ECCAS and intervention in the Gabon coup: limits of role and effectiveness

The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) was established on October 18, 1983, by signing its founding treaty in Libreville to achieve economic cooperation and integration in the region. It includes eleven members: Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe and Chad. It is one of the eight regional economic communities recognized as pillars of regional integration in Africa and therefore fully participates in the dynamics related to the construction of the African Economic Community set out in the Abuja Treaty of 1991.

ECCAS Security Structures

Considering that ECCAS is primarily an economic group, the treaty establishing it at the time, like other African regional economic groupings, did not mention aspects related to peace, security and stability in its institutional structure. But with the outbreak of wars in many member states, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), the civil war in Rwanda, Burundi and others, as well as the lack of international or even African desire to intervene, talk has increasingly grown about the importance of peace and security in the revised treaty as it is fundamental to economic integration.

Therefore, ECCAS adopted the Peace and Security Protocol in February 1999 to deal with conflicts and political instability in the region, through a system of collective security that considers an attack on any country an attack on the others.

This protocol paved the way for the establishment of the Council for Peace and Security in Central Africa (COPAX), which is the main instrument for achieving peace and security. It consists of three main mechanisms: the Defense and Security Committee (CDS), the Early Warning System (MARAC), and the Multinational Force (FOMAC). It was officially ratified about five years later (January 2004).

The Protocol was revised again in December 2019 to include three basic structures: the Conference, which includes all heads of state and governments of member states and is entrusted with making decisions related to intervention to maintain peace and security. Its executive is the Committee for Defense, Safety and Security (CTSDSS), which includes the Ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Interior, in addition to the Committee of Permanent Representatives of Member States at the ambassadorial level (COREP). Cases of intervention have also been expanded, especially in the humanitarian field, and refusal to take power through coups, as well as establishing more assistance mechanisms in conflict resolution, such as the Committee of the Wise and others.

During the period between the adoption and ratification of the first Protocol, the member states of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), which includes six countries that are also members of ECCAS, formed a regional peace force to intervene in the then ongoing conflict in Central Africa in 2002. Then in July 2008, it transferred these forces to ECCAS to carry out its duties thereafter.

ECCAS and previous interventions “Central Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo”

Article 3 of the revised Peace and Security Council Protocol stipulates four cases under which the group has the right to intervene in a member state based on a decision of the Council, which are: war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of genocide, and external aggression. Then Article 5 (a) added another condition requiring the deployment of these forces in the event of unconstitutional changes in political systems.

Therefore, the ongoing conflict in Central Africa since 2008 between President François Bozizé and the “Selka” coalition groups opposing him was one of the most prominent cases of ECCAS intervention in the process of settling it. This was done first through the mediation committee that was entrusted at the time to the President of Congo, Sassou Nguesso, then by sending peacekeeping forces known as MICOPAX, which included soldiers affiliated with FOMAC, as the number of intervening forces reached 700 soldiers. Then the number rose to two thousand with the renewal of clashes in 2013, where they played the role of mediation and peacekeeping together, yet they did not succeed in resolving the conflict and achieving its goal of intervention, which is to protect civilians. This prompted the African Union to intervene with the help of some FOMAC forces, as well as forces from other countries, and the formation of what is known as the MISCA forces, which were then integrated into the international forces of the United Nations known as MINUSCA.

Here, two things are noted regarding the group’s limited intervention process and influence in resolving the conflict in Central Africa at the time:

First: The peaceful settlement efforts through mediation carried out by the President of Congo were taking place outside the institutional framework, without coordination with the group, and according to his personal vision. This means the absence of an institutional character (the presence of a mediation committee) and the predominance of a personal character that may side with one party or the other. In addition to the absence of preventive diplomacy based on the presence of an effective early warning network that monitors sources of conflict before escalation and seeks to contain it.

Second: Some member states, such as Chad, were involved in one way or another in the conflict on behalf of France. Once by supporting Bozizé’s rise to power in 2003, then contributing to his overthrow after the French dispute with him (March 2013), and then a third time by contributing to the overthrow of Muslim President Mohamed, victim of Michel Dugota, and forcing him to resign after the French dispute with him. It transported members of the interim parliament in Central Africa, who were in its territory, by plane to approve the president’s resignation and amend the interim constitution.

Although ECCAS’s intervention in Central Africa was described as limited and ineffective, it did not intervene in the internal conflict in eastern Democratic Congo between former president Joseph Kabila and rebels supported by some neighboring countries since the beginning of this century, even though it was more complex and larger in scale and losses. The intervening regional parties supporting one side or the other, such as Angola, Rwanda, and Burundi, were affected by this conflict but were also active parties in it. Therefore they did not put it on the group’s agenda despite the danger, and paved the way for other organizations with overlapping membership to settle it, such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference of the Great Lakes, as well as providing support to the international forces of the United Nations that deployed in the east of the country in 2013.

ECCAS and the recent coup in Gabon


As previously stated, the revised Protocol, Article 5, paragraph “A”, stipulates the necessity of preventing, managing and resolving crises through the deployment of peace support missions in the event of disasters, crises or conflicts between and within states or in the event of unconstitutional changes in political systems, as stipulated in Article 7 Paragraph 3. The group has the right to take all sanctions in the event of unconstitutional changes to the government in one of the member states by holding an extraordinary summit when necessary. This means the possibility of the group to intervene and take what it deems appropriate in this regard, starting from suspending membership, through imposing economic sanctions, and even military intervention.

ECCAS has encountered the first obstacle in dealing with the coup that Gabon witnessed on August 30, 2023, which is that Gabon is the headquarters of the group’s commission, and the deposed president, Ali Bongo, is the president of the current session of the group. Then the first meeting was held virtually the next day through the Vice President, the “President of Equatorial Guinea,” where they condemned the coup, called on its leaders to preserve the safety of President Ali Bongo as the legitimate president, and appointed a mediator to talk to the coup leaders, the President of Central Africa, Faustin. Todera.

At the second summit, which was held in person in Equatorial Guinea on September 4, a decision was taken to suspend Gabon’s membership in the group and temporarily move the headquarters of the Commission from Gabon to Equatorial Guinea.

Here it is noted that the group did not take any special measures to impose economic sanctions on the coup leaders, in contrast to what the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) did in its dealings with the coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, and the recent coup in Niger.

It is also noted that it adopted the method of “diplomatic” peaceful settlement through the “personal” mediation of the President of Central Africa, without talking about any possibility of military intervention. So it was not surprising that the coup leader, Brice Olegé Nguema, was sworn in as governor of the country during a transitional period whose duration has not been determined as of this writing.

Reasons for the limited effectiveness of ECCAS intervention

From the previous presentation of cases of intervention, whether through forces as in the case of Central Africa, or entrusting the intervention to other organizations (the case of the Democratic Congo), or simply suspending membership in dealing with the recent coup in Gabon, it can be said that the role of ECCAS in the conflict resolution process is very limited compared to ECOWAS, for example. This limitation is due to several reasons:

First: the security fragility of some member states, which makes them unable to provide internal security, let alone the possibility of contributing to conflict settlement efforts in other countries. The group includes three of the six most fragile countries in the world, namely: Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Chad, due to the civil wars and security instability that these countries have been witnessing for some time, as well as the spread of jihadist groups such as Boko Haram in several countries in Central and West Africa.

Second: The weakness of the legitimacy and legality of most of the ruling systems of the countries of the group. By legitimacy, we mean “the legal aspect, where power is reached either through military coups or fraudulent formal elections.” As for popularity, we mean the extent of “popular support.”

Most of the countries in the group have their ruling systems suffering from both problems, or one of them. In Equatorial Guinea, the current president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, came to power in 1979 after carrying out a coup against his uncle, President Francisco Macías Nguema. As for Congo-Brazzaville, the current president, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, ruled the country twice, first from 1979 until 1992, then again following an armed rebellion in 1997. In Cameroon, President Paul Biya has ruled since he came to power in 1982, after the sudden resignation of President Ahmadou Ahidjo. In Rwanda, the current president, Paul Kagame, has ruled the country since 1994 after the end of the civil war, and many others.

It is noted that most of the countries in the group, if not all, are classified as countries that do not enjoy political freedoms or civil rights according to the map of the Freedom Index issued by Freedom House in 2023. This means the absence of democracy as one of the mechanisms for peaceful deliberation in these countries, which may pave the way for military coups that take advantage of people’s discontent with these regimes, as is the case in Gabon recently.

Third: Member states’ unwillingness to expand ECCAS’s intervention missions in internal conflicts, where they were not given the necessary authorization to intervene. This made the organization remain silent against the tensions that Gabon and Burundi witnessed about ten years ago. Although the organization established an election training and observation center in Libreville in 2011, the role of these election observation missions is largely restricted due to “the unwillingness of member states to activate this role.” Such as the ousted President Ali Bongo’s refusal to supervise the elections that the country witnessed in 2016 and 2023.

Fourth: Extreme centralization in decision-making. Any decision to intervene requires the approval of all members, and most member states fear the possibility of the organization interfering in their internal affairs, or being used by opponents to settle scores in light of the widespread state of mistrust between countries. All of this contributed to limiting its effectiveness in the intervention process in favor of either other organizations such as SADC in the case of the Democratic Congo, the African Union in the case of Central Africa, or the United Nations in the previous two cases as well.

Fifth: The absence of a leading state in the region, which could take the initiative in the intervention process, whether in terms of forming forces, or even financing. Similar to Nigeria’s case for ECOWAS during the era of Ibrahim Babangida in the early 1990s and its intervention in the civil war that Liberia witnessed at the time. Nigeria provided about 90% of the funding and forces.

Sixth: The problem of funding, which is considered a stumbling block in the face of any attempt to intervene. Thus the organization has become more like a “security forum” that is summoned by member states after the occurrence of conflicts to discuss the possibility of taking some ineffective decisions to throw dust in people’s eyes. Then there is no actual talk about preventive diplomacy or early warning despite the presence of these mechanisms within the texts of the revised protocol. But it seems that the problem is not in the monitoring and information process, but in the heads of states and members taking decisions based on them. That is the real problem.

From the previous presentation, it is clear that although the Central African region is rife with many internal and inter-conflicts, ECCAS’s ability to intervene to resolve them does not meet the required level. This may open the door to a repetition of the phenomenon of coups, especially in the absence of an African desire (the African Union) or an international desire (the United Nations) to intervene.

Reference

1)- ECCAS IN BRIEF, ECCAS website. (Visited on 30 Aug. 2023) https://www.eccas.int/en/background/

2)-PROTOCOL RELATING TO THE CENTRAL AFRICAN PEACE AND SECURITY COUNCIL (COPAX) 1999, articles 2, 6

3)The Central African Economic and Monetary Union includes six countries that were subject to French colonialism, with the exception of Equatorial Guinea, and are linked to the CFA franc currency. These countries are: Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon, Cameroon, and Republic of the Congo.

4)- United Nations, Economic Commission for Africa, ECCAS – Peace, Security, Stability and Governance, (Visited on 30 Aug. 2023) https://repository.uneca.org/handle/10855/24370

5)In Sango, the country’s lingua franca, Seleka means “alliance” and is a movement that includes political parties, including: the Union of Democratic Forces for Rally led by Michel Djotodia, the Patriotic Convention for Justice and Peace, and the Democratic Convention for the Redemption of the Central African People. These parties signed a joint convention in December 2012 and formed a military wing consisting of rebel groups, all members of their parties, with the aim of overthrowing President Bozizé.

6)- Ingerstad, Gabriella and Lindell, Magdalena Tham, Challenges to Peace and Security in Central Africa: The Role of ECCAS, Studies in African Security, June 2015, pp. 1-4

7)For more details, see: Shafi’i, Badr Hassan, The Future of Conflict in Central Africa, Al Jazeera Center for Studies, March 25, 2014 (accessed: August 31, 2023), https://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2014/03/201432510294668134.html

8)-FINAL COMMUNICATION OF THE III EXTRAORDINARY SESSION OF THE CCEG OF ECCAS,30 August 2023 (Visited on 5 SEP,. 2023) https://www.prc.cm/en/news/final-communique-iii-extraordinary-session-ccpeg-eccas

9)- Final Communiqué of the 4th Extraordinary Session of the Conference of Heads of State and Government of ECCAS,4 September 2023 (Visited on 5 SEP,. 2023) https://www.prc.cm/en/news/final-communique-4th-extraordinary-session-conference-heads-state-and-government-eccas

10)- FREEDOM HOUSE, FREEDOM IN THE WORLD 2023, P. 24

11)-Ingerstad, Gabriella, Op. cit. p. 2

12)- RASAQ, Monsuru Olaitan, Stresses and Strains of African Regional Economic Communities (RECs): A Case Study of Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), International Journal of Research and Innovation in Social Science (IJRISS), Volume IV, Issue VI, June 2020, p. 497

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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