Regional Approaches to Shared Threats
Partners Senegal/ Partners for Democratic Change
Rokhaya Ndoye Mbaye
The Mano River Union (MRU) countries, like many in West Africa, are moving from a conflict resolution and management phase towards a peace-building agenda. In order to design a strategic framework for conflict prevention, a common understanding of the root causes and layers of insecurity that encompasses threats at the community and national levels, and their transnational implications must be first achieved. It is limiting to only think of security threats within a national context. This paper will explore some of the major security issues that equally affect all MRU countries, argue that a regional approach is necessary for these regional threats, discuss some of the current regional approaches, and finally, offer recommendations to increase their impact.
1. Historical and political context
Despite some progress in governance in West Africa, its recent history of armed conflicts and the prevalence of systemic social problems have contributed to an enabling environment for outbreaks of violence and other threats to human security. Countries of the Mano River Union (Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone), share more than just common border. Instability and the preponderance of armed conflicts have characterized the MRU countries. It is only until recently that this trend seems to have been challenged.
Most of the conflicts in the region have begun as internal issues, but these rarely respected national borders for long before spilling over into neighbor countries. Charles Taylor entered Liberia from Cote d’Ivoire in 1989, which ignited a series of civil wars across the region. His deployment of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) sustained Sierra Leone civilian’s war in 1991. The Sierra Leone conflict spilled over into Guinea where direct fighting occurred, refugees, displaced persons, and rebels entered, and small arms were trafficked. These examples demonstrate how a local conflict can spread throughout the region. National historical and political particularities are not to be ignored. However, the transnational nature of major security threats affecting the region calls for a broader sub-regional approach.
2. Security threats in the MRU sub-region
The use of violence between opposing political parties or movements is a source of insecurity in the region. The most recent disconcerting examples are the July 2011 armed attacks against the Guinean presidency and the deadly attacks committed by rebels thought to be Gbagbo loyalists. Countries are particularly vulnerable to this type of violence during election times, when property destruction, harassment, and murder are common. Also, there are transnational security threats that emerge as consequences of armed conflicts, like refugee camps that were set up in Guinea because of the Sierra Leonean and Liberian civil wars.
Porous borders between MRU countries and a general lack of rule law facilitate cross-border crime, which include the trafficking of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW), drugs, natural resources, humans, diamonds, cigarettes, illegally manufactured firearms, and oil as well as other criminal activities like fraud, forgery, and armed robbery.  The free flow of small arms in West Africa has a dramatic impact on occurrence and scale of armed conflicts (Ebo). These have been driving forces in civil wars in the MRU area leading to “mass mutilation, displacement, and sexual enslavement, gross abuse of human rights, and sheer plunder and murder of West African citizens”
Despite the wealth in natural resources, MRU countries are amongst the poorest in the world. The majority of the youth population lacks quality education and job opportunities. Reintegration mechanisms for ex-combatants are also deficient. These factors contribute to the marginalization of many youths. They are traumatized from memories of war, restless from the lack of opportunities, and angry at the system that has failed them. This living condition breeds violent behaviors, and is “a potential trigger for tension and violence” in the sub-region (Conciliation Resources, 2012).
A general lack of development in the sub-region is a constant threat to human security. Food and energy insecurity, corruption, health epidemics, environmental hazards and emergencies are direct threats to citizens’ well-being, but are also sources of sub-regional tensions, especially in light of the region’s disenfranchised youth.
Poor governance is another source of disenfranchisement. When people do not see themselves as stakeholders in nation-building projects, the West African state lacks popular legitimacy and creates a security threat that can surface at any time. (UNOCD, 2005). West African countries do not conform to the Weberian definition of a state as an entity that holds exclusive control of legitimate force. With limited resources, African states chose to prioritize areas that would gain more citizen recognition, rather than building a robust legal security architecture. This has considerably undermined the state’s legitimacy.
West African states are accused of acting primarily in the interest of urban elites, leaving the majority of populations with extremely limited access to basic social services. Poor governance is also demonstrated in the prevalence of corruption, the illegal exploitation of natural resources, organized crime, land conflicts between “settlers and “natives” in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and international companies’ illegal use of communal land in Guinea. Additionally, “for many, the very governments whose statutory responsibility it is to protect, has become the major source of insecurity through corruption, abuse of power, and the lack of state capacity to deal effectively with pressing social problems.” (Ebo, 2007)
Lack of strong security institutions in the MRU region
The security sector has not been prioritized in the MRU sub-region. Defense rarely exceeds 4% of national budgets. The result is “grey areas” where there is virtually no rule of law. Non-statutory security organizations (liberation armies, guerilla armies, traditional militias, political party militias, private security companies, civil defense forces, local, and regional and global criminal groups) emerge where the state is absent. Their role has been to complement government security services delivery in some instances. While in other instances, they have undermined and confronted the state with the goal of capturing scarce power resources. When there is no security institution, civilians self-organize and provide their own security. Without training and rules, it is anarchy and the prevalence of popular justice makes it even more difficult for state forces to enter these areas. Further, civilians have lost faith in the state security forces and will resist their arrival, as is often the case in Guinea. In these situations, it is extremely difficult to assert the rule of state security forces.
- Fractured social relationships and bonds within communities;
- Perseverance of historical social divisions;
- Trans-border traffic of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW);
- Unemployment and lack of quality education and job training;
- Dysfunctional economies;
- Extreme poverty and systemic inequality;
- Displaced persons;
- Infrastructure deficits due to lack of development and destruction from armed conflicts;
- Climate change and food insecurity;
- Unsettled disputes resulting from past armed conflicts;
- Violent tnesions between civilians and armed forces;
- Ethnic tensions;
- Idle youth;
- Poor governance and systemic inequality; and
- Lack of strong security institutions.
3. Current Regional SSR approaches
The United Nations Secretary-General report on Ways to Combat Sub-Regional and Cross-border problems in West Africa notes that ‘the need for security sector reform lays at the heart of most cross-border regional problem’ (P7). The Security Council also acknowledged the importance of regional frameworks as a foundation for multilateral SSR efforts. There are indeed many security actors, which include the United Nations Peacekeeping forces, the OECD, the European Union, foreign private security companies, national and regional civil society organizations and networks, national, sub-regional and global criminal networks; non-statutory security organizations like mercenaries and militant groups, and ECOWAS. Coordination amongst these actors is insufficient. It must start with the MRU countries making commitments towards addressing their mutual concerns, and then the appropriate actors can be convened to lead reforms.
Development of a normative framework in West African security architecture
ECOWAS’s peace keeping and peace building efforts are examples of regional security approaches being enacted in the region. A concrete example is the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), where national armies worked together under democratic control.  Guiding principles were established at the time to reduce regional tensions and promote domestic stability. Through various missions like ECOMOG, ECOWAS positioned itself to be the coordinating body that could fill the security voids in the region. The ECOWAS architecture was also perceived as more effective than previous bi- and tri-lateral security arrangements. Also, ECOWAS’s active role in coordinating SSR in the region has the potential for outsourcing SSR support and transferring skills to national security forces. A strong and effective ECOWAS will make it easier for international organizations and foreign governments to deploy troops to conflict areas.
Despite ECOWAS’s relative success in peace building in the MRU region, it faces challenges related to cultural, linguistic, and experiential differences amongst its constituents, which makes communication and coordination difficult. Also, ECOMOG claimed that they were being under-compensated for the risk that they entailed, especially compared to salaries that UN peacekeepers received. Other challenges for the future are the lack of national political will, a funding scarcity, and the lack of standard operating procedures.
ECOWAS has the potential to act as an oversight sight entity for regional SSR management tasks and responsibilities. The Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance with its mechanism and normative framework may pave the way for a regional security framework. A host of operational challenges limit these progresses, and will have to be addressed if a functional regional framework is to be sustained. Such a framework would complement individual countries’ response to security issues, rather than supplant it. With the progressive strengthening of ECOWAS, we can hope that it will act as an umbrella organization with convening authority that can extend its assistance to facilitating treaties and coordinating mechanisms in the MRU sub-region. These countries could establish a sub-regional structure to lead security sector reform and address security threats, which would be encompassed in ECOWAS’s broader structure.
Civil society regional SSG approaches
Besides country-led regional efforts, civil society initiatives addressing human security issues and security sector reform have gained in prominence. Effective security sector governance (SSG) must include civil society. Security sector reform policies call upon civil society actors to exert pressure on the state so that it respects its commitments.
Recently, civil society actors have come together to establish regional and sub-regional peace and security networks. The African Security Sector Reform Network was formed in 2003 to facilitate progress towards effective and democratically managed security sectors in African countries, and with the support of the Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform, has established sub-regional networks. The West Africa Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA) and the West Africa Civil Society Forum are other important regional civil society networks.
4. Recommendations/ Conclusion
The peace in Mano River Union countries is fragile. After decades of conflict, security sector reform in the Mano River Union countries is an integral part of peace building and reconstruction efforts that aim to prevent a return to armed conflict. The violence that characterized the previous decades has largely ceased. Yet, there are major contemporary security threats that are international, transnational and interconnected. In order to reduce the likelihood of armed conflict recurrence in the MRU region, the following objectives need to be sought and attained:
- National political will to establish a cohesive sub-regional security system;
- Harmonization of national security legislation to facilitate a common SSR agenda;
- Prioritization of genuine local ownership and parliament oversight of the sub-regional SSR agenda;
- Balance between external assistance and local ownership of the sub-regional SSR;
- Fast, efficient and functional regional response mechanism to major security threats like anti-narcotics, anti-corruption and disarmament in the sub-region.
 People’s perspectives on instability in West Africa, conciliation Resources, March 2012
 Security Sector Reform as an Instrument of Sub-Regional Transformation in West Africa, Adedeji Ebo
 Executive Summary, Transnational Organized Crime in the West African sub Region, United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs, New York, 2005.
 Towards a Common ECOWAS Agenda on Security Sector Reform, Adedeji Ebo, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) Policy Paper – №23, 2007
 Understanding the Challenges of Security Sector Governance in West Africa; Alan Bryden, Boubacar N’Diaye and ’Funmi Olonisakin
 Report of the (UN) Secretary-General on Ways to Combat Sub-regional and Cross-border problems in West Africa’, (S/2004/2000).
 Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment West Africa, Issue 11-2006, Jane’s Information group, ix. Coulsdon: Surrey.
 James O.C. Jonah, op. cit., 328.