Jean-Jacques Cornish

Will ECOWAS use muscle to enforce peace in Mali?

A distinction it probably could do without is the recognition that the Economic Community of West African State’s is the regional grouping most proficient in brokering and enforcing peace deals on the continent.

Having that appellation confirms that the 15-nation ECOWAS is located in Africa’s roughest neighborhood.

Like neighbours living at the edge off a forest, the leaders of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo know that extinguishing a fire next door is very much a matter of self interest.

Since its formation in 1975, the grouping has had to put boots on the ground in Sierra Leone, Burundi, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia and Sudan among  others.

Eventually an ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF) was formed.

It is a multidisciplinary force composed of military, police and civilian personnel from the ECOWAS Member States and it provides personnel for regional and continental Peace Support Operations Missions.

This week ECOWAS leaders met to discuss the deteriorating socio/political in Mali.

Their meeting follows unsuccessful missions led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and a smaller troika of leaders led by the current ECOWAS chairman Mahamadu Issoufou.

Bitter experience has taught ECOWAS leaders that if at first they don’t succeed, there is no option but to try, try and try again.

The security breakdown in Mali, which already has 13 000 UN blue helmets engaged in what is regarded as the most dangerous peacekeeping operation on the planet, follows a 2012 coup that split the country in half.

French help was called in to clear the Islamist forces that took advantage of a Tuareg insurgency in the north of the country. French led Operation Serval cleared the Islamists moving towards the capital Bamako and in terms of the succeeding Operation Burkhane 5100 French peacekeepers remain in Mali to bolster the UN force.

The inability of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is the pretext for growing calls for his departure.

This was compounded by disputed election in April.

The opposition June 5 Movement led by Mahmoud Dicko insisted that it was not interested in the reforms promised by Keita. They want him gone.

ECOWAS might have been able to watch as this political turmoil boiled.

However the security situation with Islamist terrorists taking advantage of the confusion has spread into Burkina Faso and Niger, bringing the neighbours at the edge of a forest metaphor into play.

The ECOWAS leaders were bound to defend Mali’s constitution and  could not brook opposition calls for the fall of Keita.

They did however see merit in the complaints about irregularities in last April’s elections.

They resolved to call by-elections in the 13 disputed constituencies. These include that of  the parliamentary speaker Moussa Timbiné  

They have urged the opposition to moderate their position by entering into a government of national unity within 10 days.

Backing up their call is a threat of sanctions against any party standing in the way of a solution.

Keita has dropped his insistence that Mali’s Constitutional Court has underpinned the April poll result.

He has named a slimmed down six-person executive to prepare for by-elections and met with Dicko.

This leaves the ball in the opposition court.

Opposition figure Choguel Maiga is quoted as rejecting the ECOWAS proposals and repeating the call for Keita’s departure.

An integral part of ECOWAS’ peacekeeping success is the determination to back its words with muscle.

So, what next?

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.