The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) will not only boggle itself with diplomatic failures, in the next few years, but they are also to face intensified security threats and serious economic upheavals, which in turn might tear the region apart. The new political phase, gradually engulfing the Western region of Africa has been ditched in contemporary discussions, both in concepts and substance. Since the post-colonial era, African States have sat on a volatile democratic government, in an authoritarian manner that had never been reviewed or scrutinized in the media and intellectual space; simply because it is in line with neo-colonial frameworks. Internal scruples within the individual states quickly sparked into flames of civil wars and instabilities following the attainments of independence. The countries, who had their odds settled in whatever principles, lived a life with less concern for the future. Now Ecowas is turning to sanctions, they are late.
Ethnic conflicts, religious indifferences, territorial struggles coupled with coup plots were among the odds that for six decades have been defining African politics. When nations, within their internal affairs, fail to compromise on basic political values, they put their sovereignty into sway; becoming vulnerable to all kinds of external political leverages. When multiples of such nations come together with an agenda to pursue a unified course, their internal upheavals restrain their political strength and limit the scope within which the balance of the international system will work. Such a conundrum is what the Ecowas is finding itself.
At first, there were no agreeable principles among the West African states to deal with the early instabilities that arose during the 1960s through to the 1980s. Kwame Nkrumah envisioned such a collective system, strategically, he mounted an economic and political structure to be automatically embedded on the ongoing independence being won, so it can deal with all future economic and political instabilities. He calculated that collectively, pursuing freedom and liberation meant not only strength but also to establish a long-term framework of diplomacy that will create a system of interdependence among the countries involved. Similar to the European balance of power, Nkrumah wanted a domestically-built groundwork of politics as a backbone to deal with foreign policies among individual African states. To curb external pressures, solve security problems, and pursue achievable economic goals. He was silenced in 1966, and as such, concrete dreams of diplomatic ties among African states were over.
There has never been a similar attempt by any African leader since 1966. Orchestrating coups, weaponizing rebel leaders, and counteracting freedom fighters, the neo-colonial masters, through their puppets, have leveraged on every single political and social upheavals since the post-colonial era. As such, foreign policies and diplomatic activities within the African states have always been active beyond the shores of the Mediterranean.
Principles of the international order must be within a framework of legitimate structures. Legitimacy as explained by Kissinger, “means no more than an international agreement about the nature of workable arrangements and about the permissible aims and methods of foreign policy”. What workable arrangements govern the Ecowas? What are their permissible aims? What methods of foreign policy do they want to deploy? Do they have some sort of international agreement? To the Ecowas, what is legitimate; the acceptable and unacceptable principles? What at all embodies their day-to-day dealings among themselves?
Among the West African states, there are several methods that are not compromised; methods of security, economic activities, and conduct of foreign policy. For over a decade, the Ecowas hasn’t been able to deploy a single strategy to deal with Boko Haram, perhaps it is for only Nigerians. During the Nigeria-Cameroun conflict over oil territory, hardly did we see the intervention of the Ecowas, the xenophobic attacks which resulted in the killings of Nigerians in the streets of South Africa went unnoticed. The Ivorian civil war and the upheavals in Guinea and Mali went unconcerned. Now the issue is not about how to deal with various coup leaders. It is about how they have been dealing with various secessionist groups, juntas, rebels, and insurgencies over the past years when they were amassing resources and weapons. Now, the terrorist groups have been doubled, those in Burkina Faso have been killing hundreds of people; putting the whole nation into fear. The Ecowas, today, haven’t been able to mount any strategy to curb these security challenges.
It persists, and all the time, gets intensified; more death, more killings, schools are being closed, people are being lost, and dislocated. West Africa hadn’t been completely peaceful. And you leave the individual states to determine their destinies when these happen.
The Sanctions, even if they will work, at this juncture seem to be too late. Yet, the sanctions in question here are both conceptually bankrupt and substantially flawed. In concept, no concrete agreeable principles define the diplomatic themes within the West African States. No concrete economic ties, no security treaties, no common values to be shared among diplomats. In other words, individual West African states do not speak common language of foreign policy.
Substantially, it is flawed because the Ecowas isn’t having legitimate structures within which her individual states could play their foreign policies. The day-to-day diplomacy conducted among themselves is mere events, conferences, and speeches that propagate nothing but the competition of speechwriters. Sanctions only work when individual states agree to the principles within which it is framed and the consequence that enforces it. As such, a state, that chooses to be stubborn would have a limited scope and restraint that will safeguard the other states. Now, the political phase within which the Ecowas has been engulfed has been all-around revolutionary. Guinea, Mali, and now Burkina Faso. Nobody knows when the Ecowas is going to be strong but the next situation in line would be serious economic hardship such has never occurred before. It will demoralize the institutions within which it operates.
There is an already ever-intensified unemployment rate, continuing ripping off the youth in West Africa. The dollar rate among the anglophone countries isn’t doing well. Millions of people after realizing that governments won’t address their predicaments wouldn’t comply fully with their institutions, such was the sentiment in Conakry when Doumbouya busted Conde. The chairman of the Ecowas, Nano Addo Danquah, with mixed feelings advises his fellow West African leaders to follow in his footsteps to ensure that there is a peaceful transition of power whenever their term exhausts. But Mamadou Doumbouya has congratulated Assimi Goita; the red line has been drawn.
It is gradually becoming clear that the influence of the Ecowas wouldn’t prevail, even among the States who haven’t taken any revolutionary action. Because the socio-political and economic upheavals within those states aren’t going to discontinue. The resentment with Nigeria’s EndSars in substance isn’t different from the sentiment that backed Doumbouya when he ousted Alpha Conde. If sanctions are the only tool left for the Ecowas, in this political turmoil, they should come again.