West Africa’s Fragile States

In Fragile States and Crisis of Regionalism in West Africa, Gbara Awanen examines the things holding the region together and the ones impeding its integration.

When ECOWAS was created in 1975, its overarching ambition was to be the vehicle for the economic integration of West Africa. Nearly five decades on, that ambitious goal remains work-in-progress, in part because internal strife and civil wars in some member states, notably Liberia and Sierra Leone, beginning in the late 1970s and onwards, and conflicts of varying complexities and intensities in several other countries during the same period, distracted political leaders of the region and, inevitably, slowed down the process of regional integration.

     Challenged by widespread insecurity across the region in its first decade of existence, ECOWAS quickly adapted and soon transformed into a regional security provider. This evolution is intuitive, since the essential work of regional economic integration can only commence in a stable security environment. However, if the strategic goal had been to remake West Africa into a security community, by which we mean a group of stable and peaceful states among which war and internal civil

insurrection have become inconceivable, that has not happen, in part because countries of the region are too poor, too weak, and too dependent on outside powers and interests as to be able to shape a distinct and locally-owned regional agenda, including the capacity to deliver cooperative security and development outcomes.

     The national context in which the regional integration project is taking place in West Africa also presents a major challenge, not least because governance at the national level can generate positive or negative impacts within national and regional spaces. Because state infirmities can undermine security, obstruct development, and imperil economic integration, it is a legitimate enquiry to examine the “state of health” of individual ECOWAS Member States and their capacity to contribute effectively to the regional integration project.

     Across West Africa, flawed colonial legacies and poor governance continue to create significant social cleavages, poor economic performance, insecurity and instability. The political and cultural antagonisms caused by poor governance also endanger inclusive economic development and the Treaty goal of regional economic integration. Furthermore, the governance deficit at the national level creates political and cultural incoherence among regional elites who drive the regional integration project. Consequently, the challenge of national integration may be as compelling and urgent as the regional integration project itself.

     Against this backdrop, it is looking increasingly conceivable that a major challenge for West Africa may be how to create an integrated region from states, some of which have attained advanced levels of disintegration.

 Overcoming this daunting challenge necessarily calls for swapping West Africa’s largely poor, weak, and dysfunctional states with democratic, efficient, and developmental states capable of turning the region’s vicious cycle of poverty and conflict into a virtuous cycle of security and development. Regionalism may be deployed as a vehicle for this process of political and social engineering, but regionalism can play a facilitating role only when West African states are themselves fully integrated, democratic, and efficiently and equitably administered.

     Among other objectives, this book seeks to evaluate the economic (developmental) and security dimensions of regional integration or regionalism in West Africa. The principal aim is to understand the dynamic evolution of ECOWAS from being an economic integration scheme to a regional collective security provider. Some of the questions worthy of careful study include whether ECOWAS increasing preoccupation with security matters reflects a fundamental shift in priorities, or whether this evolution is merely a pragmatic rebalancing act in aid of the Organization’s overarching Treaty goal of economic integration.

     This book is divided into six sections. Chapter One reviews the political and theoretical foundations of West Africa’s integration, a project that is arguably driven by powerful sentiments and desire for Africa unity as a basis for continental renaissance. Chapter Two provides an overview of the integration process in West Africa, the politics of the creation of ECOWAS, as well as significant challenges associated with the economic integration process in the region.

An attempt is made in Chapter Three to explore the Security-Development Nexus and its relevance in the context of West Africa’s integration experience. This approach reflects the logic of the West African socio-political environment, where poverty and insecurity are mutually reinforcing, requiring that policy makers strike the right balance between security and development in order to achieve economic progress and social stability. This section also examines the historical foundation of democratic governance in West Africa, the aim being to understand the historical origins of much of the region’s modern day governance pathologies.

     In Chapter Four, the geopolitics of the West Africa strategic environment comes into focus. Here, the aim is to highlight the forces shaping political and economic outcomes in the region. This theme is expanded in Chapter Five to cover the vexatious question of security governance in West Africa. In addition to a review of the region’s security challenges, this chapter also provides a case study of legacy conflicts in five ECOWAS Member States, from the late 1970s onwards, all of which have impacted, in various degrees, on the trajectory of the regional integration process. The objective is not only to understand the forces that ignited these conflicts, but also to illustrate their essential similarities to current crises in several ECOWAS Member States. The Concluding Chapter assesses the future of the integration process in West Africa against the backdrop of a growing number of states struggling against forces of disintegration and instability, a dangerous conundrum inimical to the regional integration project.

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