Ex ECOWAS semper aliquid novi — to wit, out of ECOWAS always comes something new! This is what Pinny the Elder of Rome is famously credited to have said in reference to Africa, which is liberally replaced here with ECOWAS.
In the past year, ECOWAS has been in the news for a variety of reasons.
Recall the grandstanding over the July military coup in Niger? Just fizzled out mainly because the decision to use military force to reverse the situation and restore ousted President Bazoum was a knee-jerk reaction of the “elite” civilian cabal in control of the Community. The cost of WAR in Niger had not been factored into the equation at the time of the decision, until the military leaders in the Community met and tallied the bills.
As the proverb goes, it is when a mosquito lands on your balls that you learn the wisdom of not applying force. Furthermore, how else could the decision to invade not be seen as a Community action for and on behalf of ASIMASI? Rumors were rife at the time that one or two countries that constitute the nemesis of Africa, the West were in the corridors, dangling some cash incentive for ECOWAS to wage war on an already impoverished, brotherly Niger, ‘to restore democracy’. It did not matter what would have been left of Niger as long as ASIMASI was content to resume its “beggar my neighbor” exploitation of Niger’s uranium and other natural resources for free.
Anyway, thank God that the bills and the mosquito on the balls wisdom prevailed.
Now, years after the exit of Mauritania, ECOWAS is faced with THREE member countries, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger that have announced their exit. All stories being told that they can only do so after approval by the Community is valid but not valid. If a marriage breaks down no amount of delays in the court can make it work. They have grievances, reasonable or not. The common denominator is that they have been suspended and have sanctions imposed upon them, following the military coup in each country. The idea that ECOWAS has ignored what they considered as genuine challenges with their individual fight against terrorism is not lost on them. Neither do they see or feel any sympathy from ECOWAS when they believe they have finally regained their independence from ASIMASI.. Whether they will succeed or not, at this stage, they believe they have taken the right steps to rid their countries of the nemesis that has consistently and continually exploited and impoverished them.
These countries have been fighting all kinds of terrorist attacks for years, while they have many foreign military bases on their territories claiming to be helping to fight the terrorist attacks. Enter the Wagner forces from Russia and the tantrums of cynicism and recriminations flying over their presence is instructive. Does that not give credence to conspiracy theories that suggest that certain countries were behind the never ending attacks which they sponsored behind the scenes?
The criticism about trading one colonial master for a new one is debatable. It helps to see things from the point of view of the countries involved for once. If they are condemned to be exploited and impoverished forever, at least, grant them the decision on who should do so.
Many views have been expressed on how Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger cannot survive without ECOWAS. They can. They have formed The Association of Sahelian States. They are landlocked but they have been offered access to the sea by Morocco. They will survive, if they are left alone to exploit and use their natural resources for themselves.
At this stage, ECOWAS should urgently open a dialogue with the Three. Together, ECOWAS is stronger. Nobody can ignore the disruption in supply chains that have been established and working over years. And what will happen to the millions of people who have taken advantage of the ECOWAS Protocols to move freely from one state to the other?
Again, dialogue will do the trick, even with regard to the question of democracy. One should not forget that the Founding Fathers of ECOWAS were military men: Generals, Colonels, etc. The ultimate objective was, and still is regional economic integration. The era may have changed, naturally, but democracy must be for all and not be a substitute for regional economic integration. Civilians should not get away with murder while we hold the soldiers to the fire for practically the same offence.
ECOWAS has elders. They should be called upon to lead the way. ECOWAS must not only survive but come out stronger.