Book Review

Regional economic communities and peacebuilding in Africa: Lessons from ECOWAS and IGAD

By Victor Adetula, Redie Bereketeab, and Cyril Obi, 2021
New York: Routledge, 247pp
ISBN: 978-0-367-55463-7

Darlington Tshuma is a Ph.D. candidate in the Peacebuilding Program at the Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa.

The book is an edited volume by three of Africa’s leading scholars and analysts – Victor Adetula, Redie Bereketeab and Cyril Obi. The many contributors to the work are experts in their own right, with depths of knowledge and experience in various areas relevant to the theme of the book. The book is not only timely but a compelling piece that offers careful and incisive analyses of peace and security developments in Africa, intended to challenge our thinking on how to intervene in conflict situations. While the African Union (AU) officially recognises eight sub-regional communities, namely Arab Maghreb Union (AMU); Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD); Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA); East African Community (EAC); Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS); Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD); and Southern African Development Community (SADC), this book deals with ECOWAS and IGAD. 

The introductory chapter by Victor Adetula, Redie Bereketeab and Cyril Obi offers an overview of conflict and peacebuilding dynamics in Africa. They note that the complexity of contemporary conflict dynamics and emerging security threats require greater cooperation and coordination among state and non-state actors. This they argue is because regional conflict systems often generate consequences that have security implications for regions beyond those in which they occur. For instance, instability in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to pose security challenges to its neighbours. Similarly, growing security challenges, including pandemics, climate change, droughts, terrorism, smuggling and human trafficking, continue to negatively impact on development.  The authors conclude that the transnational nature and regional consequences of conflicts have reaffirmed the need to build capacity to deal with conflicts of a transnational character. 

In chapter two, Olugbemi Jaiyebo and Victor Adetula provide analyses of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) within the context of international law. They argue that although RECs were initially conceived as primary drivers of economic development and integration, over the years RECs have expanded their mandates to tackle issues of governance, peace and security. As a result, RECs now function as part of the continent-wide peace and security architecture that is managed essentially by the AU within the United Nations’ mandate to promote global peace and security (pp. 20 – 21). This has created both opportunities and challenges for RECs as seen with peacekeeping missions in Somalia, South Sudan and Mali. 

In the third chapter, Redie Bereketeab examines two approaches to the theoretical framing of peacebuilding and its implications for Africa – popular progressive versus neo-liberal peacebuilding. He makes a strong case for progressive peacebuilding as an alternative to neo-liberal peacebuilding. Like Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2013)[1], Bereketeab argues that the persistence of neo-colonialism has maintained conditions of coloniality that have made it almost impossible for peace and development to thrive. He concludes by highlighting how popular progressive peacebuilding is superior to neo-liberal peacebuilding; arguing that unlike neo-liberal peacebuilding, popular progressive peacebuilding is domestic, helping it go beyond just post-conflict reconstruction. Second, popular progressive peacebuilding makes use of domestic resources and infrastructures found in African cosmologies. Lastly, popular progressive peacebuilding does not seek short-term gains but is a long-term process spread over generations. 

Chapter four, by Aderemi Ajibewa and Jubril Shittu, provides an overview of ECOWAS’ peacebuilding experience, in particular its shift from a state security to a human security-centred approach. This is in line with ECOWAS’ strategy of transforming ECOWAS from an ‘ECOWAS of states to an ECOWAS of peoples’ (pp. 55), where civil society plays a prominent role in peace processes. In chapter five, Chukwuemeka Eze enunciates the role of civil society in peace and security within ECOWAS. Eze shows how involvement of civil society organisations like the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) has been beneficial to both ECOWAS and West Africa. Through experience sharing and peer learning, civil society in the region is helping to shape transitional justice processes although engagements are sometimes fraught with challenges emanating from resource constraints and capture by political interests. 

In chapter six, Amadu Sesay provides an assessment of ECOWAS and demonstrates how its formation in 1975 transformed the governance, peace and security landscape of the region. ECOWAS has facilitated political transitions and mediated very complex situations in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Mali, Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau. Despite its relative success in peace-making, Sesay raises concern about ECOWAS’ inability to drive regional development and economic integration. He argues that the majority of ECOWAS member states rank poorly on the Human Development Index, raising concern about the link between peace-making and development (pp. 87). Chapter seven, by Kehinde Olayode, builds on the previous chapter by offering incisive analyses of challenges faced by ECOWAS when it intervened in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In chapter eight, Oshita Oshita and Warisu Alli scrutinise Nigeria and its role in ECOWAS’ peace processes. They argue that Nigeria’s status as a regional hegemon makes the country a ‘kingmaker’ in the region. Previously, Nigeria had single-handedly funded ECOWAS peacekeeping operations in the region although this came at a cost to the Nigerian economy. Economic stagnation, domestic politics and rising youth unemployment in Nigeria cast doubt on the country’s future influence in regional peace operations. 

Chapters by Senai Andemariam, Nureldin Satti and Jacob Chol highlight emerging peace trends in the Horn of Africa on the back of recent developments in the region. Notable developments include the ascension to power in Ethiopia of Abiy Ahmed in 2018, the Ethiopia-Eritrea rapprochement deal in 2018, transitional processes in Sudan following the departure of long-time ruler Al-Bashir, and the recently concluded Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in South Sudan following years of disagreements over its implementation. Still, violent conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the ‘constitutional crisis’ in Somalia threaten to reverse progress achieved in recent years. The chapter by Kizito Sabala discusses the role and contributions of Kenya on matters of peace and security within IGAD. Sabala notes that Kenya has played a crucial role in influencing development of relevant norms and institutions at IGAD, such as the IGAD Security Sector Program, the 2002 Protocol on the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN), and the Mediation Support Unit. In the past, Kenya has facilitated high-level negotiations to end violent conflict in the region. 

Chapters by Kasaija Apuuli, Kassahun Berhanu and Mohamed Ingiriis examine Uganda and Ethiopia’s engagement with IGAD. Apuuli notes that Uganda’s reluctance to effectively engage in IGAD peace processes is in part driven by Museveni’s ambitions to revive the East African Community (EAC) where he is likely to exert greater influence. Another source of motivation was his disappointment with IGAD’s failure to intervene in Uganda when the country faced attacks from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Berhanu notes that the vacuum created by the subsiding superpower rivalry between the ‘West’ and ‘East’ spurred intense competition between IGAD member states, particularly Ethiopia and Kenya, who each pursued divergent and sometimes contradictory aspirations that threatened to paralyse IGAD. Fancying itself as a regional hegemon, Ethiopia has sought to exert its influence on IGAD, sometimes unilaterally intervening in member states without the express authorisation of IGAD. These dynamics have led critics to believe that IGAD is incapable of reining-in Ethiopia.  

In conclusion, the book is an authoritative piece that provokes us to think deeply and reflect not only on the continent’s diverse and rich history but also on how this diversity and richness can be marshalled to entrench peace and stability needed to realise Agenda 2063. Achieving Agenda 2063 will undoubtedly be a multi-dimensional, multi-level and multi-stakeholder process, involving multiple processes and actors working across different levels. A common message reverberating throughout the text is that African re-birth and regeneration is an idea whose time has come; and while we may wish it away, we simply cannot avoid dealing with the consequences of our inaction. I recommend the book to a wide audience: donor countries and agencies, politicians, policymakers, academics and researchers, students, traditional and religious leaders.

While the book is thoroughly and well researched, it would be surprising if work of this magnitude left no room for further research. For this reason, researchers from regions that have not been adequately covered may be interested in pursuing their own research to understand conflict and peacebuilding dynamics which pertain to their own particular contexts, particularly in the light of the formal adoption and launch of the African Union Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) in February 2019. More research will be welcome as it appears that AU member states and RECs have not sufficiently engaged with the AUTJP to guide and design transitional justice, peacebuilding and reconciliation processes and that the majority of RECs still do not have definitive policies to support and guide implementation of AUTJP at regional level despite AUTJP expressly stating that RECs play a key role in helping to address the regional and trans- boundary dimensions of violent conflict. This is an area that future researchers may wish to explore and unpack. 

[1] Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo J. 2003. Coloniality of power in postcolonial Africa: Myths of decolonization. Dakar, CODESRIA Book Series.