The greatest challenge facing Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) is how to contain and resolve violent conflicts, and forestall the outbreak of new ones, particularly coup d’etats in the West African sub-region, a military expert has said.
Brigadier General Francis Asiedu Agyemfra (retired) said “there is no denying the fact that West Africa stands out as one of the most unstable sub-regions in the world.”
“In the last two decades, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau have been embroiled in civil conflicts that have resulted in mass murder, massive cross-border refugees and arms flow, internal displacement and other degrading forms of treatment to the population,” the former Defense Minister of Ghana said.
A graduate of Malaysian Armed Forces Staff College, Brigadier Gen. Agyemfra served in various capacities in the Ghana Armed Forces such as: Commanding Officer of the Ghana Military Academy, Deputy Defence Advisor, Ghana High Commission, London, Commander-First Infantry Brigade (now Southern Command) and Chief of Staff- General Headquarters, Ghana Armed Forces.
Besides, he served as Ghana’s Ambassador to the Republic of Liberia from 1997 to 2001. General Agyemfra played a very active role in the peace processes in Liberia and Sierra Leone and contributed immensely towards the restoration of the two countries to civilian rule.
He is currently a Security Consultant and a Senior Visiting Fellow at The Institute of Economic Affairs (Ghana) and has authored a book entitled, “Armed Robbery: What to do to protect yourself”.
Addressing West African journalists recently in Accra, Ghana, during a conflict sensitive reporting training sponsored by the German Government, the General noted that Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Guinea, as well as other states in the sub-region have also been plagued by persistent internal conflicts that have impacted negatively on both state and human security.
“When it comes to coup d’états, or unconstitutional changes of government,” he noted, “West Africa also has an unfortunate leadership position in Africa.”
In fact, since 1963, when the first bloody overthrow of a government in West Africa took place in Togo, during which the first President, Sylvanus Olympio, was murdered, West Africa has indeed borne the unenviable reputation as leader as regards the number and frequency of unconstitutional overthrow of governments in Africa, he related.
The magnitude of human tragedy in conflict areas, and states plagued with persistent violence, as manifested in refugee flows, internal displacement and the untold suffering of the population, he continued, has not only been a setback for the states concerned, but has undermined sub-regional peace, stability and socio-economic development.
“The challenge of articulating collective security arrangements to stop the conflicts and coup d’etats has, therefore, engaged the minds of West African leaders for many years, Gen. Agyemfra noted.
“Thus, in the conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Cote d’Ivoire, ECOWAS, made ad hoc conflict management interventions. ECOWAS’ intervention in Liberia was the first of such action in Africa by a sub-regional organization, relying on its own financial and military resources.
“As expected, the exploits of the ECOWAS Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in these war zones prompted discussions among member states that centered on the need to develop an institutionalized mechanism for conflict management,” he noted.
He said those discussions culminated in the establishment of a security mechanism, namely, The Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peace-Keeping and Security.
The Protocol is the world’s first sub-regional security mechanism established to manage sub-regional conflicts.
He said the establishment of the mechanism, therefore, signifies the realization of a dream shared by ECOWAS leaders that ECOWAS should take greater initiative in the resolution of its security problems.
In the past two decades, ECOMOG has succeeded in stabilizing, to some extent, security situations in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Cote d’Ivoire, the retired General observed, saying, “This belies the widely held assumption that collective security arrangements in West Africa were impossibility.
He said with the establishment of the Protocol on security mechanism, ECOWAS has, indeed, shown that gone are the days when Africa could look on simply without caring.
He said unlike the past, “Today, West Africa has shown that Africa does care for the continent’s survival.”
The General was addressing the West African journalists on the topic: “The Role of ECOMOG in West African Security Strategies: How Can Public Opinion and the Media Contribute to Peace in the Region.”
He challenged the media of West Africa to read the protocols on peace and security in educate the public on same, and also hold government accountable for breaches.
In the promotion of regional integration and peace which is a prerequisite for regional cooperation, the Media and public opinion have a vital role to play, he said, adding “The Media should, therefore, position itself and focus on issues of regional integration and development by pursuing regional cohesion through news packaging and dissemination so as to help solve the numerous conflicts in the region.”
“Our newspapers, Television and broadcasting stations, information services must reach the ECOWAS citizenry (the workers, the farmers, the Trade Unions, the university students, the young and the old) to explain to them the aims and objectives of ECOWAS,” Gen Gen. Agyemfra noted.
He emphasized that the Media has a responsibility to explain to the masses the meaning and purpose, as well as the necessity for, and benefits of regional economic cooperation and integration, and the need for peace in the region to ensure the attainment of these objectives.
“To do this, journalists must themselves attain a proper understanding of the aims and objectives of ECOWAS. They must acquaint themselves with ECOWAS Treaties and Protocols…For, if West Africa is to achieve regional cooperation and integration; and the region is to achieve peace and security, which are the prerequisite for regional cooperation and integration, then, every West African must be made aware of the part that he or she has to play in the drive towards these objectives,” he challenged the media.
“This is the kind of education which the West African Media and journalists are expected to help spread,” he reemphasized.
He said Journalists, by their calling, have the responsibility to spearhead the crusade for sub-regional economic cooperation and integration, the single means by which the prosperity of the sub-region can be promoted.
“For, by reason of your profession, you, men and women of the press are in the most vital of positions where you can persuade the minds of the people, inform their opinions and point the way to go.”
The military tycoon observed that unless journalists use their profession for good, “you betray your calling, and you mislead those who look up to you for truth, and who expect from you the interpretation of that truth in their cause.”
“It is against this background that there must be unending vigilance against tyranny, oppression and nepotism as well as corruption and all forms of anti-democratic practices, and, above all, unswerving loyalty to principles approved by the masses of the people,” Gen. Agyemfra asserted. Writes D K Sengbeh from Ghana; email@example.com; 231 6 586 531