An Open Access Article

Type: Research Article
Volume: 2019
Keywords: Conflict resolution, Mediation, Exclusionary political system, Mali, ECOWAS
Relevant IGOs: Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU), European Union (EU), United Nations (UN)

Article History at IRPJ

Date Received: 2019-09-09
Date Revised:
Date Accepted: 2019-09-20
Date Published: Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU), European Union (EU), United Nations (UN)
Assigned ID: 20191003

Conflict Resolution and Peace Building Initiatives in West Africa: A Study of the Role of ECOWAS in Managing the Malian Crisis from 2012 to 2016

Olalekan Samuel AFOLABI

Author affiliation(s): (1) School of Diplomacy and International Affairs, Pôle Universitaire Euclide (Euclid University), Bangui (Central African Republic) and Greater Banjul (Republic of the Gambia) / EUCLID Global Institute, Washington DC (United States); (2) Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
* Olalekan Samuel Afolabi, 12, Sam Nujoma Estate, Galadimawa, Abuja, Nigeria, +2347038232797,

Corresponding Author:

Pr Devender BHALL, HDR (Editor)


1.     Introduction

In March 2012, Mali’s government was overthrown in a military coup. Insurgents, capitalizing on the ensuing power vacuum, seized much of the country’s vast and sparsely populated northern territory. As of early January 2013, three loosely connected Islamist extremist groups – including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization – reportedly controlled all major towns in the north, an area roughly the size of Texas. While the number of Islamist insurgent combatants appears to be small, they have become increasingly entrenched, ousting an ethnic Tuareg separatist group with which they were initially allied and recruiting adherents among local populations.[1] Meanwhile, the post-coup, civilian-led government in Bamako has been weakened by internal divisions and military interference, while years of corruption and mismanagement appear to have hollowed out many state institutions. Mali’s leaders also face stark economic constraints amid a national recession and revenue crisis.[2]  A regional food security crisis, exacerbated by population displacements from northern Mali, also continues to cause suffering, leading to both security and humanitarian crises.

The West African sub-region has witnessed a number of post-independence violence that has led to civil wars and rude interruption of democratic processes by the military and other groups  struggling for political power. As a result, military rule became rampant and political instability almost became a norm with military intervention in politics in virtually all the countries in the sub-region. This situation worsened the security challenges in the sub-region. In an attempt to address these challenges and stabilize the sub-region, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), formed in 1975 for the purpose of promoting economic integration of its members, was compelled to adopt promotion of peace and security among its member as a cardinal objective. This was first demonstrated with ECOWAS intervention in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s after their civil wars through the operationalization of the Protocol on Non-Aggression (1978) and the Protocol on Mutual Assistance on Defense (1981).[3]  These protocols marked the beginning of the realization by West African leaders that security is linked to economic integration. If there is no security, ECOWAS cannot achieve its aim of regional integration.

ECOWAS intervention in the 2012 Malian conflict was necessitated by its various protocols on peace and security agreed upon by all the members of the organization. This paper seeks to examine the nature and scope of the conflict, and the level of involvement of ECOWAS in the resolution of the conflict, with the aim of attempting to provide plausible recommendations to the policy makers at regional and international levels.

2.     The 2012 Malian Conflict and its Implications for West Africa and Beyond

From 1960 to 2013, there have been four different peace accords as a result of four different rebellions (1963 – 1964, 1990 – 1996, 2006 – 2009, and 2012 – 2013) experienced in Mali. The first Tuareg rebellion was started in 1963 soon after the country gained her independence in 1960. The Kidal-centered Kel Adagh Tuareg confederation took up arms against the new government as a result of a combination of factors.  Notable among them is the enactment and application of some socio-economic policies which the Tuareg considered unfavorable to them but in favor of communities that traditionally had been subordinate to the Tuaregs. As a result of the brutal way the Malian government responded to the crisis, and the demand for retribution from the Arabs and Tuaregs, there was no peace accord for this conflict.[4]  The government thereafter established an antagonistic relationship with the north leaving a lingering resentment.

The second Tuareg rebellion was triggered by the state policies that were perceived to systematically favor the southern region over the northern region, coupled with successive droughts that badly affected the region’s economy, particularly the ability of the nomadic Tuareg populations to sustain themselves. There ensued an intense and prolonged fighting between the Malian Army and the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MPLA) which eventually made the government of Moussa Traore, agree to enter into negotiations with the leaders of the movement in Tamanrasset, Algeria, thus resulting in a peace accord between Malian government, and the MPA (formerly the MPLA) on January 6, 1991.[5] The agreement was however not implemented, as Traore was overthrown in a military coup two months after its signing. Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Toure (commonly referred to as ATT) became the head of a transitional government.[6] At the same time, in the north, there were sharp divisions among the Tuaregs along the clan and caste lines. Algeria had to intervene in bringing the Tuareg and Arab rebel groups into a single coalition, which started negotiations with the ATT-led transitional government.  The negotiations led to the signing of an agreement known as the National Pact on April 11, 1992, which in addition to the conditions of the Tamanrasset Accord,  provided for the modalities of transfers of power to the locals, and the rehabilitation and integration of the ex-rebels into the army. In the Pact, a new region, Kidal, was created with greater political clout despite its small population. Unfortunately, many northerners viewed the creation of the Kidal region as a move to grant special privileges to the Kel Adagh clan,[7]  an action perceived to be sponsored by Mali’s colonial master, France.

Northern Mali witnessed the third Tuareg rebellion in 2006 under similar circumstances as the 1990s rebellion. The rebellion was triggered when 150 Tuareg officers from the Kidal region abandoned their barracks in Menaka, Tessalit, and Kidal with weapons and army vehicles.[8] The deserted military formed a militia group and immediately demanded the full implementation of the 1992 National Pact, with specific emphasis on granting greater autonomy for the northern region, a special status for Kidal, and ensuring that the north gets its fair share of the national resources to foster development. The central government signed a peace agreement with the militia group within three months following the intervention of Algeria (with a sizeable Tuareg population too), which was called the Algiers Accord. Of significant consequences is the lack of implementation of some policies geared at improving the economic conditions of the people of the north. An instance is the establishment of a special investment fund provided for by the Algiers Accord which was also never created.

In July 2010, four years after the signing of the Accord, the central government made some efforts to improve the security and economic development in the north through the introduction of a Special Program for Peace, Security, and Development in Northern Mali (PSPSDN). However, the introduction of the program faced criticisms from the locals who noted that the program introduced the Malian army into the areas where it was not welcomed and that there was the need for wider consultations with the local population before settling for the program.[9]  In September 2011, the National Movement of AZAWAD published a statement opposing the introduction of the PSPSDN, with the claims that it further militarized the north rather than developing it, and called for the halt of international aids which is believed will have no positive result rather regrettable consequences for both sides. In January 2012, the group took up arms against the government.[10]

Professor Nheme put it more succinctly when he noted that the prevalence of exclusionary political systems in many countries of Africa is a major driver of conflict in the continent. According to him, this has created an environment in which various groups contending for power are excluded from the political and economic processes through various repressive measures, thereby creating instability in the continent.[11]  The issue of political and economic marginalization is considered by a number of analysts as a major force that motivated the Tuareg to engage the Malian government in guerilla warfare. Professor Diallo in his publication also identified other factors that accelerated the crisis in Mali to be drought and extreme poverty that existed in the country.[12]  These factors further intensified the conflict situation in Mali and led to the struggle for power, taking the shape of successive coups and dictatorship.

Following the overview of the conflict presented above, there is a need to highlight a few important characteristics of the conflict experienced in northern Mali. First of all, the unrest in northern Mali has been majorly concentrated to members of a few clans in one clan confederation; the Kel Adagh, which is a part of one ethnic group (the Tuareg). Except in the case of the 1991-1996 conflict in northern Mali, the other Tuareg and non-Tuareg groups have mostly been bystanders in the unrest. This is an important discovery as it shows that armed conflict and, eventually, peace deals do not represent the entirety of northern Mali. It further underscores the fact that tension from the central government represents only a cause of the conflict. Another significant cause and trigger of the conflict is the competition among the various groups in northern Mali to advance their individual and group interests. Some of these groups view taking up of arms as a means of economic, political and social advancement. It is also important to reiterate that in northern Mali as elsewhere, all politics and conflicts are local.  Therefore, any conflict resolution mechanism that does not include the local population is most likely not going to succeed. Furthermore, other challenges that have crippled the implementation of peace-accords in northern Mali include: the lack of the representation of the armed groups that negotiated each of the peace accords in the implementation committee; the nature of the causes of the rebellions; Bamako’s limited acceptability in Mali’s most-remote areas; lack of transitional justice, and persistent insecurity.

The Malian conflict has untold implications for the neighboring countries of Mali and the African continent at large. Insecurity in Mali has direct human, economic and political implications for its neighboring countries especially on the northern border, mostly Algeria, Niger, and Mauritania. Niger does not only share borders with Mali but similar history, trade, and a northern Tuareg population, which is directly and immediately affected by the Malian dynamics. The issues in Mali constitute an agenda for internal security in Niger.[13]  In the case of Mauritania, the cross-border pastoralists benefiting from the vast lands of northern Mali felt the impact of the conflict as they expressed its negative economic effect on their businesses. The pressure on the pastoralists especially as regards the demand for grazing lands for cattle in Burkina Faso and Niger has flagged potentially dangerous trend for regional security.[14]  Also, security observers have identified the impact of drug trafficking and organized crime as a source of attention in Senegal, steaming from  the influence of crime-dominated neighbors such as Guinea Bissau and Mali. There have also been speculations of linkages between the jihadist groups in Mali and individuals close to Boko Haram movement in Northern Nigeria (a dangerous terrorist group that believes Western Education is a sin), but there is no public evidence on the nature of their relationship.[15]

The implications of the Malian conflict for West Africa, Africa, and the world, in general, are enormous. A failed state in Mali would jeopardize peace and security and increase violent extremism in the region. The kidnapping of foreigners and hostage-taking of a French expatriate at a gas facility in Algeria during the Malian conflict was believed to be retaliation for the French military intervention in Mali, and this expresses the dangerous dimension the conflict had taken across the region and the world. By this action, the Malian conflict became regionalized. The Malian conflict also constituted a threat to international peace and security with the possibility of shaping the dimension of conflicts across West Africa, Gulf of Guinea, North Africa, the Sahel region and all its neighbors.

3.     Roots and Proximate Causes of the 2012 Malian Conflict

The perceived unfulfilled promise by French colonialists in 1960 to grant independence to Tuaregs as a separate independent entity was identified as one of the root causes of the 2012 conflict. This is also believed to have fuelled the south-north divide characterized by relative affluence, amenities, and benign climate in the south against the relative deprivation, shortage of essential facilities, and harsh climatic conditions in the north. The disparities in infrastructure development and social amenities could be traced partially to the penchant of colonial masters to settle in the relatively more benign climatic environments of the coastal and riverine zones, a practice that was perpetuated by the post-colonial administrations. Successive Tuareg separatist leaders have since been claiming parts or all of the Sahelian space stretching from the northern tip of Burkina Faso to parts of northern Mali, northern Niger, and the southern fringes of Algeria. Furthermore, the Tuaregs believe that there is a reversed role and influence of Tuaregs (in relation to the nationalists led by the Bambara and Manlike) from tax collectors, slave owners, and marauding overlords of the Niger River, to a marginalized entity following independence. This has created a perceived sense of humiliation, subjugation, and persecution suffered by Tuaregs following the crushing of the first Tuareg rebellion (1962-64) and exacerbated by droughts of 1968, 1972, 1980, and 1990 that transformed Tuaregs from pastoralist overlords into refugees and underclass in Mali and neighboring countries.

In the same vein, the perceived failure or inability of the central government to honor some of the promises of reintegration and enhanced decentralization as agreed upon in the Accords of Tamanrasset (Algeria) of 6 January 1991, the National Pact of 11 April 1992, and the Algiers Accords of 2006, is a major trigger of the 2012 Malian Conflict.  The continuous failure from the part of the government eroded the fragile trust of the people in the ability of the government to honor its agreements.

Also, the subversive role of Muammar Gadhafi (1980s-90s) in recruiting Tuaregs as mercenaries into his army and the Arab Legion to fight in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and to sabotage neighboring countries, particularly Chad exacerbated the 2012 conflict. The conflict in comparison with other conflicts witnessed in Mali was more intense and sophisticated. The militia groups and aggrieved Tuaregs were provided with advanced military weapons and expertise, through the illegal arms flow from the conflicts in Northern Africa and the Middle East (Western Sahara, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon) to the West African region. Most of the combatants and Al Qaida terrorists moved through the porous borders from Algeria, Iraq, and Afghanistan into a virtual no man’s land in northern Mali at the beginning of 2002. With this proliferation of arms and combatant, the group initiated war against the state.

Furthermore, President Amadou Toumani Touré (2002-12) played a questionable role as the Commander-in-Chief in the north of Mali, notably with the appointment of controversial Tuareg commanders in the northern garrisons; poor military equipment for the Malian troops leading to demoralization of the troops; turning a blind eye to the fraternization among Malian forces, terrorist elements, and criminal networks in the north. The crisis in Mali was further exacerbated by the weakness of party political culture in Mali, characterized by the replacement of a one-party state (under Modibo Kéita and Moussa Traoré) to a democratic dispensation dominated by political movements instead of parties. Also, the election of ‘independent’ candidates backed by movements as President (Alpha Konaré, Toumani Touré); and the rampant cross-carpeting and gravitation towards the President’s Coalition in parliament, resulting in the absence of a viable opposition, and checks and balances about the Executive.

The non-involvement of ECOWAS in the resolution of the rebellion in 1990-1991 further added to the difficulty experienced by the organization at the wake of the 2012 crisis when it planned to intervene. The Malian government on few occasion rejected the ECOWAS request to intervene in the crisis but invited France to provide military support.

The above factors constituted some of the root and proximate causes of the Malian crisis in 2012, and since some of these issues are still left unaddressed, the political actors in the region need to keep a closer eye at the political dynamics in the country in other to checkmate a recurrence of insurgency in Mali.

4.     ECOWAS Intervention in the 2012 Malian Conflict

ECOWAS assumed a leadership role in the process of the resolution of the 2012 Malian crisis, and its intervention can be said be to in three phases; peaceful negotiations, sanctions and the use of force as a last resort. In the wake of the outbreak of the rebellion, a humanitarian mission was sent to Mali to assess the situation in the country. This led to the release of US$3 million by the ECOWAS Commission to provide humanitarian assistance to victims of the food crisis and rebel attacks. Thereafter, ECOWAS deployed a fact-finding mission to Mali to assess the political and security situation of the country. The report of this mission informed the commencement of the mediation process initiated by ECOWAS among the various stakeholders involved in the conflict. Lastly, following the recommendations of the Mediation and Security Council (MSC), which comprise of Heads of States and Government, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Ambassadors,[16] ECOWAS approved the deployment of a regional force to undertake peacekeeping operations and ensure the restoration of the country’s territorial integrity. This section will examine ECOWAS mediation efforts and its peace support operations in Mali.

Following the military coup led by Captain Amadou Sanogo on 22 March 2012, ECOWAS convened an Extraordinary Summit of the Heads of State and Government on 27 March 2012 in Abidjan- Cote d’Ivoire to deliberate on how to restore the country back to its constitutional order. Rising from the meeting, the Summit immediately suspended the participation of Mali from all decision-making functions of ECOWAS by the provisions of the 2001 Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance as well as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance.[17] The Summit, which had in attendance the government of Algeria and Mauritania, appointed President Blaise Campaore, the former president of Burkina Faso, as a mediator in the Malian crisis, with a mandate to engage relevant stakeholders in fruitful dialogue for the purpose of the restoration of peace and security in the country.

The ECOWAS mediation in Mali was quite complex and prolonged. The negotiation process was geared at finding a satisfactory solution to both the political crisis and the violence in the north. To achieve this, a two-track approach was adopted; negotiations with the coup authors which sought to facilitate the restoration of constitutional order, and negotiations with actors in northern Mali, which sought at addressing the root causes of the problem. This process was facilitated by the ECOWAS appointed mediator, President Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso and the Associate Mediator, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria.[18]

With the concerted efforts of ECOWAS and other global and regional organizations like the African Union (AU), European Union (EU), and United Nations (UN), a framework agreement was quickly signed in April 2012, thereby paving the way for the restoration of constitutionality in the country. Despite the signing of the framework agreement, armed conflicts continued in Mali, therefore necessitating a renewed commitment to a longlasting settlement between conflicting parties. About a year after, ECOWAS negotiated the signing of the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement (OPA)[19] between the representatives of the Malian government and the Tuareg separatist groups on 18 June 2013 in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso. The OPA was a preliminary agreement aimed to facilitate the presidential elections across the country.

The agreement was however criticized on two substantive areas. Firstly, the agreement did not provide for the disarmament of the rebel groups particularly the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in northern Mali.[20] Secondly, there was no provision in the agreement for the prosecution of the alleged war crimes by the rebel groups who were accused of perpetrating gross human right abuses on the Malian people after taking over a large part of northern Mali in 2012.  The Peace Agreement was thereafter revised to address the identified challenges. Following the provisions of the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2100 which requires the immediate disarmament of the separatist movement,[21] Article 6, 7 and 11 of the agreement mandated that the armed groups had to be confined to the barracks and other military confinements. This was to be done under the direct supervision of the UN peacekeepers, until the time of the signing of the final peace agreement after the presidential election.[22]  Furthermore, article 18 of the final OPA provided for an international investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide, sexual violence, drug trafficking and other serious violations of international human rights law. This agreement presumably covers the crimes committed by loyalists and the rebel and is undeniably a step in the right direction.

According to the UN Guidance for Effective Mediation, there are three criteria for a successful mediation, these are the readiness and openness of the parties involved in negotiating a settlement; agreement on consensus and credible mediator; and a consensus to support the mediation process both at the regional and global levels.[23]  The review of relevant literature posits that the first and third requirements were met in the case of Mali. As reported by the International Peace Institute (IPI), the Tuareg separatist groups showed readiness for a negotiated settlement by the involvement in the peace process as well as supporting the intervention from the AU, UN, and ECOWAS.[24] On the other hand, the Malian masses accused the ECOWAS appointed mediator of bias in favor of the Tuaregs. This accusation was further established by the refusal of the chief government mediator to sign the first draft of the agreement[25] which affected the credibility of the mediation process and outcome. This also accounts for the challenges in the implementation of the provisions of the agreement and the overall failure of the cease-fire agreement of the OPA.

An effective mediation process must be very inclusive and respond to the specificities, root causes and dynamics (positions, coherence of the parties, and interests) of the conflict. In the same vein, while choosing a mediator, ECOWAS should ensure that such a personality should have a wealth of expertise in conflict resolution, undoubting credibility, and higher recognition especially by the feuding parties to have access to the stakeholders in the conflict. Therefore, ECOWAS practice of appointing mediators from serving and former presidents needs to be reconsidered. Alluding to this position, Laurie notes that most mediators appointed to lead the process of conflict resolution in Africa are usually not familiar with the strategies and tactics of contemporary international mediation and as such perform poorly in the process.[26]

5.     Theoretical Consideration

This paper will use two theoretical models in explaining the role of ECOWAS in the resolution of the 2012 conflict in Mali. The first theory provides a justification for the regional body to intervene in the 2012 Malian conflict while the second rationalizes the peacebuilding approaches used by ECOWAS in the resolution of the conflict.

The first theory is the neo-functionalist theory of integration. The chief proponent of this theory is Ernst B. Hass. Advancing the theory, Barrister Okeke et al., highlight three core principles of neo-functionalism. [27] The first is the principle of positive spillover effects which stresses that integration between two or more countries in one aspect of their relationship, for example, economic sector, will lead to integration in other areas like political, security, cultural, etc. The second is the mechanism of a transfer in national allegiance. This principle emphasizes that the citizens of a given country will widely accept the process of integration if they realize that the integration organization will better cater to their interests than their national government. The third is the principle of technocratic automaticit.[28]This stresses that as integration increases the power of regional integration organizations, these organizations will play more significant roles in promoting economic integration, thereby becoming more powerful, and subsequently will be independent of their Member States.

The neo-functionalist theory of integration best explains the metamorphosis of ECOWAS from a purely sub-regional economic organization into a security and politically conscious organization. At the time ECOWAS was established, military intervention in its Member States was not part of its objectives. The organization’s focus was to fast track sub-regional economic integration. ECOWAS formation was premised on an intergovernmental approach to governance, sovereignty, and non-interference in the domestic affairs of its member countries. The 1978 and 1981 Defense Protocols were mainly to protect the ECOWAS Member States against both internal and external security challenges. From the period of the 1980s onward, it was also discovered that these Protocols were inadequate to address the plethora of cross-security problems faced in the sub-region. Therefore, the 1990s witnessed the development of remarkable security architecture to enhance peacekeeping and peace support operations in the sub-region as operationalized under the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in Sierra Leone and Liberia. ECOWAS relied on these structures and Protocols in its intervention in the Malian conflict to ensure the prompt resolution of the conflict thereby curtailing it from becoming a regional crisis.

The second theory is the Conflict Transformation School Theory, which provides an explanation of the nature of the involvement of ECOWAS in the conflict. The primary objective of this school is to transform societies with deep-rooted armed conflict into peaceful ones. John Paul Lederach, an American Professor of International Peacebuilding, developed the first comprehensive and widely discussed transformation-oriented approach.[29]  Lederach also believes that there is a dilemma that needs to be resolved between short-term conflict management and long-term relationship building, as well as the resolution of the underlying causes of conflict. This, he proposes to do by building “long-term infrastructure” for peacebuilding that will support the reconciliation potential of the society. Following Lederach analysis of peacebuilding, he divides the society into three (3) levels. Each level can be approached through different peacebuilding strategies. One can access top-leadership by mediation at the state level (track 1). At the second level, resolution-oriented approach such as problem-solving workshops or peace-commissions can help to reach mid-level leadership (track 2), with support from partial insiders (i.e., eminent personalities in the society). At the third level, local actors and traditional community-based conflict resolution meetings can be adopted to reach the grassroots which represent the vast majority of the population. At all levels, the involvement of a third party in the resolution of conflict can be very advantageous as it aims to facilitate peace talks among internal actors and coordinate external peace efforts.


Drawing for the theoretical framework, ECOWAS organized more than 30 meetings at various levels (Heads of State and Government, ministerial and technical) to formulate a framework for restoring constitutional order and political stability in Mali, in the period leading up to October 2012.[30]  In some of the technical meetings held, ECOWAS relied on some eminent personalities such as the traditional and religious leaders to influence the warring parties, thereby making a peace deal possible. Also, the basic organ for mediating conflicts in the ECOWAS Member States is the Council of the Wise which was legitimized by Article 20 of the ECOWAS Mechanism. The Council of the Wise comprises of 15 members who are eminent persons from various segments of the societies. They include prominent women, political, traditional and religious leaders who use their good office and experience to assume the role of mediators, conciliators and facilitators.[31] ECOWAS actively engaged the multi-track approach towards the resolution of the conflict in Mali.

6.     Challenges facing ECOWAS in its Peacebuilding Efforts

The achievements and relative successes of ECOWAS in Mali can only be put in the right perspective against the backdrop of the formidable challenges that the organization encountered before, during, and after its intervention in Mali. Difficulties were encountered at several levels and forms, including at the political and diplomatic; strategic; military and operational; and institutional and coordination levels. Given the myriad of challenges encountered, one observer described the eventual success of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) as “fortuitous” or “accidental.” A summary of the challenges encountered under each category identified above are stated as follows:

6.1   Political and Diplomatic Challenges 

·       Limited appreciation of the depth of unpopularity of the Amadou Toumani Touré administration in Mali

·       Insufficient appreciation of the internal dynamics in Mali due partly to the non-involvement of ECOWAS in previous attempts to resolve the identity-based and secessionist conflicts in Mali, in particular, the Algerian-brokered Accords of 1991 and 2006, as well as the National Pact of 1992

·       Tensions between state sovereignty and the drive towards supranationality by ECOWAS, which slowed down and/or weakened the regional response mechanisms

·       National pride, which fuelled the resistance of the Malian authorities and population to several attempts to accompany the country in addressing the institutional, political and security challenges

·       ECOWAS rightly sought the support of the AU and expected the latter to cede overall leadership of the crisis resolution to ECOWAS in its ‘zone of primary responsibility,’ while the AU canvassed continental and international consensus. The AU, on its part, had different ideas and motives and, on occasions, subjectively interpreted the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ to mean ‘subordination.’ This created tensions and competition between the two Institutions right from the start

6.2   The Challenges Encountered in the Military Intervention (Strategic Challenges)

·       The conviction among the ECOWAS Member States that the sub-region could not intervene militarily in Mali on its own without substantial international logistical and financial support compromised any autonomous military planning from the start

·       The absence of a proper “Standby” Force, coupled with the lack of a well-resourced logistics facility, handicapped autonomous military planning, and execution from the onset

·       Against this background, the decision by ECOWAS to refer the Mali file to the United Nations through the African Union was a strategic miscalculation, even if dictated by the circumstances enumerated above. The US National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, pointedly queried ECOWAS for referring the matter to the UN when the Region had initially confronted similar challenges in the Mano River Basin on its own[32]

·       Under the circumstances, ECOWAS’s strategic meetings, military planning, financial and logistical projections, and other sensitive operational plans, including the development of the Concept of Operations (CONOPS), completely lost the element of secrecy and surprise needed in such situations, and played into the hands of the rebels and other vested interests

·       Taking advantage of these lapses in the ECOWAS strategic approach against the background of the unhealthy competition, the African Union put together elements of the ECOWAS-facilitated transitional roadmap and the ECOWAS Mission in Mali (MICEMA) operational plan into what later became known as the AU Strategic Concept for the Resolution of the Crises in Mali. The AU also was quick to appoint the political head of AFISMA and proposed the ECOWAS Special Representative as the Deputy. With these moves, the AU was well placed to control the political and strategic direction of AFISMA

6.3   Operational, Coordination, and Communication Challenges  

·       The Region overestimated the capacity of the ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF) which, for all intents and purposes, was a shell of ‘pledged’ forces, which could be ‘pledged in’ and ‘pledged out’ at any time by Member States, and which lacked an effective planning and management unit, and strategic lift capacity

·       Majority of the forces in the Region were unfamiliar with desert warfare and, in particular, the new enemy to be confronted in the asymmetric warfare – Terrorism

·       There were no proper pre-deployment visits (PDVs) to the Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) and inspection of Contingents’ Owned Equipment (COE), nor was there a prior and proper Field Headquarters established in-theater to coordinate deployment. The absence of a secure and resourced Mission Headquarters compromised the safety and security of operation

·       The United Nations did not provide any logistical support or enablers to the AFISMA troops as indicated in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2085 until after the re-hatting

·       The ECOWAS intervention suffered adversely from a lack of visibility and an active channel to interpret and defend ECOWAS initiatives, and to refute negative propaganda. This situation provided spoilers with a field day to whip up anti-ECOWAS sentiments and to mobilize the street in Bamako against ECOWAS initiatives. Shortcomings in the communication strategy included the following:

–        The absence of an ECOWAS wartime communication strategy at the level of the Directorate and the department of Political Affairs Peace and Security (PAPS) tailored to the Malian society and the international community at large to shape the ECOWAS narrative and rebut misconceptions and disinformation. The Communication Directorate only started strategizing too late into the intervention, on the eve of the transition from AFISMA to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

–        The lack of modern and effective communication equipment and resources.

–        The absence of a reader-friendly and updated website for PAPS and the Commission.

–        The difficulties in incorporating the Communications Directorate in the planning phases of the military intervention due to the non-availability of staff at the Directorate.

–        The absence of a resourced Communication Unit in the Office of the Special Representative in Mali, the frontline office.

7.     Recommendations

This section provides a synthesis of the main recommendations to improve the anticipatory and response postures of the ECOWAS Peace and Security Architecture (EPSA) in a structured and sequenced manner.

7.1.  General Recommendations

·       ECOWAS must lead, and show a keen interest, in all conflict prevention, management, resolution, and peacebuilding processes in its Space of Primary Responsibility (SPR), in a properly coordinated fashion with internal and external partners

·       The African States should take the lead in initiating and funding initiatives about peace and security, and seek complementary partner engagement and support within the framework of the benchmarks underpinning the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness

·       ECOWAS should facilitate, with the Member States, the development and implementation of targeted regional and national policies to bridge the south-north (and east-west) inequality divides and gaps in educational and economic opportunities, as well as infrastructural, health, and social amenities, across the region

·       ECOWAS should expedite the adoption of a comprehensive Post-Conflict Peacebuilding and Reconstruction Framework, incorporating relevant elements of its sectorial Programs and Frameworks in this regard.

7.2.  Community Acts

The Revised ECOWAS Treaty (1993), the Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security (The Mechanism, 1999), and the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance (The Supplementary Protocol, 2001) constitute the cardinal normative frameworks underpinning the Community’s Peace and Security Architecture. While these and other Community Acts remain relevant even in the changing conflict environment, aspects of these normative documents require further clarification, strengthening, updating, or modification.  In the last few years, Supplementary Acts have been adopted to strengthening ECOWAS Protocols and ensuring coherence. ECOWAS should set up a task force, coordinated by the Legal Directorate and comprising sectorial experts to review the Protocols and harmonize them with corresponding Supplementary Acts to ensure coherence and greater relevance.

7.3.  Preventive Diplomacy: The Early Warning System

There is a need to reinforce the anticipatory capacity of the Early Warning System through:

·       The establishment of a better-resourced Situation Room and enhanced training for risk analysts

·       Improved data collection in the field through better coordination with the Offices of Permanent Representative in the Member States, intelligence services (national and independent), and focal points of the Member States and Civil society networks

·       Improved coordination with other Regional Economic Communities Early Warning Systems and the Continental Early Warning System

7.4.  Preventive Diplomacy: Mediation and Facilitation

·       The ECOWAS Commission shall, through the Mediation Facilitation Division, facilitate the capacity building of the Council of the Wise, as well as the bodies engaged in national and civil society mediation efforts (Track II mediation efforts), and ensure their organic integration into the ECOWAS Mediation Architecture.

7.5.  The ECOWAS Standby Force

The ECOWAS Standby Force is the composite West African Standby Brigade under the African Standby Force (AFC) arrangement. As it constitutes an upgrade of and builds on the experience of the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), it is designed to consist of Military, Police, and Civilian components of trained and equipped ‘standby’ units in Member States, and serves as the last line of response in terms of preventive deployment, peacekeeping, and peace enforcement within the frameworks of the ECOWAS Peace and Security Architecture (EPSA) and the African Union Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). However, the evolution of the ESF has been slow and disjointed. Unless a major surgery is carried out on the policy framework, roadmap, current structure, and deployable capacities of the ESF, which is expected to reach its maturity point in less than two years, the Force will not build up to capacity. Towards a review of the strategic doctrine, planning, and management capabilities, as well as the operational endowments and procedures of the ESF, the following recommendations are put forward:

·       Doctrine, Concepts, and Procedures

–        The ESF is an integral part of the regional integration process and a tool of intervention in situations of aggression against a Member State, and violent conflicts between the Member States with grave consequences for regional peace and security. It can also be deployed as part of continental and UN efforts to stabilize out-of-theater violent situations.

–        The concept of African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) is an interim stopgap rapid military response arrangement at the level of the AU, pending the operationalization of the ASF. It is open to willing/volunteer Member States. The emphasis at the level of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), however, should be on the expeditious operationalization of the ESF (and for that matter the ASF) by 2015.

–        The ESF, as a tool of mutual assistance in defense and integration among the Member States and for sustainability, should strive towards a concept of inclusiveness based on equality of Member States, rather than the concept of Lead-States.

–        The ESF should aspire to the attainment of a capacity of simultaneous deployment in two theaters, replete with two fully operational Mission Headquarters.

–        ECOWAS should expedite action on the incorporation of naval and air capabilities into the ESF concept.

·       Institutional Arrangements

–        ECOWAS should take immediate measures to accelerate the reform of the Directorate of Peacekeeping and Regional Security, in particular finalization of its organogram based on human resource and systems requirements, and the operationalization of the Peace Support Operations Division (PSOD) along the lines of the AU and the UN, endowed with an integrated and functional mission planning and management personnel and tools.

–        The Directorate of Peace Keeping and Regional Security (DPKRS) at the ECOWAS Commission should streamline and harmonize the meetings of Statutory Committees responsible for security (Defense, Security, and Intelligence) to ensure better coordination, information sharing and analysis, and a comprehensive approach to security challenges.

–        The Commission should facilitate the participation of military experts and planners from the Member States in the ESF mission planning and management processes.

–        Every military initiative should be preceded by and predicated on clear political/strategic guidelines, including the designation of the political Head of Mission and the establishment of an integrated Conflict Management Task Force (CMTF) to provide strategic and operational guidance for the operation.

·       Logistics Facilities and Strategic Lift Capacity

–        ECOWAS should adopt a combination of ‘Physical’ and ‘Virtual’ concepts to satisfy the urgent need for logistics/humanitarian facilities and strategic and in-theater lift capacities.

–        ECOWAS should endeavor to stock logistics capable of equipping two Formed Police Units (FPUs) and other minimum logistics and enablers at the Logistics Facility in Sierra Leone to ensure rapid deployment in times of need.

–        ECOWAS should explore the possibility of entering into agreements with reputable international operators of virtual depots and strategic lift contractors for the real-time delivery of urgent equipment, enablers, and strategic lift, in the event of deployment.

·       Training

–        ECOWAS should further strengthen cooperation with the three Regional Centers of Excellence, and explore additional training centers at the national and regional levels, to train up ESF contingents, the military, police, and civilian units in the Member States at the strategic, operational and tactical aspects of the Peace Support Operations (PSOs).

–        ECOWAS should also build on the training provided within the framework of the African Union, the UN, and the EU.

·       Communication Strategy

–        The Peace and Support Operations Division (PSOD) should coordinate and facilitate the expeditious finalization of a generic Crisis Communication Strategy adaptable to a specific conflict situation, in close collaboration with the Directorates of Communication, Community Computer Center, Political Affairs, Early Warning, and other relevant Units of the Commission.

–        The strategy should incorporate, among other initiatives:

o   The establishment of a suitably equipped Communication Cell ready for deployment in a PSO to promote the greater visibility of ECOWAS activities in the peace and security sector

o   The designation of a dedicated Focal Point to feed and update information into the ECOWAS Website

o   The development of an orientation and sensitization program for ECOWAS Management and Staff on the Communication Strategy and on the Structures and procedures under the EPSA, including the ESF

o   Engagement with media houses in the Member States with a view to interpreting and promoting ECOWAS initiatives in peace and security and the concept of a culture of peace in general

o   The completion of the project on a multi-media documentary on ECOWAS’ efforts in Mali to provide a true narrative by ECOWAS on the events in Mali

o   The fast-tracking of the several projects on publications and other visibility programs in relation to previous ECOWAS Missions

o   Development of a template for interpreting and defending ECOWAS initiatives, and countering negative publicity, during interventions

–        The Offices of the Special Representatives of the President of the Commission (SRPC) should be well equipped to be our first line of communication in the Member States.

8.     Conflict of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

9.     References

  • Arieff, Alexis. Crisis in Mali. Congressional Research Service, 2013.
  • Stephaine Pezard and Michael Shukin, Achieving Peace in northern Mali: Past Agreements, Local Conflicts, and the prospects for a Durable Settlement. RAND Corporation: Santa Monica, Calif,, 2015
  • Mériadec Raffray, “The Tuaregs rebellion in the Sahel,” French Ministry of Defense, July 1, 2013
  • Keita, Modibo. The Resolution of the Tuareg Conflict in Mali, Research group on Peace Intervention in Intra-State Conflicts. Research Note, 2002
  • Lecocq, J. “That Desert Is Our Country: Tuareg Rebellions and Competing Nationalisms in Contemporary Mali (1946–1996).” PhD dissertation, Universiteit von Amsterdam, 2002
  • Grémont, Charles, “Tuaregs and Arabs in the colonial and Malian Armed Forces: A story of triumph,” French Institute of International Relations, Paris, 2010.
  • Wing, Susanna. Berabiche leader, Arab leader interview with Michael Shurkin. Bamako, October 11, 2013.
  • National Movement of Azawad, “The National Movement of the Azawad condemns the PSPSDN program,” National Newspaper of Mali, September 4, 2011; see also International Crisis Group, 2012.
  • Nhema, Alfred, The quest for peace in Africa: Transformation, democracy and public policy. Utrecht: The Netherlands, International Books, 2014.
  • Diallo, F. “The War in Mali & it Consequences for the Sub-region,” 2012, on 28th August 2015
  • Damien, Helly. “The Mali crisis and Africa-Europe relations,” European centre for Development Policy Management, Briefing note, 2013.
  • Crisis Group, “Secure, dialogue and in-depth reforms,”observatory in Africa, and constitutional reform TBK, 2013.
  • ECOWAS Conflict Mechanism, Article 6 and 7 of Chapter II of the Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security, 1999.
  • ECOWAS Commission “ECOWAS Chairman Ouattara Leads High-Level Delegation to Mali” 28 March 2012 (Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire) available at (accessed on 10 May 2015)
  • International Peace Institute (IPI). “Mali and the Sahel-Sahara: From Crisis Management to Sustainable Strategy” New York: IPI. April 27 2013.
  • The mediation led to the signing on 6 April 2012 of the ‘Framework Agreement on the implementation of the solemn commitment of 1 April’ (Framework Agreement).
  • B Whitehouse. “Accord and discord in Mali,” Available at (Accessed on 12 May 2015)
  • Articles 6, 7 and 11 of the Preliminary Agreement to the Presidential Election and Inclusive Peace Talks in Mali
  • United Nations, “Guidance for Effective Mediation” 2012.
  • N Laurie (2013) “African solutions to African problems: South Africa’s foreign policy” Journal of International Politics, pp. 53
  • Barrister Okeke, Vincent Onyekwelu. Sunday, Oji, Richard Okechukwu, “United Nations – ECOWAS Intervention in Mali and Guinea Bissau: Geo-Economic and Strategic Analysis.” Global Journal of Human- Social Science, 2014.
  • Bossuyt, James. “The Political Economy of Regional Integration in Africa: The Economic Community of West African States,” 2015 (ECOWAS). http/ (Accessed May 5, 2017).
  • Lederach, John, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997.
  • Cilliers & Handy. “Lessons from African Peacemaking,” Section 3 Background Papers Africa Mediators Retreat 2013, The Oslo Forum Network of Mediators and Institute for Security Studies, 2013.
  • AF Musah. “ECOWAS and Regional Responses to Conflicts,” in Thomas Jaye (ed.) ECOWAS and the Dynamics of Conflict and Peacebuilding, Oxford: African Books Collective, 2011.
  • The UN Charter, San Francisco, California, United States, 1945.

[[1]] Arieff, Alexis. Crisis in Mali. Congressional Research Service, 2013, 1.

[[2]] Arieff, Alexis. Crisis in Mali. Congressional Research Service, 2013, 1.

[[3]] Arieff, Alexis. Crisis in Mali. Congressional Research Service, 2013, 3.

[[4]] Stephaine Pezard and Michael Shukin, Achieving Peace in northern Mali: Past Agreements, Local Conflicts, and the prospects for a Durable Settlement. RAND Corporation: Santa Monica, Calif, 2015, 7.

[[5]] Mériadec Raffray, “The Tuaregs rebellion in the Sahel,” French Ministry of Defense, July 1, 2013, p. 60

[[6]] Keita, Modibo. “The Resolution of the Tuareg Conflict in Mali,” Research group on Peace Intervention in Intra-State Conflicts. Research Note, 2002

[[7]] Lecocq, J. “That Desert Is Our Country: Tuareg Rebellions and Competing Nationalisms in Contemporary Mali(1946–1996).” PhD dissertation, Universiteit von Amsterdam, 2002.

[[8]] Grémont, Charles, Tuaregs and Arabs in the colonial and Malian Armed Forces: A story of triumph, French Institute of International Relations, Paris, 2010.

[[9]] Wing, Susanna. Berabiche leader, Arab leader interview with Michael Shurkin. Bamako, October 11, 2013.

[[10]] National Movement of Azawad, “The National Movement of the Azawad condemns the PSPSDN program,” National Newspaper of Mali, September 4, 2011; see also International Crisis Group, 2012.

[[11]] Nhema, Alfred, “The quest for peace in Africa: Transformation, democracy and public policy.” Utrecht: The Netherlands, International Books, 2014.pp. 416.

[[12]] Diallo, F. “The War in Mali & it Consequences for the Sub-region,” 2012. Accessed on 28th August 2015

[[13]] Damien, Helly. “The Mali crisis and Africa-Europe relations,” European centre for Development Policy Management, Briefing note, 2013, pp. 2

[[14]] Ibid, 11

[[15]] Crisis Group. “Secure, dialogue and in-depth reforms,” observatory in Africa, and constitutional reform TBK, 2013, pp. 29.

[[16]] Article 6 and 7 of Chapter II of the Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security, 1999.

[[17]] ECOWAS Commission “ECOWAS Chairman Ouattara Leads High-Level Delegation to Mali” 28 March 2012 (Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire) available at (accessed on 10 May 2015)

[[18]] International Peace Institute (IPI) (2013). “Mali and the Sahel-Sahara: From Crisis Management to Sustainable Strategy” New York: IPI. April 27 2013, pp. 2

[[19]] The mediation led to the signing on 6 April 2012 of the ‘Framework Agreement on the implementation of the solemn commitment of 1 April’ (Framework Agreement).

[[20]] B Whitehouse (2013) ‘Accord and discord in Mali’ 19 June 2013. Available at (Accessed on 12 May 2015)

[[21]]Ibid, 20

[[22]] Articles 6, 7 and 11 of the Preliminary Agreement to the Presidential Election and Inclusive Peace Talks in Mali

[[23]] UN (2012)  ‘Guidance for Effective Mediation’ pp. 5

[[24]] Ibid, 18

[[25]] Ibid, 20

[[26]] N Laurie (2013)  “African solutions to African problems: South Africa’s foreign policy” Journal of International Politics, pp. 53

[[27]] Barrister Okeke, Vincent Onyekwelu. Sunday, Oji, Richard Okechukwu. (2014). United Nations – ECOWAS Intervention in Mali and Guinea Bissau: Geo-Economic and Strategic Analysis. Global Journal of Human- Social Science, pp. 6.

[[28]] Bossuyt, James. (2015). The Political Economy of Regional Integration in Africa: The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).http/ (Accessed May 5, 2017).

[[29]] Lederach, John. (1997). Building Peace. Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press.

[[30]] Cilliers & Handy (2013). ‘Lessons from African Peacemaking,’ Section 3 Background Papers Africa Mediators Retreat 2013, The Oslo Forum Network of Mediators and Institute for Security Studies, pp. 39.

[[31]] Musah Ahmed (2011). ‘ECOWAS and Regional Responses to Conflicts,’ in Thomas Jaye (ed.) ECOWAS and the Dynamics of Conflict and Peacebuilding, Oxford: African Books Collective, pp. 151.

[[32]] Though Ch. VIII of the UN Charter allows for regional/sub-regional initiatives in their areas of primary responsibility, Ch. VII (Enforcement) appears to demand a prior UNSC mandate.

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