ECOWAS intervention in Gambia highlights one of the ways it's different from the other regional blocs in Africa.

Gambia Crisis: Why Is West Africa Eager To Intervene, But Other Regional Groups Are Soft On Rogue Leaders?

WEST Africa’s regional grouping has given Gambian strongman Yahya Jammeh a final chance to step down from power after Senegalese troops entered the country Thursday.

Jammeh has until noon Friday (local time) to hand over power or be militarily forced out by UN-backed regional forces.

Troops have been told to halt their advance until the deadline passes.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) is backing Adama Barrow, who was sworn in as the new Gambian president on Thursday at the country’s embassy in neighbouring Senegal. He has been recognised internationally as The Gambia’s new leader.

Guinea’s President Alpha Conde is Friday taking one last shot at mediating an exit for Jammeh.

Chairman of the Ecowas commission, Marcel Alain de Souza, said that if the meeting with Conde proved unsuccessful, militarily action would follow.


Ecowas said that its forces had encountered no resistance on entering The Gambia on Thursday. They entered the tiny West African nation after an initial deadline for Jammeh to stand down passed without his resignation.

The action by Ecowas to remove Jammeh by force is supported by the 15-member UN Security Council, which however also emphasised that a political solution should be the priority.

Jammeh came to power in a military coup 22 years ago, and after two decades of brutal rule, he conceded electoral defeat on December 3. However, a week later he reneged, claiming election irregularities. He rebuffed ECOWAS diplomatic efforts to get him to leave.

One of the most discussed issues in connection with the Gambia crisis by many Africans on social media, is why ECOWAS has historically shown a greater readiness than other regional economic communities to use military force to enforce democracy.

Among the three longest-ruling leaders in Africa, two are from SADC states Angola and Zimbabwe.

Peter Fabricius, of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, notes that in a “not-dissimilar case in 2011, ECOWAS formally backed the use of military force to topple former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo when he refused to concede his defeat by Alassane Ouattara in the elections of December 2010. In the event ECOWAS forces were not needed, as United Nations (UN) and French troops did the job.”

In 1990 ECOWAS intervened in the Liberian civil war.

In 1997 it intervened in Sierra Leone to prevent Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels from taking power.

It did the same in 1999 to end the Guinea-Bissau Civil war.

In 2003 it moved to stop the occupation of the Liberian capital, Monrovia, by rebels.

By contrast, Fabricius notes, other regional economic communities, such as the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), have been much less willing to tackle presidents who cling to power in their member states such as Burundi and Zimbabwe respectively.

One likely reason, he argues, is because these regions are “more dominated…by incumbent leaders or parties”.

In Burundi, where president Pierre Nkurunziza plunged the country back into conflict after he made a grab for what opponents say is an illegal third term in 2015, EAC mediation has all but flopped.

After initial criticism from Rwanda, Nkurunziza now looks entrenched. The mediator, former Tanzania president Benjamin Mkapa, has lately taken to rooting for Nkurunziza instead.


Likewise in Zimbabwe, as long-ruling Robert Mugabe wrecked the economy and brutalised opponents, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who was supposed to be mediator and nudge him to a more accommodating approach, all but turned into Mugabe’s cheerleader.

His successor Jacob Zuma, has also largely molly-coddled Mugabe.

The EAC has proved toothless in ending the Burundi crisis, and its mediator is rooting for Nkurunziza.

The lone occasional critic of Mugabe’s excesses has been Botswana’s president Ian Khama. But it has won him critics, not friends, with leaders in the region considering the Botswana leadership not to be pan-Africanist.

In West Africa, by contrast, the regional power and Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, has tended to be anti-status quo.

In Eastern Africa, the most populous and influential country, Ethiopia, is a quasi one-party dictatorship. The next largest nation, Tanzania, has been dominated by ruled by the same party, CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi or Party of Revolution) its various iterations, since independence 53 years ago.

Beside dysfunctional Somalia, only Kenya in the sub-region has had a democratic change of power from one ruling party to another at the polls.

ISS quotes, Peter Penar of Michigan State University who points out also that there is a growing body of former opposition leaders in ECOWAS, including Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Senegal’s Macky Sall, in a long list. They probably understand the pain of being robbed of victory, and toiling out in the opposition wilderness for years.

ECOWAS comprises 15 member states – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

Of these only Gambia’s Jammeh is either a former rebel or coup leader.  Many of the countries in rest of the countries in regions of the continent are ruled by former soldiers or guerrilla chiefs, or military and former revolutionary parties. They tend to be quite unenthusiastic about the transfer of power to the opposition.


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