ECOWAS Standby Force - Experts who reviewed the ECOWAS intervention in Mali have urged the regional bloc to sign Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with its member states to enable them dedicate military units to the ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF), as part of efforts to strengthen and operationalise the regional peace and security architecture.
The experts, who made the call in Akosombo, Ghana, at the end of the three-day After-Action Review Experts' meeting on the ECOWAS intervention, also called for the establishment of a Trust Fund for managing Peace Support Operations (PSOs) by ECOWAS.
Under the existing arrangement, the ESF comprises “pledged forces,” and the aim of the MOUs is to extract concrete commitment from the contributing member states to make the regional Force ready for rapid response operations, with counter-terrorism training also made compulsory for its components.
In addition to the establishment of the regional Trust Fund, the meeting also recommended that ECOWAS should explore the modalities for operationalising a Rapid Response Mechanism within a rejuvenated ECOWAS Standby Force and in line with extant decisions of the African Union.
“Military planning and deployment in future PSO Missions must be done in relative secrecy in order to enhance Mission effectiveness and efficiency,” the experts recommended.
The 4-6 Feb. Akosombo meeting, organised by the ECOWAS Commission in collaboration with Ghana and Denmark, reviewed the background to Mali’s recent political and security crises following the military coup of 2012 and the rebel insurrections in the north of the country, before the regional intervention led by ECOWAS and supported by France, AU, UN and other partners restored constitutional order that led to the recent successful presidential and parliamentary elections in the country.
The experts on regional political and security matters, social and humanitarian affairs, diplomacy and communication, among others, examined ECOWAS’ multifaceted interventions before and during the crises with the purpose of drawing appropriate lessons for the future.
The meeting, which was also attended by representatives of the Civil Society, research institutions and Centers of Excellence, also considered the report of last November’s internal ECOWAS debriefing on the Mali intervention.
It recommended that member states should participate actively in the monitoring of Ceasefire Agreements and mediation processes in conflict/crises situations, and called on ECOWAS to facilitate the development of inclusive governance frameworks in member states to facilitate political consensus, respect for human rights and to enhance stability and development in the region.
“Youths in West Africa, and especially those in Mali, should be exposed to entrepreneurial skills, as necessary complements to their academic qualifications. Such a measure will reduce youth unemployment and contribute to structural conflict, prevention,” the meeting recommended.
It urged ECOWAS to ensure gender balance in its PSO Missions and also enhance the participation of women groups at all levels during intervention.
The experts noted that beyond material empowerment, ECOWAS and member states should re-orientate the youths as a means of “de-radicalising their minds and instilling in them the ideals of regional integration, stability and development in the region”.
Looking ahead, the meeting recommended that ECOWAS should continue to engage with Mali to finally resolve the crises, adding that “it is imperative for ECOWAS to continue the momentum it has created in the country in peace building and post-crisis reconstruction engagements.”
ECOWAS should also coordinate local, national and regional efforts in developing a post-conflict road-map to enhance the recovery, reconstruction and development efforts in Mali, the experts said in the recommendations read by Prof. Ahmadu Sesay, the lead facilitator of the meeting.
“Conflict patterns and dynamics are changing rapidly across the world. Consequently, it is important and urgent for ECOWAS to assemble a multi-disciplinary team of experts that will critically undertake wide raging mapping of conflicts in the region and provide conflict scenarios that will enable the Commission to prepare for and respond timely and effectively to conflicts in future,” the meeting said.
In her closing remarks, ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Salamatu Hussaini Suleiman thanked the experts for their frank reflection and the quality of their recommendations, which she promised would be presented to the authorities for consideration and implementation.
Also speaking during the closing ceremony, Prof. Amos Sawyer, former President of Liberia’s Interim Government of National Unity, who chaired the opening session, called for synergy and the cooperation of all stakeholders in the collective efforts to bring lasting peace not just in Mali but across the region.
The outcome of the Akosombo session will feed into the two-day meeting of the Technical Committee of Political Affairs and ECOWAS Ambassadors, due to start in Ghana's capital, Accra, Monday.