen years ago, and as Liberia is currently at peace, it is too often unquestionably accepted that ECOWAS was successful in its attempt to bring about peace within the state. For example Khobe (2000) proclaims that ECOWAS was successful, but other authors such as Gberie (2003) disagree with such sentiments. Gberie (2003: 154) argues that peacekeeping missions can only be undertaken by West African states with “enormous foreign assistance”. It does then appear that at the very least there is dissent amongst the literature, with sides supporting varied positions, or advocating different agendas. I therefore seek to contribute to the discussion by widening the foci. Instead of merely concentrating on ECOMOG, I draw on ECOWAS itself to support my claim that the organisation only hindered Liberia, rather than pacified it. I will also briefly compare the relative performances of ECOWAS in the conflicts of Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau, to show that the organisation was unable to learn from its own mistakes in Liberia.

1.2 Chapter Plan

In this introductory chapter I highlight my research questions, and consider the current available literature, and how my own work fits in with that. My methodology and limitations are shown here as well. In the second chapter I provide a historical background of Liberia, portraying the environment into which ECOWAS would intervene. The creation of ECOWAS, how this impacted on the intervention, and the legal aspects and issues of self-determination are dealt with in chapter three. Chapter four concerns the intervention proper, and there I will look into the political and military behaviour of ECOWAS to highlight what I aim to show are gross failures. The concluding chapter assesses the relative performance of ECOWAS in two subsequent interventions, in Guinea-Bissau and in Sierra Leone. This I do to highlight that ECOWAS has not learnt sufficient lessons from Liberia, and in actual fact went on to make the same mistakes many years later.

1.3 Clarification of Terms and Limitations of Study

It is of importance to note that in this dissertation I deal with the entirety of ECOWAS as an organisation, as opposed to limiting myself to dealing with the states that officially partook in the military intervention in Liberia. The term ‘Community’ is used throughout interchangeably with ‘ECOWAS’. It is also of note that the term ‘West Africa’ always refers to ECOWAS member states.

I use the term ‘failure’ to indicate performances of the organisation that contravened its intended purposes. For example, when a member state breaches an ECOWAS protocol, I state that to be failure. Such failures I sum together to evaluate the performance of ECOWAS in its relationship with Liberia. It is vital to understand that Community members followed differing policies; hence performance appraisals are gauged by the organisation’s stated aims, as opposed to gauging them against any one state’s intentions.

Finally, it is highly important to be aware of the fact that this dissertation merely deals with the first Liberian civil war (1989-1996).

1.4 Research Questions

The first question I seek to answer is how did the formation of ECOWAS lead to member states being able to act out policies on their own accord? This question relates to the problem of intra-ECOWAS policy incoordination. As member states contributed to the conflict in Liberia in a disparate way, it is vital to consider how such failures were allowed to occur. To answer this it is imperative to consider the protocols that ECOWAS was built on.

Secondly, I question the legality of the conflict, and ask whether ECOWAS contravened the UN Charterand the Liberian peoples’ right to self-determination. This question concerns some of the legal aspects of the conflict and seeks to examine whether or not ECOWAS contravened the UN Charter by intervening in the Liberian conflict. It also seeks to examine whether ECOWAS barred the Liberian people from their right to self-determination.

Thirdly, I examine issues of bias and ask if Nigeria or ECOWAS biased, and if so, how this affected the conflict. It is important to question the bias of Nigeria (as a supposed regional hegemon), as well as that of ECOWAS. Bias by either party would result in an ‘unnatural’ resolution of the conflict, as well possibly prolonging it and hence causing further damage.

Finally I question if ECOWAS learnt sufficient lessons from the case of Liberia so as to excuse it from its failures. This I perform by briefly investigating the performances by ECOWAS in the conflicts of Sierra Leona and Guinea Bissau.

The aim of this is to inquire as to whether or not ECOWAS learned from the mistakes that it had made in Liberia, as an improvement would possibly pardon some of its earlier mistakes, if it has managed to evolve into a more effective organisation.

1.5 Methodology and Potential Challenges

Throughout this dissertation I predominantly rely on secondary sources, including books, journal articles, official reports, and news articles (both online and print-based). I also make use of primary sources such as treaties, protocols and election results. Such documents are bound to be liable to disparate interpretation, hence I utilise secondary sources in conjunction so as to provide more balanced analyses. The vast majority of this dissertation draws on qualitative research, although I do supplement this with portions of quantitative data from organisations such as Human Rights Watch and the US Energy Information Administration when necessary.

My primary research is limited to utilising such documents as exemplified above, as any further primary research such as conducting a widespread opinion poll of the Liberian population would be immensely time-consuming and costly.

There is a danger in that some sources may be biased in favour or contra ECOWAS, as some have been written by participants of the Liberian conflict, hence I would be reticent to accept all such sources without juxtaposing them with similar sources by different authors.

1.6 Current Research

The following literature review is of course not indicative of the entirety of the literature available on the topic, but is rather an attempt to portray how the topic has been approached in the past, and how such approaches have faltered or succeeded in their contribution to the discussion.

Via this review, I aim to highlight the chief gaps in the current debate; some of which I intend this dissertation to contribute research to. The issue of Liberia has caught the world’s attention intermittently over the past two decades, but the Tuareg uprising in Mali has sparked a resurgence of debate about the validity and usefulness of military interventions in African states (BBC, 2012), particularly, those states that occupy the western region of Africa. This renaissance of discussion is often fixated on the merits of the concept of ‘allowing’ African states to deal with African matters themselves, as opposed to inviting or submitting unto non-African states for support.

Molnár (2008: 55) argues that ECOMOG is a “viable solution for West African problems”, adding that “its importance to handle regional crisis cannot be denied” (2008: 61). It does seem undeniable that ECOMOG (and by extension ECOWAS), plays a key role in conflicts in the region (simply because it exists), but this does not inherently define its role as a “viable solution”. Molnár (2008: 60) admits the various contentious issues surrounding the involvement of ECOWAS, such as the “prolongation of the war itself”, but does not seem to concede that such results are massively damaging to a state (HRW, 1997). Molnár (2008: 61) concludes by arguing that “it [ECOMOG] has built the basis for further developments to create a viable state in Africa”. This ambiguous statement purports all the hallmarks of eurocentrism, and disappointingly, the author offers no clear definition of what exactly a “viable” solution looks like, though she does offer the means to that solution: ECOMOG. The approach by Molnár seems to lack any clear methodology, and she crassly highlights events that are pertinent to the argument being made, whilst at the same time spuriously disregarding vital facts such as ECOMOG’s cooperation with militant groups, hence disallowing a balanced analysis.

Khobe (2000) too is supportive of ECOWAS, praising the organisation in its role in the conflict, stating that “…[ECOMOG] is a positive security development requiring some finetuning”, and that it “successfully…restored functional state structure in Liberia”. It may be stated that the development of ECOWAS is conducive to the state of intra-African relations, but his second declaration is very susceptible to criticism indeed. What he does not mention directly is that it took seven years for a long enough lull in violence so as to allow elections, and a further six before Liberia would be at peace after the second civil war, and only after the UN had intervened. The validity of the argument that Khobe (2000) purports falls flat furthermore as questions of bias arise, due to his being Commander of ECOMOG in its mission in Sierra Leone. He describes the ECOMOG mission in Liberia as one which sought to “reinstate law and order” by defeating the “drug addicted combatants”. The fact is that ECOMOG itself was committing acts of violence and other forms of criminality, as highlighted by Berman and Sams (2003) as well as Horvitz and Catherwood (2006), who at the very least partially nullify the praise Khobe (2000) so unapologetically dispatches. Furthermore, the methodology used certainly lacks any scientific rigour. Frequently ascribing acts of criminality unto rebels, he seems to lack or at least cite any evidence. Whilst he continuously sensationalises the topic, using the term “anarchy” throughout; he manages to conveniently disregard the severity of damage that ECOWAS caused to Liberia.

Khobe (2000), Molnár (2008), Jenkins (2005), Gberie (2003) and a plethora of other authors make their analyses based merely on the parties that contributed to ECOMOG. This is why I argue that the discussion vis-à-vis this topic is severely lacking, and hence my dissertation seeks to consider the entirety of the Community in its relationship with Liberia, and how said relationship affected that particular state. Although Gberie (2003: 147) treats the case of Liberia just by considering ECOMOG, he does sustain throughout his argument that ECOMOG, although well intentioned, was a failure; “[a] heroic failure”. It is clear though that Gberie (2003) could have gone much further in his analysis had he considered ECOWAS and not just ECOMOG.

Although the literature in my avenue of investigation is limited, there is more than enough evidence to sustain my position throughout this dissertation. Particularly useful is the paper by Mortimer (1996) which deals with the francophone states’ involvement (or lack thereof) in Liberia, with a specific focus on Senegal. Mortimer (1996: 306) describes how the “political consensus so imperative for success” lacked prior to Senegalese involvement, but even remained “elusive over the period of direct Senegalese participation”. Much like Gberie (2003), Mortimer (1996) simply does not seem to draw the various issues together to finally and conclusively show that ECOWAS failed Liberia.

Aoi (2011) highlights the evidence that indicates that Nigeria was a highly biased actor within ECOWAS, a position shared by Adeleke (1995), who provides a highly relevant account of the Nigerian role within ECOWAS. Adeleke (1995: 591) explains that “Nigeria orchestrated the formation of ECOMOG”, a widely supported theory, including by Aoi (2011) and Nweke (2010). Though this would appear true to some extent, it is a drastic oversight to ignore the reality that many Community members were apathetic, and hence the balances and checks that should have been enacted against Nigeria simply were not, as shown by Mortimer (1996), and yet other states even sponsored and helped instigate the war in Liberia, as argued by Huband (1990). Adeleke (1995) does draw attention to this, but does not ascribe such a failure directly to ECOWAS.

Adeleke (1995: 593) seems to hold an ambiguous position with regards to his views on ECOMOG, arguing that it would be a “fatal error” for West African states to rely on ECOMOG as a counter-insurgency tool; but does not heavily criticise the organisation. Adeleke (1995) also states that to merely focus on the legality of the conflict is to ignore the reality of the violence, a similar position to that of Molnár (2008). Both authors discount the usefulness of a legal appraisal, yet both seem to be unaware that humanitarian causes were certainly not of chief concern for ECOWAS, as shown by Jenkins (2005).

The work of Jenkins (2005) is particularly pertinent as he conducts a legal assessment of the ECOMOG intervention, usefully showing that human rights were not a priority. Though the work is beneficial, it is merely so with regards to an analysis of ECOWAS and its position in situ of a UN contingent. Jenkins (2005) supports the intervention as it conforms to Nanda’s (1998: 827) framework for the “validity of humanitarian intervention”. The framework is a lens with which to analyse a conflict and decide whether or not a humanitarian intervention is legal. Whilst Nanda’s overall methodology and research appears sound, the arrogance of purporting a legal framework based on such ethnocentric thought is clearly questionable, particularly considering Jenkins (2005) uses it to deliberate as to whether or not the intervention was legal.

Despite my opposition to some of Jenkins (2005) methods, I do utilise his paper as it is a useful legal appraisal, as long as its inherent eurocentrism is kept in mind. In this dissertation I build on the work of the likes of Gberie (2003), Adeleke (1995), Aoi (2001), and others, in an attempt to disprove the likes of Molnár (2008) and Khobe (2000), whilst attempting to avoid the traps of ethnocentrism as succumbed to by the likes of Jenkins (2005) and Nanda (1998). I aim to unite various bodies of evidence to show that ECOWAS, as a sub-regional organisation, failed Liberia.

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusion and Recommendations

5.1 Summary

This research projects examined the concept of peacekeeping in Africa with social reference to the operation of ECOMOG a sun-regional peacekeeping out fit established to re-enforce peace in Liberia. The need for this study was informed by the Security Implication of the Liberian crisis within the West Africa sub-region. The fact that if the conflict was not collectively addressed by the sub-regional Organization – the ECOWAS, the effect of it would spread to other states within the subregion, especially state neighbouring Liberia.

The major findings of the study are:

The crisis in Liberia is occasioned by the frosty relationship between the indigenous people who constitute the majority of the Liberian and the majority Americo-Liberians who have dominated the Liberian political scene since they were deported to Liberia in 1821, as resettlement area for the Afro-American slaves after the abolition of slave in America. The ascendancy to power by the ethnic majority Liberian population through the coup of April 12, 1980, through Late Sergeant Samuel Doe escalated the ethnic conflict in that country. The part played by America in its efforts to maintain the status quo did not help matters either on the conflict. The dimensions and complications which assumed and the possibilities of it spreading too other arts of West Africa sub-regions, especially state bordering Liberia necessitated the intervention of ECOWAS in the crisis, with view to finding solution to the problem.

The ECOMOG operation in Liberia though well intentioned and supported by the sub-regional organization ECOWAS, encounter various teething problems in its activities in its peace in Iberia. Among the various problem encounter by ECOMOG are: 1. Poor funding: The member states of ECOWAS did not make true their commitment to properly fund the operation of the peacekeeping organization. It was only when Nigeria offered to take up the bills of the operation that the efforts of the operation started to yield positive results. 2. Secondly, there were the logistics problems occasioned by different colonial orientation of the force contributing to the sub-regional peace organization. Since the forces that constituted the ECOMOG group were drawn from various West Africa states, with their different colonial experience (-The Anglophone and francophone West Africa) there were the language and other cultural problems presented by this colonial experiences which inevitably impacted negatively on the operations of the forces again, the support given to the rebel forces and other contending 93 interest in the Liberia conflict also impacted negatively on the operations of the forces. Again, the support given to the rebel forces and other contending interests in the Liberia conflict also impacted negatively on the operations of the forces. This work is basically an analytic description study which pre-cludes all forms of statistic method of data collection and analysis. Content analysis of the mass of data collection form library document was adopted in the analysis of the research findings.

5.2 Conclsion

This study has attempted to review the various encounter by ECOWAS in its efforts to bring peace to the crisis laden Liberians through ECOMOG. 94 The study admits that the crisis originated from the inability of the indigenous Liberia population and the Americo – Liberia minority population to live in harmony together. The study observes that this domestic environment related to external factors to fuel the conflict in that country. The involvement of ECOWAS was informed by both altruistic and subregional security interests. The altruistic interest of ECOWAS was aimed at stopping the lost in human material resources in Liberia. The study also conclude that the Nigeria desire to write off the bills of the ECOMOG operation in Liberia was informed by the altruistic tendency and the show of big brother posture in the sub-region as well as in Africa as a whole

5.3 Recommendations

The analysis provided in this study has shown that the problems encounter by ECOMOG in Liberia stemmed mainly from the internal configuration f the forces in the group, as well as other extraneous factors. In view of these, the following recommendations are made: (1) The ECOMOG community of West Africa State (ECOWAS) should in view of the importance of having a sub-regional organization to help in maintaining peace and security create a more harmonious and integrated peacekeeping body in its efforts in the process of peacekeeping in the sub-region. In this regard, the forces so envisage should be established well ahead of any crisis in the sub-region, perhaps in peace time. The forces so establish should have common training orientation in peacekeeping especially within the West Africa sub-region. Members of the force should be trained in two major languages; English and French) spoken in the sub-region. 96 Common funds shall be established for peace keeping operation in the subregion. This fund shall be entrusted with the secretariat of the organization and contributions to the fund made mandatory for all members’ state of ECOWAS. It is the conviction of this researcher that a well-organized, well-funded and well-articulated peacekeeping operation body is a welcome idea for the maintenance of internal peace and security especially within the West Africa sub-region.

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