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Analysts Welcome ECOWAS Force, Remain Skeptical of Success

An ECOMOG officer welcomes the contingent of 28 soldiers from Ghana, Benin and Togo, the first elements of a West African peacekeeping force, upon their arrival at the military airport of Abidjan 03 January 2003.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed at a summit this week to establish a regional peacekeeping force to fight terrorism and restore democracy after military coups.

"ECOWAS is not unfamiliar with creating peacekeeping forces. In the '90s, ECOWAS was popular for creating ECOMOG, which was responsible for restoring peace and order in a number of countries including Liberia," Abuja-based political analyst Rotimi Olawale said.

Olawale says the peacekeeping force is a welcome development, particularly to counter violent extremism growing in western Africa.

"What I see might pose a challenge is this peacekeeping force is expected to respond to two twin challenges," Olawale said.

The 15-member West African bloc has seen many coups in the last two years, including ones in Mali and Guinea and two this year in Burkina Faso. The three countries have been suspended from ECOWAS decision-making bodies.

ECOWAS leaders say the coups have set back decades of democratic gains made in the region and have earned it a reputation for being unstable.

Member nations also are battling jihadist fighters operating across borders, making it difficult for individual nations' security forces to address.

Security analyst and editor-in-chief of Security Digest newspapers Chidi Omeje said there will be initial challenges.

"This is a purely unconventional kind of warfare, you don't even know the boundaries or who your adversaries are. So, how would such standby force identify adversaries?" Omeje said.

"We have the anglophone and the francophone, these two blocks always have this mutual suspicion for each other, they have different perspectives in the way that they deal with each other," he added.

Olawale agreed that restoring peace and order will not be easy.

"There were cases where the sitting governments in some of these countries thwarted their constitutions to extend time of office of incumbent. Public opinions in some of the countries support use of force to have a fresh start," Olawale said.

"I feel ECOWAS needs to be very careful in how it responds to coups. There will be a lot of problems if there's no public buy-in, especially among the citizens of the countries."

The ECOWAS standby force will be led by chiefs of defense staff of member nations, with the stated aim of addressing terrorism and coup attempts among ECOWAS members.

The force will also help restore democratic order in places where coups already have taken place.

Defense chiefs from member nations of ECOWAS will meet in January to discuss a way forward for the peacekeeping force.