Why ECOMOG Is Still The Best?


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Why ECOMOG Is Still The Best?

The Success and Failure of ECOMOG Peacekeeping Operations




Roy Chikwem





April 6, 2005 





The gradual abandonment of a regional security strategy led the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to seek all means to ensure regional peace and security among member states.  Nigeria and some other members of ECOWAS comprising of 16-nation group formed in 1975 were concerned about the war threat to the regional peace and stability. And as the result of western countries refusal to intervene in the Liberia civil war (1990) and then, Nigeria the regional giant, felt something had to be done. Hence, ECOWAS gave birth to the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) and it became a non-standing military force consisting of land, sea and air components. The first contributors to ECOMOG deployed in Liberia were made up of about 4,000 troops from Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Gambia.


The birth of ECOMOG created a new security strategy of peacekeeping that has never existed in West Africa. The primary goal of the ECOMOG peacekeeping operation was to halt armed conflict and prevent its recurrence. And this goal was to be achieved by acting as the physical barrier between hostile parties and monitoring their military advancement. Their secondary goal was to create a stable environment for negotiations, which could lead to a peaceful resolution among parties involved. The peacekeeping operation was to defuse tension between concerned parties by giving each party time to calm down without of imminent attack by their opponents. Nevertheless, ECOMOG approach was not always the best because no approach to peace is ideally suited to every situation.


Peacekeeping operations should always achieve two important things. First, the operation should prevent the renewal of hostilities between disputing parties and secondly, they should facilitate a final, peaceful resolution to the dispute. However, there are a number of factors that has contributed to the success or failure of ECOMOG and their peacekeeping operations.


Funding and Sponsorship


ECOMOG peacekeeping operations can be quite expensive when it comes down to military supply, equipments, salaries, housing, food and logistic support. Most ECOMOG operations have not been funded from the regular national budget and they rely on voluntary contributions from member countries. Financing is one of the major problems of ECOMOG, which has led to premature termination of past peacekeeping operations. Most ECOMOG operations have suffered setbacks or have proven insufficient when there is limited funding. The economies of most member states of ECOWAS are not adequate and hence, ECOMOG relies on the contribution of non-member states or organizations like the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), British government, African Union (AU), French government, and United States of America. But Nigeria still remains the only member that has the effective capacity to contribute military supplies and troops to ECOMOG. During the first peacekeeping operation in Liberia, Senegal as a result of Nigerian continual persuasion contributed troops but they withdrew their troops when they suffered financial losses, five casualties and hostage taken by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) spearheaded by the embattled President Charles Taylor. Overall, funding has been an irritating problem for ECOMOG and has seriously hampered their peacekeeping operations.




Another consideration in the failure of past peacekeeping operation by ECOMOG is the tremendous size of the geographic terrain of West Africa. ECOMOG experience in Liberia and Sierra Leona has proved that helicopters are crucial in patrolling the large geographic territories. But unfortunately, ECOMOG have limited helicopters and air support in combating rebel elements and supporting ground troops. ECOMOG have suffered setbacks in monitoring conflicting parties and preventing further conflict because the size of the area is great. Logistics is greatly associated with geography because it makes monitoring difficult and does not permit easy observation of disputing combatants or rebel forces. The Nigerian led ECOMOG troops suffered major setback during the 1997 large-scale deployment of troops in Sierra Leone after rebels overthrew President Kabbah because rebels attack their camps at night using guerrilla offensive.


Command and Control


The biggest command and control problem of ECOMOG was language barrier because the official languages of member states are English, French, Portuguese and Arabic. Based on the composition of ECOMOG as an organization of different nations, there is often difficulty for commanders to communicate on a one-to-one basis with their subordinates. Another form of command and control problem is high level of distrust among member states which results to contingents having different conflicting instructions by their home governments. Based on the grounds of distrust and fear, the Liberia peacekeeping operation (1990), the Anglophone countries led by Nigeria were prepared to assist the embattled country of Liberia but the Francophone countries were opposed to military intervention. They preferred dialogue and negotiations, which suited Côte d’Ivoire, because their protégé, Charles Taylor, was on the verge of a military victory despite his problems with the breakaway faction of Prince Yormie Johnson. However, ECOMOG have other command and control problems in terms of logistic and they do not operate a central logistic administration system. Each contingent oversees their own arms, ammunition supply, food, equipments and transportation.  But fortunately, command and control problems have not proven any likely hood of ruining any ECOMOG peacekeeping operation.


Third Party Interpenetration


Neighboring states in West Africa have contributed to sabotage ECOMOG operations especially when they have a stake in the outcome of the conflict and consequently they take actions, which are contrary to the goals and aspirations of ECOMOG. For example, president Charles Taylor played a prominent role in fueling the Sierra Leona conflict by supplying arms and ammunition to rebel forces. Third party interventions have proven fatal to ECOMOG operations and are critically damaging to conflict resolution.




An essential component of ECOMOG preventive diplomacy strategy is that contingent forces should not work to benefit any disputing party. Historically, ECOMOG has exhibited two informal rules in selecting troops for their peacekeeping operations. The first is they never allow third party countries involved in the conflict to participate in the operation. The second rule is they cannot accept contributions from involved parties. These practices ensure that their peacekeeping operations are unbiased and do not led to distrust among member states. During the deployment of ECOMOG peacekeeping force in Guinea-Bissau (1999) after armed conflict between president and disputing rebel group, ECOMOG refused to accept contributions from the Guinea Bissau government. However, neutrality in peacekeeping operation is determined more by behavior and situation than by force composition. To the extent that the troops behavior is perceived as biased and undermines the cooperation between conflicting parties. Furthermore, troops recruited from a given country may be regarded neural in one situation (example; Liberia troops in Congo), but not necessarily under a different scenario (example; the same troops in Sierra Leona). But non-aligned forces is more to be accepted by all conflicting sides and will be less likely to take actions that may be interpreted as unfair by one or both of the disputing parties.


Colonial Interference


Due to past colonial experience, ECOMOG operations have been aversely affected because francophone countries have different approaches from Anglophone countries in terms of handling security issues within the West African region. For example, Anglophone countries supported the ECOMOG peacekeeping operation of Liberia in 1990 but francophone countries (especially Cote d’ Ivoire) opposed military intervention and, recommended dialogue and negotiations.  However, Francophone countries tend to seek advice and assistance from their past colonial master (France), which relatively affects the operations of ECOMOG and Anglophone countries tend to seek similar favors from their past colonial master (Britain).


Fear of Regional Domination


Smaller member countries of ECOWAS are scared of regional domination (especially by Nigeria) because of the dominant role of the Nigerian government and is viewed as a kind of imperial strategy used by Nigeria to interfere in the decision making processes of smaller member countries.  Although, some non-member countries have exploited the situation and have discouraged member countries from active participation in ECOMOG operations. Ironically, when some of these member states are overwhelmed by their internal security and peace, they start seeking and pleading for intervention by ECOMOG under Nigerian active participation. For example, Guinea-Bissau under the leadership of President Veira was uncooperative to the effort of ECOMOG until he was attacked by his political opponents. But, unfortunately, the Nigerian government refused to assist him and he was overthrown by his opponents.


Primary Disputants


Before ECOMOG peacekeeping troops are deployed on a nation’s territory, they try to have consent of that country’s government. However, all successful ECOMOG peacekeeping operations depend on the level of cooperation of disputing parties, from refraining from the use of military force. Nevertheless, some conflicting parties also try to exploit the ECOMOG troops for their own advantage and secretly advance on their warfare. But if one disputing party is not sincere in its support of peace effort or changes its policy over the course of a peace negotiation, ECOMOG operations have proven to be doomed and costly. However, this problem of cooperation between primary disputants has not yet been a severe problem to past ECOMOG operations. 




Superpowers like the United States of America, Britain, and France (along with the other permanent members of the Security Council) have used their power to veto a resolution that has accelerated peacekeeping operation around the world. Beyond their powers in the United Nations, the superpowers can use their political, economic, and military power to influence the disputing actors in the area of conflict. In 2003, the United States of America came to the rescue of Liberians by donating military equipments and deploying US military personnel’s to assist in an ECOMOG peacekeeping operation. However, superpowers have the ability to rescue or destroy any ECOMOG mission. ECOMOG troops have benefited from logistical support, voluntary financial contributions, military training provided by United States of America and Britain, which has kept peacekeeping operations running smoothly.


Refugee Issues


ECOMOG has repeatedly encountered the problem of civilian refugees fleeing their countries towards neighboring countries. However, these neighboring countries do not have the sufficient food, clean water, housing and medicine to cater for the refugees. As a result, ECOMOG troops are compelled to share their rations and medicine with the refugees. Relief agencies like the International Red Cross are always reluctant to take over refugee management without adequate security and transport facilities. But ironically, the relief agencies are very reluctant to hand over medicine and food to the ECOMOG troops to allocation them to the refugees.




ECOMOG has been an evolutionary non-standing military organization that has changed the face of West African peace and security for the better. ECOMOG peacekeeping operation has had a mixed record of success over fifteen years, but they have experienced some failures in preventing hostile situations and in some cases, they have been attacked by these disputing forces. However, peacekeeping is successful only when all disputing parties agree to stop fighting and negotiate. Peacekeeping is most appreciated when all disputing parties are willing to halt hostilities and seek a solution to their problem.  Finally, there is no best approach to peacekeeping missions because no approach to peace is ideally suited to every situation.


Roy Chikwem is a member of Amnesty International, USA and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He is a socio-political activist based in Delaware, USA. His contact information is roysailor@hotmail.com



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