The ECOWAS Early Warning and Response Network
Interview with Mr. Augustin Sagna (May 2009)
Head of ECOWARN Zone Office IV
The ECOWAS Early Warning and Response Network (ECOWARN) is an observation and monitoring tool for conflict prevention and decision-making. As set out in Article 58 of the revised 1993 ECOWAS Treaty, its establishment and functioning are defined by the Protocol, Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security of December 1999. The implementation of this tool begun in 2003.
This mechanism is unique in Africa in its current configuration, its evolution and implementation. Discussions are underway with other Regional Economic Communities (RECs) that would like to use it as a model.
ECOWARN is made up of two operational branches. One is the Observation and Monitoring Centre based in Abuja. It has a Situation Room and works with analysts, experts and ECOWAS personnel. It is currently managed by Colonel Yoro Koné. It is under the responsibility of Colonel Touré (Commissioner in charge of Political Affairs, Peace and Security) as well as Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas (President of the ECOWAS Commission).
The second operational branch is the four sub-regional zone offices. Zone I covers Cape Verde, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal. Zone II covers Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Niger. Zone III covers Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Liberia and Sierra Leone. I currently manage Zone IV covering Benin, Nigeria and Togo.
I had been asked to manage the first office which officially opened in October 2003 in Ouagadougou. At the beginning, the idea was, within the framework of the ECOWAS Peace and Security Council and its President, to collect, analyse information and make it available to Heads of State in order to prevent crises.
ECOWARN has evolved a lot even though more can always be done. We have a high-performance IT tool that we have improved over time. This very technical tool has been progressively adjusted to field realities, in particular thanks to the contribution by West African civil society. It also had to be translated into French as it was developed in English. This was not easy as the concepts are at times different. We hope to have a Portuguese version soon. 94 pre-defined indicators are used as a grid to analyse risks and rapidly detect security trends in a given area.
This statistic/graphic approach which indeed seems somewhat dehumanised nevertheless makes it easier to pass on messages to politicians. Politicians accept more easily a scientific analysis of the situation, rather than an analysis based on factual interpretations and/or theories. Furthermore, based on gathered information, ECOWAS is developing information and decision-making tools (incident and situation reports, daily highlights, country profiles, policy briefs, monthly and quarterly reports).
To give it a more “human” dimension, ECOWAS created the Peace Exchange Forum which is a specialised online dialogue platform through which relevant actors can exchange and improve synergies among their actions. It is accessible to members with a login and password. ECOWAS will further develop this platform by improving both its technical as well as human capacities. Translation into French and Portuguese should make this tool accessible to all actors within the ECOWAS zone.
The zone offices are like observation and monitoring offices. In order to respect State sovereignty, ECOWAS has relied on open information sources, which has nothing to do with what is called “intelligence or counter-intelligence” of information that remains the State’s prerogative to manage their security. This open information is transmitted by ECOWAS-trained civil liaison officers, members of civil society, in each zone capital. Each office works in liaison with a government representative and a representative of civil society. In most of the countries, civil society is represented by a network member of the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and the government is represented by a member of the administration. Each week, national focal points have to fill in an ECOWARN risk indicator form. Once the various weekly reports and the incident reports on the situation in countries in question have been analysed and the indicator form has been filled out, every Monday the head of the zone office sends his report to the ECOWAS Early Warning Department in Abuja.
We have not excluded the media from this network. Taking into account their importance in the stability of countries and the region, ECOWAS intends for them to be more involved not only as open sources of information but also as actors in conflict prevention. For example, ECOWAS organised a meeting with the main regional media at the end of March in Abidjan.
It is true that in Guinea-Bissau and Guinea we knew what was going to happen. The question is to know how to respond to these crises. As ECOWAS member countries are not yet ready to give up some of their sovereignty to their regional organisation, we cannot intervene prior to the crises. It is a bit frustrating for an organisation like ours to have the signs of a red alert but no mandate to act. We hope that this can change in the future. Within the framework of ECOWARN, ECOWAS is thinking of setting up a standing military force, like the UN peacekeepers. It shall not only be active at the regional level but throughout the continent.
The Saly Action Plan is very important for our zone offices because it defines a working framework aiming to build synergies between civil society organisations and ECOWAS. It should become a key tool for conflict prevention in general and in data collection and information dissemination, in particular.