More than a decade after the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) was requested by the African Union (AU) to give life to a new peace and security architecture, political and security cooperation on the continent is still in need of reinforcement.
Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (I): Central Africa, the latest report from the International Crisis Group is the first in a series to analyse the regional dimension of insecurity in Africa and the responses to it. Despite official support for creating a regional peace and security architecture, Central African leaders have shown little commitment to encourage cooperation. To achieve greater political integration the region’s leaders need to reinvigorate ECCAS, reform it and decide on clear security priorities, a task which will require greater political will.
“The architecture of peace and security in Central Africa looks like an unfinished construction”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director. “Many burdens inherent in regional geopolitics, together with national factors, make cooperation problematic. It is necessary to fully understand these factors in order to measure the progress made by countries in the region and the obstacles they must overcome in order to give more efficiency and effectiveness to ECCAS in crisis management and security policies”.
Founded in 1983 with the double blessing of the AU and the European Union (EU), ECCAS was an effort to provide economic stability. The spiral of violence that set the region on fire in the 1990s made painfully clear the need for a coherent regional political and security response, and the structure slowly extended its original mandate to conflict prevention, management and resolution. Unfortunately, like previous efforts to promote economic integration, those aimed at political and security cooperation have not produced the hoped-for results.
Cooperation between Central African states remains largely a figure of speech. Regional leaders need to define common goals, set practical and concrete security priorities and annually translate them into a work plan. This can only happen within the framework of a financially and politically efficient entity; ECCAS governance and its decision-making system must be reformed and member states need to pay membership dues.
They will also have to increase their political engagement by appointing their representatives to the committee of ambassadors and to the deputy secretary general posts. Foreign partners, in particular the EU, France and the U.S. can play an important role by strengthening the ECCAS secretariat and supporting effective coordination within a Group of Friends of ECCAS.
“In the next few years, the fundamental challenge is not to inject more money into ECCAS but to give political meaning to an organisation whose members exist in a tangle of mistrust, rivalries and thinly veiled hostility”, says Comfort Ero, Director of Crisis Group’s Africa Program. “ECCAS could provide the forum for building much needed confidence. If it is left to languish and the much-awaited heads of state summit is continually delayed, Central African countries will continue to put their own narrow interests above broader regional security interests”.