Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, pictured at the Michigan Roundtable Festival on Belle Isle in Detroit during the summer of 2008. Azikiwe has written extensively on Pan-African and world affairs over the years. (Photo: Alan Pollock), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
ECOWAS to Deploy 3,000 Troops to Mali While PAIGC Rejects Regional Initiative in Guinea-Bissau
Will ECOWAS further open the door for imperialist intervention in West Africa?
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Although the 16-member regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly threatened to enter militarily into the current conflicts in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, there has been no specific announcement of troop deployments to either country. Both Mali and Guinea-Bissau have been plagued by internal political conflict and military coups since March 20 in Bamako and April 12 in Bissau.
At a meeting in the Senegalese capital of Dakar on May 3, the second extraordinary summit organized by ECOWAS in one week, the leaders of these states discussed the failure of military juntas in both Mali and Guinea-Bissau to voluntarily relinquish power. Although in Mali the coup makers headed by Capt. Amadou Sanogo had reached an agreement to share power in a transitional arrangement, the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and the State (CNRDRE) has not been receptive to the intervention of ECOWAS military forces.
In Guinea-Bissau the coup leaders have put forward their own transitional program which had not been acceptable to either the deposed African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) or the ECOWAS leadership. The two main political leaders in Guinea-Bissau have been deported from the country to neighboring Ivory Coast, an ECOWAS member.
Adding to the complexity of the crisis in Mali, the Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country, where the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) declared itself independent of the central government in Bamako, this secessionist declaration has not been effectively challenged by the military government or the interim leaders in the capital. In areas of the north, Islamist forces have declared sharia law and there are reports of the destruction of a tomb of a traditional Muslim leader which had been preserved for many years.
In a statement issued by the ECOWAS executive Desire Kadre Ouedraogo in Dakar on May 3, the group stated that “The region will no longer tolerate this continued defiance by the Guinea-Bissau military who, in disregard of constitutional rules, try to impose their will on the people.” The ECOWAS leaders said after a meeting on April 26 that they demanded the Mali and Guinea-Bissau military juntas should submit to national elections within twelve months. (Reuters, May 3)
Correspondent Feliz Bate writing for Reuters stated that ECOWAS “recommended that Guinea-Bissau’s national assembly hold new elections to renew its executive bureau so that the new speaker should serve as interim president and a prime minister will be selected to lead a government of national unity. ‘The interim president and prime minister shall not contest in the presidential election,’” the ECOWAS heads-of-state said in their concluding communique. (Reuters, May 3)
To purportedly back up these demands, ECOWAS in its official communique issued on May 4 stressed that “leaders have threatened to reinstate targeted sanctions against those who disrupt the process for the election of a new president in Mali to replace President Amadou Toumani Toure who was deposed in a military coup on 22nd March 2012. Comprehensive sanctions against the country, including targeted sanctions against members of the military junta that deposed the former president and their associates, were lifted after they agreed to hand over power to the former speaker of the parliament as interim president until the election of a new president based on a 12-month transition program.” (ECOWAS Communique, May 4)
With respect to Guinea-Bissau, a foreign minister contact group failed to reach agreement with both the military junta leaders and the PAIGC during a meeting on April 29 in Banjul, Gambia. Nonetheless, the restoration of civilian rule as outlined by ECOWAS calls for the election of a new speaker and deputy speaker to the National Assembly.
For both countries, the military intervention by ECOWAS will consist of a Standby Force (ESF) that would be deployed “as soon as the Malian authorities make the relevant request.” In relationship to Guinea-Bissau, ECOWAS said “that the ESF should also be deployed in the country in line with the new approved mandate to secure the withdrawal of the Angolan Technical Assistance Group, ensure the security of the transition and assist in the implementation of the program for the defense and security sector reform.” (ECOWAS Communique, May 4)
Bissau junta leader Gen. Antonio Injai categorically dismissed the notion of reinstating Raimundo Pereira the interim president to his post. However, he indicated that both the interim president and the former premier Carlos Gomes Junior were free to return to the country from Ivory Coast.
Although ECOWAS welcomed the release of Pereira and Gomes Junior from custody, they also requested that other political officials being held should also be set free. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said at the Dakar summit that “We have the moral obligations to stand by peace and democracy and the moral responsibility to give Malians and Bissau Guineans the right to live in peace.” (The Citizen, May 6)
President Johnson-Sirleaf was also quoted as saying that “We will be setting a dangerous precedence if we seep to dialogue interminably with coup makers as our citizens continue to live in fear and terror.” The extraordinary summit was chaired by Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who was installed in power last year by the French military after the overthrow of Laurent Gbagbo in an unresolved dispute involving a run-off presidential election.
The Kenyan Nation reported on the rejection by the deposed PAIGC party in Guinea-Bissau of the ECOWAS proposals for resolution of the political crisis. Tamba Jean-Matthew wrote that “The former and longest ruling party in Guinea-Bissau, PAIGC, has announced that it will not name a new candidate to head the transition as recommended by the regional grouping ECOWAS.” ((May 6)
This same article goes on to note that the PAIGC Secretariat “said renaming another candidate was tantamount to withdrawing the party’s loyalty to the ousted interim leader. It was the opinion of the leaders that a new candidate would be acceptable to the military junta in a bid to push forward the process of returning the country to constitutional rule with the holding of fresh elections.”
The military junta in Guinea-Bissau is opposed to the reinstallation of Pereira who sought to address the perennial problems of factionalism within the army by retaining the Angolan military in an effort to restructure the defense forces. Pereira became interim president in the aftermath of the death of leader Malam Becai Sanha earlier this year.
Serifo Nhamadjo, a dissident of the PAIGC party, was named by the junta to take over the government, but he turned down the offer. The situation remains at a stalemate as does the political crisis in Mali.
ECOWAS and Imperialism
In Mali the military and government has developed close ties with the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). Despite AFRICOM’s claim of building counter-terrorism efforts on the continent and enhancing the capacity of various states to build its national security apparatus, their involvement with Bamako has engendered insecurity and divisions within the state and military.
This was exemplified further by the attempted counter-coup in Bamako on April 30 when opponents of the junta headed by Capt. Sanogo took control of the national broadcast station and attacked the airport. The counter-coup attempt was defeated and by the evening of April 30, Sanogo was able to announce that “We captured some of the foreigners and killed others. We’ll show these foreigners on television.” (Associated Press, April 30)
Malian state television showed a group of prisoners along with weapons, ammunition and grenades that ostensibly belonged to the captured soldiers involved in the putsch. Speculation surrounding the incident centered on the role of the presidential guard within the Red Berets, a parachutist regiment.
The parachutist regiment is thought to have remained loyal to deposed President Amadou Toumani Toure. These developments illustrated the degree of instability within the military forces which have refused to relinquish power to the interim political leadership as requested by ECOWAS.
On March 28, AFRICOM, ECOWAS and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) held a joint conference in the Benin capital of Cotonou. More than 250 representatives from more than 20 African states attended the gathering which resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding and Operational Agreement.
According to the AFRICOM website, “the event was organized and facilitated by U.S. Africa Command and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.” In a report written by Staff Sergeant Olufemi A. Owolabi of U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs, it notes that “The conference was held to charter a way for cooperation between both African communities to provide regional maritime security in the central and western African regions and among member states to combat piracy, robbery at sea, and other illicit activities at sea in the Gulf of Guinea.” (AFRICOM, April 2)
The report continues to claim that some 58 incidents of “maritime crimes” were committed during the first 10 months of 2011. A United Nations Resolution 2018 was passed encouraging “ECOWAS and ECCAS and the Gulf of Guinea Commission to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat illicit activities at sea.”
Nigerian Colonel Austin Anyalechi was quoted in the AFRICOM report as saying that “This initiative, which has been put in place by ECOWAS in collaboration with ECCAS, and of course supported by the government of the United States, is quite laudable. It is laudable in the sense that in recent time, the menace of piracy and armed robbery at sea has continued to create a lot of concern to the world and the West African regions.”
Anyalechi continued noting that “This is why the seminar put together by U.S. Africa Command and ACSS is very timely and helpful. I believe once the member states collaborate, synergy will be achieved as an approach to combating piracy at sea.”
This initiative sponsored by the Pentagon’s AFRICOM project coincides with the Operations Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) described by the Global Security website as a partnership between the United States and 10 African countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. The website continues reporting that “The initiative is an integrated, multi-year approach that draws resources and expertise from multiple agencies in the U.S. Government, including the Department of State, the Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Defense.” (globalsecurity.org)
This report reveals that AFRICOM “worked on programs that expanded military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and partner nations by ensuring there was adequate resources available to train, advise, and assist regional units with hope of promoting better regional cooperation, communications, and intelligence sharing. AFRICOM conducted train and equip missions to build company-level units that were capable of providing sustained border security. Also, AFRICOM facilitated partner national staff information training and mentorship programs, conducted JPAT and MIST trainings, and held JCET events in all 9 OEF-TS countries.”
These military cooperation agreements although purportedly designed to improve African security are in actuality creating greater instability on the continent through facilitating the further penetration of imperialist intelligence and combat operations which are solely geared towards increasing the profitability of transnational corporations. Consequently, the role of ECOWAS in both Mali and Guinea-Bissau should be viewed within the broader context of what AFRICOM is doing on the continent of Africa.
The U.S. ruling class is becoming more dependent upon oil and other strategic minerals from Africa. Therefore these operations will escalate and with the advent of the first African American president of the leading imperialist country in the world, this phenomenon is designed to provide political cover for more military involvement by the Pentagon in Africa.
Anti-war and anti-imperialist forces must pay special attention to these developments and oppose this escalating military intervention on the continent. The war against Libya and the ongoing destruction of Somalia is clearly linked with these military projects in West and Central Africa.
The security of Africa will only come about through the sovereignty and genuine independence of its people and governments. Escalating Pentagon occupations of the continent and its waterways are merely a means to serve and bolster imperialist interests which run counter to the well-being of both Africa and the people of the United States.