The Economic Community of Central African States and Conflicts in the Region

Ongoing crises in central Africa challenges ECCAS to become more effective.


Conflict is a complex phenomenon that dwells in the domain of human relations. It rears its head when interests clash, opinions differ, needs fail to be met, agreements are breached, and the parties involved fail to find common ground for peace, or to continue relating to one another. Conflict can mutate and develop new dimensions. It can occur at the interpersonal, sectional, racial, ethnoreligious, national, regional, continental and international levels. Wars start as smaller-scale conflicts. Once a certain group in a given population continues to feel aggrieved, marginalised, frustrated or threatened, conflicts will likely arise. But human societies also make efforts to prevent conflicts before they occur, manage them when they do, and resolve them to sustain peace. Conflict handling thus includes the phases of prevention, management, and resolution. Prevention entails early efforts to avoid the occurrence of conflict. Management entails efforts to contain it. Resolution entails the de-escalation of conflict. It involves negotiation on the conditions or materials of dispute, reopening interaction, increasing cooperation, fostering positive attitudes, building trust, and sustaining peace among the parties.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, new chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), attends a consultative meeting in Accra
Conflicts have become increasingly regionalised, requiring collective approaches and responses through regional economic communities. Reuters/Francis Kokoroko

Conflict prevention, management and resolution are well-known practices in international relations and democratic governance. Various bodies have been formed to deal with conflicts at the national, regional, continental, and international levels, especially in Africa, the continent with the most conflicts. This is the main reason why the Organization of African Unity (OAU) gave way to the African Union (AU), which came with more defined, concerted and enforceable instruments for preventing, managing and resolving crises and conflicts in Africa. 

In 1990, there were about 20 wars going on simultaneously in Africa, but by 2010, they had reduced to just four conflicts, representing a major success for the AU.1 The four conflicts in 2010 included those in Darfur-Sudan, Somalia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Western Sahara. For 20 years (1988-2008), Africa recorded a steady increase in the number of peace agreements.Interestingly, these changing narratives owe more to regional economic communities (RECs), most notably the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the East African Community (EAC). Conflicts had become increasingly regionalised, requiring collective approaches and responses.It seems that states within a region share more in common and more willingly commit resources to regional causes. They draw from indigenous intelligence and capabilities, and cultural and political dynamics, while leveraging their common boundaries, interests and shared values in finding mutual solutions to regional problems. RECs are also expected to be more expedient in responding to conflicts. But comparatively: 

ECOWAS, SADC, and EAC have made greater strides in economic integration, the institutionalization of democratic norms, and peace and security than others, such as the Economic Community of Central African States, IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development], the Arab Maghreb Union, and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. In addition to lacking historical ties of integration, the latter regional institutions face civil conflicts, interstate strife, and an absence of anchor nations to lead integration efforts.4

African regional institutions are playing major roles in democratisation and conflict management. However, the case of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which is charged with conflict management and democratisation in Central Africa, continues to be worrisome. Central Africa is one of the continent’s most fragile and vulnerable regions, having witnessed a large number of coups, crises and conflicts that have taken place since 1990.5 In Central Africa, states are either in conflict with one another or with criminal groups backed by various other interested parties.6 These criminal groups are often militarised and trans-nationalised by rival governments and used to commit atrocious crimes, such as drug trafficking, counterfeiting, arms dealing, and armed warfare to destabilise other governments. Eleven states currently make up the region, namely, Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe (see the map in Figure 1 below). Apart from Gabon and Cameroon, which experience relative stability, the rest are engulfed in crises and conflicts.

Figure 1: ECCAS Member States7

ACCORD Conflict Trends 2/2021

Types of conflicts in the region include ethnoreligious conflicts, border issues, civil strife, civil wars, and genocides. The conflicts in Burundi and Rwanda, for instance, were ethnoreligious in nature. The 1994 Rwandan genocide reportedly claimed about 800 000 lives.8 While Angola was in turmoil following the battle for control of its government by three ethnopolitical factions, Cameroon and Chad experienced  border challenges. The neighbouring CAR was embroiled in a series of revolts and attempts at ethnoreligious cleansing involving the government of François Bozizé, the (Muslim) Séléka rebel coalition, and the (Christian) Anti-balaka militias. Following the ousting of Bozizé, the Séléka-led mutiny in the CAR polarised the country’s security and impaired its infrastructure and ethnic composition. In turn, this led to an increased risk of mass atrocities amid a deluge of human rights violations, war crimes, ethnoreligious clashes, intra-Séléka fights, and the influx of fighters purportedly coming from Chad and Sudan.All these conflicts are within the confines of ECCAS’s jurisdiction. 

This article, therefore, seeks to evaluate the performance of ECCAS against the backdrop of the protocol that established it. Such periodic evaluations help African leaders, political players and other concerned groups, especially within the region, to better understand their challenges and what to modify, strengthen, adopt or expunge to make the regional body more effective. 

Armed fighters from the Seleka rebel alliance patrol the streets in pickup trucks to stop looting in Bangui
Armed fighters from the Séléka rebel alliance patrol the streets in pickup trucks, following the ousting of President François Bozizé (26 March 2013). Reuters/Alain Amontchi

ECCAS’s Protocol, Performance and Challenges 

ECCAS is a relatively new regional body compared to ECOWAS, SADC, and EAC. It was conceived under the Lagos Plan of Action in 1983 and rolled out in 1985, with a mandate principally focused on economic cooperation among member states. Interestingly, its formative period witnessed a changing paradigm in international politics and relations. Disinterest or lacklustre approaches to conflict management in Africa by the international community was apparent. In fact, in 1992, through the United Nations (UN) Agenda for Peace, with emphasis on Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, the African continent was reminded that the UN must not intervene in every regional conflict, that regional institutions have contributions to make, and that they possess resources, skills, knowledge and capabilities that should be put to use in this regard. This revival was emphasised in the formation of ECCAS because the aforementioned elements are better crystallised under regional cooperation. Incidentally, ECCAS was not empowered to operate fully during the 1990s when conflicts were rife in the region.

Former Multinational Force of Central Africa (FOMAC) soldiers put on the new African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) green berets during a ceremony in Bangui, marking the transfer of authority from FOMAC to MISCA, mandated by the United Nations (December 2013). Minusca

The strengthening of ECCAS began with the formation of its peace and security architecture, notably, the Central African Early Warning Mechanism (MARAC) and the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC). Both were created by the Central African Peace and Security Council (COPAX) Protocol which, although adopted in 2000, was endorsed by the required number of Heads of States to enter into force in 2004. MARAC is responsible for conflict and crisis observation, monitoring and prevention. One aspect of the protocol demands a national bureau in each Member State to observe security situations at the national level and report using the early warning system at MARAC’s headquarters in Libreville. The bureaus’ key role is to collect and analyse information or data, and present reports intended to inform the decisions and actions of ECCAS’s Secretary-General and other top officials on peace, security developments, risks and threats in the region. Ordinarily, this assignment is straightforward, but the strains on the relationships and mutual mistrust among Heads of States mean that sensitive information may not be shared willingly, completely, or at all. And, as is common in Africa, a national bureau appointed by a Head of State is bound by loyalty which can compromise truth, facts, and comprehensiveness. Each government deliberately scrutinises its national bureau against sensitive information. Without factual and comprehensive reports, ECCAS’s security monitoring efforts through MARAC have thus been greatly undermined.

FOMAC on the other hand, was conceived as ECCAS’s multinational non-permanent standby force intended to accomplish peace, security and humanitarian relief missions. The force’s fields of activities include preventative measures, that is, preventive deployment, observation and monitoring missions, as well as, in a wider sense, the enforcement of sanctions and policing activities, such as investigations into fraud and organised crime.10 However, the FOMAC force of military, police and civilian contingents combined is shamefully small, including only about 4 800 to 5 000 individuals11 for a region with enormous crises. In discharging its duties through MARAC and FOMAC, ECCAS is seriously hampered by insufficient intelligence, resources, and personnel. In most of its intervention engagements, if not all, the AU and UN usually have to provide support. This does not only reveal the inadequacy of ECCAS, but also ends up pushing the organisation into the background and rendering it irrelevant. For example, instead of ECCAS, it was the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) that mobilised forces and resources to address conflicts in Burundi and CAR. The PSC also took action against the unconstitutional change of government in CAR in 2003. Under the watch of ECCAS, presidents in the region have changed their countries’ constitutions to extend their tenures or delay holding elections, including in Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, DRC, and Rwanda. The incapability of ECCAS contributed to the flawed election that kept President Joseph Kabila of the DRC in power in 2011. He held onto power beyond his two-term mandate that was expected to expire in December 2016, with conflict escalating under his regime. 

The East African Community encouraged leaders in Burundi to resolve internal conflicts democratically and peacefully. Paul Kagame

One of the greatest challenges facing ECCAS is COPAX, its highest authority made up of Heads of States and high-level officials, such as ministers, justices, and security chiefs. How can power be centralised in a group that has no visible major leader? Besides being rivals, these Heads of States are sometimes leaders driven by pride, greed, mutual mistrust, vested interests, power, and influence. Many do not want to leave office and are willing to do anything to remain in power. Some even eye the position of regional or ECCAS leader, but none have succeeded in this. The implication of these factors on the performance of ECCAS is significant. ECCAS has been severely deprived of financial, moral and personnel support. Member states do not welcome external control and interference. Consequently, ECCAS’s capacity-building depends largely on the European Union (EU). This raises questions about whose objectives and interests ECCAS truly promotes. Some states, like Burundi and Rwanda, share dual regional membership. In Burundi, for instance, instead of ECCAS, it was the EAC that encouraged the country to resolve internal conflicts democratically and peacefully. When the Burundian President at the time, Pierre Nkurunziza, changed the constitution in 2015 to hold onto power, ECCAS did not intervene. In that same year, both Congo’s Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame extended their term through constitutional changes to remain in power. Before that, Gabon’s Omar Bongo (2003), Chad’s Idriss Déby (2005), and Cameroon’s Paul Biya (2008) had taken similar actions. This reflects a lack of convergence around the regional democratic norms, which ECCAS was meant to promote and enforce. In addition, many of the leaders have poor records in terms of human rights and the rule-of-law. Thus the moral justification for any leader to accuse or sanction another in the region is absent. 

Since 1997, several multinational peace operations have been organised with either poor performance or a lack of participation by ECCAS. For example, when the crisis in the CAR escalated following the Séléka rebellion, the violent toppling of President François Bozizé, and the emergence of mainly Christian self-defence militia fighting the predominantly Muslim rebels, it was first the AU and then the UN that took over what should have been ECCAS’s role. ECCAS only participated in the Peace Consolidation Mission in the CAR (MICOPAX) from 2008 to 2013. The AU operated an international support mission (MISCA) from December 2013 to September 2014. Since then, the UNMultidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) has been deployed in the CAR, parallel with the French Opération Sangaris.12 Although it is on record that ECCAS operated a multinational force in one of its member states, the relevance and capacity of ECCAS were shown to be weak, and the body was pushed into the background. 

Central African Republic Holds Presidential and Legislative Elections
The Central African Republic held presidential and legislative elections on 30 December. Electoral officers prepare for the balloting at a polling station in Bangui. UN Photo

MICOPAX was unable to stop the 2012-2013 rebellion in the CAR or prevent the escalating crisis. This failure was linked to the Mission’s mandate as a peace support operation (PSO) and its small size of only about 700 troops, who were vastly outnumbered by the Séléka rebel movement.13 Even though the deployment of troops to support ECCAS missions usually has low compliance among member states, the CAR remains the one country in which ECCAS has seen some success. As the crisis worsened, notwithstanding the presence of 1 600 French and 5 000 AU troops operating with the backing of the UN, which later deployed 10 000 peacekeepers, ECCAS established what is termed the “eighteen-month roadmap” for a peaceful transition to democracy in the CAR, which began in February 2015. This effort shifted the situation, and hope for peace in the CAR increased such that the Anti-balaka rebels promised to put down their arms and seek a political settlement through a proposed inclusive transition. Unfortunately, the change did not materialise as more people continued to be killed, leading to heightened tensions and displacements. It thus appeared that going ahead with the campaigns and election would again intensify the ethnoreligious rivalry and other related issues that were at the heart of the conflict.14

Even with the operationalisation of MINUSCA in 2014 and the installation of a transitional government, the CAR is yet to find a stable footing. Elections continued in 2015 and 2016, irrespective of the fighting among armed groups. However, in a February 2019 political agreement between the government and 14 armed groups, the government agreed to integrate some groups’ fighters into the national army and their leaders into government. However, implementation was problematic, and some armed groups withdrew from the agreement and continued to fight. Many CAR citizens feared fighting would break out again ahead of the December 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections. Despite the February 2019 peace deal being in place, some armed groups still perpetrated violence against civilians. ECCAS needed external forces from the AU or UN to deal with the situation in the CAR.

The strategy of armed intervention in the CAR by the international community prevented the conflict from escalating. More importantly, however, the proposed ECCAS roadmap tested the possibility of political transition in the CAR. It is apparent that some warring groups may be ready to embrace peace in the CAR if certain conditions are met. The Anti-balaka exemplified this. It behoves those at the frontline of restoring peace in CAR to explore this possibility. 

The influx of refugees and asylum-seekers from the Central African Republic to neighbouring countries constitutes a serious challenge with far-reaching implications. Alexis Huguet/Afp via Getty Images

Another issue is displacement which results in the influx of people into more peaceful and stable areas. There are hardly enough peacekeepers in conflict zones worldwide, and Africa is no exception. In the CAR, peacekeepers have not been able to adequately protect civilians, maintain law and order, or mitigate displacement. The influx of refugees and asylum-seekers from CAR to Cameroon and other countries constitutes a serious challenge with far-reaching implications. They are part of the complex system of conflict exportation and arms- and drug-dealing. A study found that the DRC heightened its own prospects for civil war from 12% to 20% by accepting 670 000 refugees from Rwanda, Burundi, and the Sudan. Similarly, refugees from Liberia facilitated the conflicts in Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea during the late 20th and 21st centuries.15

ECCAS’s limited success hinges on a number of factors. One main factor is leadership and Heads of States. Rivalry, mistrust, competition for mineral resources, and ambitious territorial encroachment are rife among leaders. They also engage in conflict exportation. The war of the Great Lakes region started because Rwanda, Burundi and Angola, for various reasons, violated the territorial integrity of the DRC in the name of fighting their respective rebel groups operating from eastern DRC. Angola targeted some Congolese villages with mineral-rich subsoil. The mutual territorial violations in Chad and CAR by their respective rebel groups fuelled wars in the two states, such that Idriss Déby of Chad refused to help when the Séléka destabilised the CAR and toppled President Bozizé. The border between Chad and Sudan has been a source of conflict between them. Cameroon and Nigeria clashed over the mineral-rich Bakassi peninsula. Gabon’s fight with Equatorial Guinea over the Mbanie Island is also notable. Rwanda continues to target vast portions of Congolese territory rich in natural resources in the name of absorbing Congolese citizens of Rwandan extraction. In the DRC, there is a handful of Rwandan asylum-seekers who fled the Rwandan revolution from 1959 to 1962 and the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. Likewise, some 53 000 Congolese refugees have been trapped in Rwanda since 1997.16 In both countries, these refugees are battling for human rights, identity, belonging, and citizenship. ECCAS is yet to design an effective plan for their respective repatriation and resettlement.

A joint delegation from the African Union, Economic Community of Central African States, United Nations and European Union arrived in Bangui for a high-level visit to the Central African Republic from 2 to 5 June 2021. UN Photo

The hostilities between Laurent Kabila of the DRC and Paul Kagame of Rwanda; Bongo of Gabon and Teodoro Nguema of Equatorial Guinea; Pascal Lisouba of Congo and José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola; and Déby of Chad and Ange-Felix Patassé of the CAR at various points assumed dangerous dimensions. Some leaders worked with rebel groups to topple their rival’s government. Déby provided munitions to the political and military groups that stood against Patassé and finally ousted him in March 2003. Some leaders accuse others of harbouring or supporting armed groups or insurgents from other countries in their territories or of sending their own armed forces to influence and participate in the infighting in other countries. Déby, for example, accused the CAR government of failing to restrain Chadian anti-Déby rebels operating from CAR’s borders. Before falling out with Kagame of Rwanda, Kabila of the DRC rode on the support of Rwanda to topple the government of Mobutu Sese Seko. The Great Lakes War partly stemmed from Rwanda, Burundi and Angola’s displeasure that the rebels fighting them operated from eastern DRC. On the other hand, some leaders like the presidents of Chad (Déby), Congo (Sassou-Nguesso), Equatorial Guinea (Obiang Nguema), and Rwanda (Kagame) have refused to hand over power and sometimes leveraged constitutional amendments and conflicts to remain in their position. All these factors provoke collective chaos and widespread regional disorder, and manifest in deep-seated divisions that make regional progress elusive.

There is also the lingual bloc factor in the region. ECCAS’s membership includes Anglophone, Francophone, Arabophone, Lusophone, and Hispanophone countries, but sometimes the majority Francophone countries form a lingual bloc to gain specific advantages over the others. This linguistic heterogeneity fosters disunity and fragmentation among member states.17


ECCAS is the regional body assigned with conflict management and democratisation in Central Africa. To achieve these, it functions through the agency of MARAC and FOMAC. However, ECCAS does not appear to have completely met the ideals underlying its formation (aspirations) with performance (reality). The reasons stem from the fragility and heterogeneity of the region, which is prone to conflicts and countless rebellions; its lack of funding, resources and personnel; the absence of a regional head or lead government to rally and steer the region; and rivalry, competition and mutual mistrust among Heads of States and their poor human rights records. 

For ECCAS to become more effective, the COPAX (Heads of States) especially must cooperate and accord regional issues greater attention. Each national bureau must be independent, objective, and willing to volunteer accurate, comprehensive and timely security information to enable the MARAC to monitor and respond to regional security challenges more effectively. Heads of States must show commitment by volunteering personnel, resources and funds to the FOMAC. They should rally around an acceptable regional leader; desist from territorial encroachment, conflict exportation, and rebel support; and respect human rights and the rule of law, especially as they relate to elections and their countries’ constitutions.

Henry C. Ogaraku has a Masters in Mass Communication from the University of Uyo, Nigeria. His research interest is at the intersection of the media, health, politics and governance.

Promise E. Ogaraku has a Masters in Public Health from the University of Derby, UK and is interested in research on public health, democratisation, and social welfare.


  1. Ndiho, Paul (2010) ‘African Union Plays a Significant Role in Conflict Resolution’, Available at: <> [Accessed 18 January 2021].
  2. Palik, Júlia; Rustad, Siri Aas; and Methi, Fredrik (2020) Conflict Trends in Africa,    1989–2019. Oslo: Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).
  3. Khadiagala, Gilbert (2018) Regional Cooperation on Democratization and Conflict Management in Africa. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Publications Department.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Meyer, Angela (2015) ‘Preventing Conflict in Central Africa: ECCAS Caught between Ambitions, Challenges and Reality’. Central Africa Report, 3. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.
  6. Chouala, Alexandre (2008) ‘Regional Relations and Conflict Situations in Central Africa’. In Ayangafac, Chrysantus (ed.), Political Economy of Regionalisation in Central Africa. Monograph No. 155 (November). Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.
  7. UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) (2016) ‘ECCAS – Economic Community of Central African States’, Available at: <> [Accessed 18 January 2021]. 
  8. Oguonu, Chika and Ezeibe, Christian (2014) ‘African Union and Conflict Resolution in Africa’. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5(27), 325-332.
  9. UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2015) ‘Security Situation in Central African Republic deteriorates’, Available at:<> [Accessed 18 January 2021].
  10. Meyer, Angela (2015) op. cit.
  11. Ibid. 
  12. Khadiagala, Gilbert (2018) op. cit. 
  13. Ibid. 
  14. Oguonu, Chika and Ezeibe, Christian (2014) op. cit.
  15. Salehyan, Idean and Gleditsch, Kristian (2006) ‘Refugees and the Spread of Civil War’. International Organization, 60 (2), 335-366.
  16. Hovil, Lucy; Clancy, Deirdre and Bueno, Olivia (2011) ‘Shadows of Return: The Dilemmas of Congolese Refugees in Rwanda’. In Lomo, Zachary (ed.) Citizenship and Displacement in The Great Lakes Region. Working Paper 6. Geneva: The International Refugee Rights Initiative.
  17. Khadiagala, Gilbert (2018) op. cit.
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