West Africa has an interesting history of security challenges. Most of the armedconflicts in West Africa have been intrastate conflicts. There has been a dramatic reduction in the occurrence of civil wars and large-scale conflicts. There is a relative political stabilisation in the region. However, there is an emergence of other forms of security threats such as election-related violence, longstanding ethnonational conflict, drug trafficking, maritime piracy, and extremism. With the end of cold war, regional bodies and actors, especially the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have been playing a significant role in bringing an end to the conflicts in the region. The mobilisation of foreign aid for reconstruction and development supported the stability of the region. The inclusion of civil society in peace deals and national dialogue enabled agreements to take hold in West Africa.
According to Fawole and Ukeje, West Africa ‘has acquired the unenviable notoriety as a veritable theatre of violent conflicts, political instability and state implosions.’ Since 1945, the West Africa region has witnessed two inter-state wars and several full-scale civil wars with a regional dimension. The region has had over 40 successful military coups d’état and unconstitutional changes of government. It has further experienced many protracted separatist/insurgent conflicts and countless attempted coups.
In December 1985 there was war between Mali and Burkina Faso, and the April 1989 war between Senegal and Mauritania. The cause of the Mali and Burkina Faso war was over the Agacher strip located between the two countries and thought to be rich in minerals. The dispute was over the ownership of the strip since 1974. The Senegal-Mauritanian war began as an ordinary dispute between Mauritanian herders and Senegalese farmers which resulted in the diplomatic conflicts between the two countries whose armed forces exchanged fire at border posts.
Despite persistent territorial disputes in the region, there has been a low rate of incidence of inter-state conflicts in the region. Generally, West African states have respected territorial borders inherited from colonialism and post-independence armies were structurally weak to engage in war. Besides, there has been a presence of various regional security management mechanisms. These included Accord of non-aggression; Council of Accord and ECOWAS. They have been pivotal in collective security arrangements for dispute resolution. West Africa, shows a great deal of cooperation when it comes to resolving border disputes.
West Africa has experienced some large-scale intrastate wars (civil war) and several instances of insurgencies since 1945. These include the Nigerian civil war (the Biafra war) from 1967 to 1970; the two Liberian civil wars of 1989 to 1996 and from 1999 to 2003; the Sierra Leone civil war from 1991 to 2002; the civil war in Guinea-Bissau, 1998-99; and that of Côte d’Ivoire from 2002 to 2007. Added to those are the Tuareg rebellions in northern Mali and Niger from 1991 to 1995, and the ongoing secessionist insurgency in the southern Senegalese region of Casamance, which began around 1981.
It must be noted that, except for Biafra war and the Senegalese insurgency, all these conflicts took place at the end of the Cold War, and they often took a regional character through their regional dimensions of networks of supporters and victims. The fact that most of them were experienced after the Cold War, some scholars have stated that the end of the cold war between the USA and Russia denied many authoritarian regimes in Africa of the support they had previously enjoyed. Thus, dissident groups launched armed conflicts that challenged the authorities of the governments in place. However, other scholars have argued that the disputes were caused as a result of exclusionary and greed on the part of self-enriching warlords. However, these two explanations complement each other.
With the end of the cold war came the wave of multiparty in Africa. However, in West Africa, the mismanagement of electoral processes was one of the security threats in that it often contributed to violent contestations. It has led to hundreds of people being killed or maimed. Electoral violence has occurred in various elections (presidential, legislative and local) in West Africa in recent years. Suspicion about malpractices in elections is often fuelled by an intentional or unintentional lack of transparency in the electoral process.
Furthermore, drug trafficking is another security problem in West Africa. Over the past few years, the coastal states of West Africa (particularly Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Cape Verde, Nigeria, Ghana, The Gambia and Senegal) have become essential transit routes used by South American drug barons shipping their loads to southern Europe. Drug trafficking constitutes a severe security problem in West Africa given the full range of its implications for governance and human security. Politically, it is a threat because drug barons need a safe passage, so they strive to compromise government officials and security agents. For instance, the Minister of Transport and Aviation of Sierra Leone in 2008 was sacked following the seizure of a ‘cocaine plane’ at the country’s main airport.
Arms smuggling and the resulting proliferation of small arms and light weapons is another security problem in West Africa. The presence of firearms often frustrates demobilisation efforts and negatively affects post-conflict stability in countries emerging from armed conflict. Their presence in the hands of private individuals, including criminals, regularly contributes to the growth and gravity of criminal activities during peacetime, including armed robbery, hijacking and murder. Thus, if these groups were unable to access weaponry, their ability to engage in violent actions would significantly be limited. Unfortunately, according to a 2009 report of UNODC between 1998 and 2004, more than 200,000 small arms were seized or collected in West Africa.
The other security problem in West Africa is the issue of transnational criminals. The most negative feature of transnational crimes is when traffickers ally with rebel movements and other criminal gangs for mutual benefits. For instance, the Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Sahelo-Saharan band of West Africa specialise in hostage-taking and terrorising tourists and travellers in the Sahel while using the name of Islam. The origins of AQIM can be traced to the Algerian civil war (1992-99). There is also the issue of Boko Haram which is threatening peace and security in Nigeria.
Since the end of the Cold War, it had become increasingly become a norm to suggest that regional and sub-regional organisations should play a more prominent role in the political, economic and security sectors, a concept that is based on the principle of subsidiarity. The region has seen the decline in intra-state wars in the region. Most of the countries entered a post-conflict phase after multiparty elections that were hailed by most stakeholders. The decrease in conflicts is attributed to the regional and international efforts in conflict prevention, resolution and post-conflict peace-building. Those include ECOWAS (aided by the OAU/AU) and UN interventions in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Côte d’Ivoire.
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