As Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, recalled in 2001: “I do not think that the implementation of preventive strategies is easy. The costs of prevention must be paid immediately, while the benefits will only be reaped in the distant future ”. Last year, when he took on the same post, Antonio Guterres also affirmed his determination to make conflict prevention a priority during his tenure. The United Nations are of course not the only ones to engage in prevention, which brings together several categories of action including mediation, conciliation or good offices. Early warning, which is characterized by both a technical and a political dimension, is one of them. It is defined as “the systematic collection and analysis of information on regions in crisis and whose vocation is (1) to anticipate the process of escalation in the intensity of the conflict; (2) develop strategic responses to these crises; (3) to present actions to the actors concerned in order to facilitate decision-making ”.
In the Sahara-Sahel zone, which represents 40% of West Africa, the impact of crises on border countries has prompted several regional organizations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and the Council of the Entente, to develop their own data collection mechanisms in order to provide political authorities with decision support tools. In this context, in order to avoid the duplication of mandates and the multiplication of financial costs, it is essential to take stock of the systems already operational. Although faced with political, technical and institutional obstacles, the ECOWAS early warning mechanism, better known by the English acronym ECOWARN (ECOWAS Early Warning and Response Network) can be considered as the most successful on the African continent.
ECOWAS is regularly asked to share experiences, such as the meeting with representatives of the East African Community (EAC) in April 2018 in Abuja or joint initiatives with the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). In June 2018, ECOWAS also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with UEMOA on crisis and conflict prevention in West Africa.
In particular, it plans to support the UEMOA Watch and Early Warning Mechanism (Mevap) and to strengthen ECOWARN. Even if there are still technical and methodological challenges to be met on both sides, cooperation with the African Union, within the framework of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) has increased as a result of regular joint meetings. In comparison with other African actors, ECOWAS therefore remains a pioneer in this area.
The organization has an unprecedented operational system, constantly evolving since 2003 and from which many lessons can be drawn for the implementation of preventive measures in Africa. Result of a documentary research and ten interviews conducted in Cotonou, Lomé and Abuja in March and June 2018, this report examines how the ECOWAS early warning and response mechanism contributes to the conflict prevention in West Africa. Starting from the political and technical obstacles with which ECOWAS has been confronted, it first presents its developments in data collection as well as the recent decentralization reform at the national level. In addition, it reviews the responses that ECOWAS, States and civil society are likely to provide to bridge the persistent gap between alert and response. Finally, he concludes with the idea that beyond the technical and financial difficulties, the early warning deficit and the response times, which are often too long, also result from a culture of prevention that is still very theoretical. Lines of reflection are proposed to allow better operationalization. Read more