Chapter 7: Up to the task? Assessing the ability of the Economic Community of Central African, States (ECCAS) to protect human security in Central Afr

7 Up to the Task?
Assessing the ability of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) to protect human security in Central Africa


Christine MacAulay and Tony Karbo



Edited by Chrysantus Ayangafac


Monograph No 155, November 2008


Overview of the regional dimension of security challenges in Central Africa

Central Africa has been one of the most volatile of Africa’s regions, plagued by civil war and political strife, corruption, endemic poverty and resource-fuelled conflicts which often have regional dimensions. States in the region have both fuelled conflict in their neighbouring states and dealt with the fallout, making it impossible for states to ignore the political dynamics of their neighbours. It is widely recognised that cross-border, regional security threats call for the use of different strategies than those traditionally conceived under a state-centric security model.

In recognition that war, violent conflict and other security challenges undermine economic growth and development, and that the regional context can be an important starting point for addressing such conflict, Africa’s five regions have emerged as a central component of the African security architecture and serve as building blocks or stepping stones for a larger project of creating African unity (Söderbaum & Shaw 2003:xiii). Such is the case in Central Africa, where the regional organisation, the Economic Community for Central African States (ECCAS) has since the late 1990s adopted security mechanisms to deal with security challenges in the region. However, as in other parts of Africa, the relevancy of the regional organisations has generally been subordinated to the demands of state maintenance and the survival strategies of individual rulers (Khadiagala 2006:144). Regional fragmentation and low state capacity to address political, economic and social needs have hampered regional developmental and security objectives (Khadiagala 2006:145). Further, the competing identities of Central African states lack of a regional hegemon, and the membership of some states to multiple intergovernmental bodies have resulted in further confusion about priorities, commitments and obligations.

As contemporary security concerns pose a risk to human development and call for an analysis of non-traditional security threats, there is a need for a critical examination of regional organisations and their ability to contribute more widely to the promotion of peace and human security in Africa. This paper examines ECCAS and its capacity to protect human security in Central Africa. The paper begins by analysing how regional organisations have been conceived to protect security/human security, particularly in Africa. This is followed by an examination of ECCAS’s regional security apparatus and its successes and failures in promoting security. The paper concludes by assessing whether ECCAS is properly equipped for an effective and adequate response to the region’s human security challenges as well as what is needed to strengthen ECCAS’s capacity to protect human security.

The security role of regional organisations as envisaged in the UN and AU charters

The incorporation of security roles by regional organisations has occurred in tandem with wider international and continental-wide discussions about regional responses to conflict. The idea that regional and sub-regional organisations should be the ‘first resort’ for dealing with local conflicts and disputes and trans-border issues is enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Chapter VIII of the Charter posits that regional organisations should aim to solve problems within the regional context before going to the UN and other international organisations (UN 2008a). The justification for this provision is that neighbouring countries are often in a better position to comprehend and act to prevent regional-level conflicts, such as those related to the environment, migration, refugees, trans-border crime and border disputes, than distanced external actors (Møller 2005:5).

In Africa, the adoption of security roles by regional organisations has come about gradually following growing recognition of the need for common defence and security arrangements to protect collective economic interests and ventures (Soremekun 2006:188). In 1980, in response to calls for increased economic integration and co-operation at the regional level,1 the Action Plan of Lagos set forth measures for the creation of regional structures in Africa to promote the creation of an African common market (Aboagye 2007). These Regional Economic Communities (RECs) were conceived as vehicles to engage states, regularise interests, develop and enforce regional norms and facilitate the integration process (Soremekun 2006).2 However, in pursuing regional economic objectives it was increasingly felt that the protection of economic and industrial interests should not be left in the hands of states, many of which were weak and had internal challenges to contend with. Increasingly, as Khadiagala (2006:144) describes, the trade customs and economic RECs were submerged in a ‘cacophony of peace-keeping, peace building, and security collaboration’.

The Organisation of African Unity, recognising the need to address insecurity and conflict in order to achieve broader integration objectives, in 1993 created the Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution Mechanism to more effectively manage and prevent conflict in Africa. The OAU encouraged the RECs to embrace, as a core mandate, conflict prevention, management and resolution (Juma 2006:18). However, the Mechanism was guided by principles of sovereignty and non-interference that hampered its ability to effectively respond to conflict (Juma 2006:2). The more ‘robust’ mandate of the OAU’s successor, the African Union, through its Peace and Security Council, gives the AU the ability to intervene in situations of conflict deemed to constitute significant threats to peace and security, such as crimes against humanity (AU 2002/2003, art 4h). The AU embraces ‘a newer, multi-dimensional notion of security’ that includes issues of human security such as political participation, protection against poverty, access to health and education, freedom from gender discrimination and protection against environmental degradation (AU 2004). The AU Peace and Security Council Protocol also formally institutionalises the security role of regional organisations, establishing them as essential collaborating and implementing partners of the Council and a central component of its peace and security architecture (AU 2002/2003, art 16).

In practice, however, the adoption of peace and security functions by regional organisations has met with varying degrees of success and begs the question as to whether such organisations are adequately equipped to address the myriad traditional and non-traditional security challenges that presently confront African states. Interrogation of the requisite structures of Africa’s regional organisations and their successes and challenges in promoting peace and security can provide important insights regarding their effectiveness and suitability for the momentous peace and security tasks they face. The remainder of this paper examines such issues with particular regard to ECCAS and the protection of human security in Central Africa.

The experience of ECCAS in promoting human security in Central Africa

The resurgence of ECCAS in the late 1990s and its adoption of a more robust security architecture marked, at least on paper, increased commitment to develop and strengthen political and security co-operation and capacities in the region (Mwanasali 1999:90). At the same time, ECCAS and its security components remain operationally weak and it is questionable whether the necessary conditions, resources and political will needed for ECCAS to function effectively do exist. An analysis of security concerns in Central Africa over the last decade shows that member states have more often looked to actors outside the region, such as the UN and other African states and regional bodies, than to themselves for support and assistance in responding to conflict. An examination of three of Central Africa’s most turbulent states, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi, confirm that while Central African states have an important role to play in conflict responses, they have also relied heavily on external actors and support to actualise these roles.

The Central African Republic

The CAR has been one of Africa’s most volatile states and long plagued by political instability, a weak economy, social fragmentation and high levels of insecurity. However, it will not be possible to resolve the security situation in the CAR, including the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, without taking into consideration the regional context. These include CAR’s contentious relations with fellow member states such as Chad and Sudan, who were accused by the CAR of backing the rebel movement (ISS 2005). In recent months the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) from northern Uganda has penetrated parts of the country and has launched attacks from the CAR in both southern Sudan and northern Uganda. Tensions between Chad and Sudan have exacerbated the situation, with thousands of refugees flowing into the CAR during recent border crises. In responding to conflict the CAR has consistently looked for assistance outside of the region, appealing amongst others to the Community of Sahel-Sahara States (CEN-SAD), Communaute Economique et Monetaire de l’Afrique Centrale (CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa)), the AU and UN, to restore stability and security (AU 2004). Most recently the CAR has pursued increased military co-operation with South Africa, which has sent personnel to support the country’s presidential guard (UN Security Council 2007).

ECCAS has experienced limited success in bringing state actors together and forging regional co-operation and consensus on conflict in the CAR. At the same time, national and international initiatives have not been very successful either, because the socio-political context has not been stable enough to address security issues and facilitate the finding of solutions (ISS 2005). It could be argued that the CEMAC presence in the CAR was to a large extent an attempt by France not only to disengage its military forces from the country and the conflict there but also to remain relevant in CAR domestic politics under the cover of a multinational force composed of countries with whom France has close relationships (International Crisis Group 2007).

The Democratic Republic of Congo

The DRC provides another example of a Central African state that has suffered from prolonged conflict. Although the DRC once had the potential to be Central Africa’s dominant state, the state’s ‘incoherence’ and weaknesses, including a political system based on institutionalised corruption, a poor infrastructure, lack of government services, an alienated populace and political stalemate, inhibited it from ever assuming that role (Deng et al 1996:143–44). As in the case of the CAR, conflict in the DRC has notable regional dimensions. External parties have supported and sustained conflict through direct financing or the sale of natural resources to outsiders. The challenge of dealing with the situation is complicated by regional competition over scarce resources, opportunistic politics and a predatory government desiring resource control (Clover 2004:9). The role of a regional body such as ECCAS in confronting insecurity is complicated by the direct involvement of its constituent members in the causes of the insecurity.

ECCAS has also shown limited ability to promote democracy more broadly. In the run-up to the internationally sponsored elections in the DRC, it was largely the UN and other external bodies that pressurised the government to pass laws and get the electoral progress on track, particularly after the transitional government missed the deadline for the organisation of the national elections (Vircoulon 2006). On 25 April 2006 the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1671 (2006), which authorised temporary deployment of European Union forces to support the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) during the elections there (Langinvainio & Reyes 2006:34). South Africa provided key logistic and air units for MONUC and committed itself to playing a leading role in disarmament in the Kivus provinces (Vircoulon 2006). An assessment of the pre- and post-election situation in the DRC shows not only the absence of ECCAS as a viable security body, but also the confusion that can result from dual memberships (the DRC is a member of SADC as well as of ECCAS).


South Africa, in particular, has played a leading role in peacekeeping in Burundi. With AU backing, South Africa spearheaded an ambitious and sensitive mission in Burundi to restore peace (Berman & Sams 2000:24). Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal also pledged troops to send to Burundi, and no country from Central Africa contributed. Burundi has expressed interest in leaving ECCAS for the East African Community, which is indicative, at least in part, of disillusionment with ECCAS’s ongoing weaknesses as a regional and security body. At the same time the recent efforts by Burundi along with the DRC and Rwanda to revive the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries show that there is continued interest and desire for an effective regional body that will be able to address the region’s security and economic challenges.

ECCAS seems to be notably absent from theatres of major conflict in the region, and states experiencing insecurity have more often than not relied on the support of states and bodies outside the region for support. It is important to note that intervention by such external actors is not without problems. For instance, SADC intervention in the DRC not only exacerbated regional tensions but also created new tensions (Berman & Sams 2000:24). This makes a strong argument for increasing the capacity of the regional organisation, to enable it to confront its own security challenges. However, first it is necessary to understand why ECCAS has so frequently failed to address the region’s most pressing peace and security needs.

Challenges faced by ECCAS in fulfilling its mandate

Two types of challenges are frequently cited as impediments to the effective operation of ECCAS. The first type is largely operational and pertains to the inputs, including financial resources, technical ability and political will, necessary for ECCAS to function effectively in its current form. The second category is primarily structural and concerns whether ECCAS has a structure appropriate for its tasks. Critics such as Hussein Solomon (2006) question whether regional organisations such as ECCAS should be charged with ambitious peace collaboration roles, or whether they should instead stick to their original mandate of economic and regional integration.

With regard to operational challenges, ECCAS has to date been largely incapacitated due to a lack of political will and financial resources, low technical ability and logistical weaknesses (Cosme & Fiacre 2001). According to the AU (2004) there has been a notable ‘lack of consistency’ between the AU and certain RECs on issues such as unconstitutional changes in governments in for example the CAR. The AU notes that if RECs are to contribute to the continent’s security architecture, decisions taken at continental level should be upheld by regional mechanisms (AU 2004). However, internal political strife and competing priorities have challenged the ability of ECCAS to be an effective collaborator and implementer of the AU peace and security priorities.

Another challenge that Central Africa faces in operationalising its security organs is the lack of a hegemon that can lead the way in holding member states to their stated peace and security commitments. The presence of regional hegemons in southern Africa (South Africa) and West Africa (Nigeria) has been, arguably, an important element of successful conflict management and peace-keeping in these regions (Soremekun 2006:200). Deng and his co-authors (996:164–66) argue that regional organisations can assist in managing conflicts by institutionalising norms and procedures regarding conflict management but this alone is not enough to reduce internal conflicts. Responsible states are needed to serve as the ‘fulcrum’ of regional security and co-operation. However, in Central Africa states do not have a good track record when it comes to being responsible and co-operative neighbours. ECCAS faces the challenge of maintaining its relevancy in the eyes of member states, many of whom do not benefit from ECCAS spending and membership (ISS 2005).

Malan (1999) argues that there is a danger at a structural level that regional security organisations such as ECCAS may take on ‘utopian ideals and complex institutional mechanisms’ at the expense of more manageable efforts towards resolving on-going conflict. While ECCAS has adopted structures similar to that of some of its more active counterparts, such as SADC and ECOWAS, it has largely lacked the capacity to operationalise them. For example, little attention has been paid to how the ECCAS secretariat will service the peace and security structures, how the structures will co-operate with one another, and how they will operate (Berman & Sams 2000:28). Accordingly the ECCAS secretariat is ill-equipped to handle the demands placed upon it (Berman 2002).

At a deeper level come questions about whether Africa’s regional organisations can be realistically expected to be promoters of peace and security. Some critics have argued that these organisations are not properly equipped to assume the mandate of protecting regional security and that resources should instead be expended on strengthening the AU’s security capabilities (Khadiagala 2006:144). Examples from other parts of the continent, such as ECOWAS in West Africa, suggest that conflict management systems based on the principles of sovereignty and non-interference, as well as ‘anchored on the increasingly outdated assumption that inter-state warfare constitutes the dominant threat to peace and security’, are not versatile enough to respond to changing patterns of conflict (Soremekun 2006:191). This includes intra-state ethnic and political conflicts that can pose significant threats to human security. An examination of SADC suggests that while inter-state structures based on the principles of sovereignty and inviolability of borders can be effective in preventing inter-state conflict, it is questionable whether the same principles can be applied to intra-state conflict (Ngoma 2006:214). Ngoma argues that there is a limit to state sovereignty when challenges and conflicts in one country begin to spread to others. This may indeed require what may appear to be intervention in sovereign matters of a single state (Ngoma 2006:221).

Given a mandate that does not allow for intervention in the case of intra-state threats, even when such conflicts are a primary source of insecurity in the region, the question is whether ECCAS can foster accountability and security or whether it simply serves to insulate some of its more irresponsible members. While pacts of mutual assistance and non-interference can be important measures for building confidence and trust, they become problematic if they serve to insulate state actions and governing structures at the expense of human security.

Given its inability to control member states, mandating ECCAS to adopt a comprehensive framework to address human security issues, such as good governance, human displacement, environmental protection, and health and education, remains an elevated goal rather than a practicable reality at present. However, the myriad human security challenges currently confronting the Central Africa Region, which transcend national borders and impact directly on human freedom and well-being, mean that would be inhumane, and even counterproductive, to move forward on economic objectives without due consideration of human security and well-being in the region in general.

Moving forward

In moving forward, it is important to assess the conditions and structures that ECCAS needs to enable it to assume a more proactive, interventionist role in protecting human security. There have been some positive developments in this regard. For instance, the aim of a partnership between the European Union and ECCAS is to provide support to ECCAS’s Department for Human Integration, Peace, Security and Stability and to increase the ability of ECCAS to mediate member state conflicts, including those pertaining to resource exploitation, cross-border crime and arms trafficking. The project also aims to establish and co-ordinate a Central Africa civil society network to advise and support ECCAS (Alusala 2007).

At the same time, as RECs such as ECCAS are being called upon to develop new institutions and instruments beyond their capabilities, there is need to scale down expectations and focus on realistic action plans (Aboagye 2007:xvi). ECCAS should refrain from having an overly ambitious agenda and instead focus on smaller, realistic efforts that can help it to establish its credibility. Emphasis should be on ‘simple but reliable structures’ for security co-operation that can stabilise relations, prevent the spill-over of conflicts, secure emerging common values and, perhaps, lay the foundation for nascent security regimes (Malan 1999). For instance, the establishment of a resource-intensive early warning mechanism or efforts to secure funding for joint peacekeeping exercises should be secondary to developing and strengthening the ECCAS secretariat and COPAX (Berman & Sams 2000:28). Less resource-intensive regional agreements which could advance human security should also be pursued. At present, promising programmes and agreements include a regional programme for food security and its implementation plan; a policy concerning gender questions and an action plan to implement this policy in member states; and an action programme against HIV/AIDS in Central Africa which provides a strategic framework for fighting AIDS (Alusala 2007).

Strengthening ECCAS’s capacity to promote peace and security in Central Africa also requires action at the regional, state and continent levels. At regional level organisations need to address issues of membership and organisational focus and structure (Malan 1999). ECCAS must address the dual memberships of some members with other inter-governmental bodies, which to date have caused confusion about roles and priorities. Steps should also be taken to harmonise the capacity and planning of RECs at regional level with that of the AU and UN (Cilliers 2004:118). In Central African relations between civil society and the government have traditionally been hostile. In moving forward, it is essential that all segments of society, including parliamentarians, youth, women, teachers, students, researchers, civil society organisations and the private sector, become involved in peace and security efforts and to make sure the voice of civil society is reflected in ECCAS decision making (Cosme & Fiacre 2001). Examples of ECOWAS peacekeeping in West Africa, which was supported by the West Africa Network for Peace-building, shows that civil society and non-governmental organisations can play a crucial role in promoting peace and security.

At the member state level, which poses perhaps the most significant challenge to the effective functioning of regional organisations such as ECCAS, there is need to reinforce democracy, good governance and pro-development policies and reward and reinforce success. As Cilliers (2004:118) points out: ‘No amount of tinkering at the regional level can ultimately compensate for the absence of functional governance at the national, provincial and local levels … [Leaders in the region must] promote and institutionalise deeper co-ordination and collaboration among themselves’, as well as be proactive leaders in promoting co-operation within regional and sub-regional bodies. The leaders of member states must look first to themselves to uphold the protocols passed by regional bodies and the AU. One leader cannot expect to hold another accountable for human security when he or she does not uphold the principles of human security, peace and stability. Responsible leadership in member states is a necessary prerequisite for sustainable human security in the region.

At the level of the AU, there should be harmonisation and close co-operation with regional organisations to ensure that decisions taken at the continental level are upheld by regional bodies (Van Nieuwkerk 2006:224). Currently there is a multiplicity of inter-governmental bodies that aspire for roles in security maintenance and conflict management in Africa, many of which have overlapping memberships.3 Therefore the AU must define procedurally which organisations have priority in conflict situations (Franke 2007). In order to more systematically engage RECs in promoting peace and security, they should take part in the debates of the AU Peace and Security Council and there should be institutionalisation of direct contact procedures between the AU and RECs, perhaps by establishing AU liaison offices at each of the regional organisation headquarters. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the AU to complement the RECs where capacity and resource gaps exist in the implementation of peace and security initiatives (Cilliers 2004).

In the longer term, ECCAS should focus on developing greater financial self-sufficiency, as experience from other regions shows that missions can suffer significant setbacks or be terminated when international donors withdraw support (Berman 2002). On the other hand, both member states and the international community must remain committed to providing the AU with the resources and support needed to enable it to build meaningful continental security (Franke 2007). International donors need to go beyond rhetoric and commit to supporting regional organisations with a secure financial base so that they have the opportunity to live up to their potential (Berman 2002). Past experiences in the region show that regional organisations cannot be expected to undertake large-scale, multi-faceted peacekeeping operations without substantive assistance from the AU, UN and the international community (Berman & Sams 2000:24).


Strong arguments can be made in favour of regional approaches to conflict management and peace and security promotion in Africa, as is reflected in the charters of the UN and AU. Indeed, in Central Africa, where neighbouring states have instigated conflict as well as felt its repercussions, sustainable peace necessitates regional buy-in and co-operation. However, ECCAS has to date been hampered by a lack of financial and logistical resources, an understaffed and poorly equipped secretariat and a peace and security mandate that stretches the organisation’s limited resources too thinly, as well as a lack of political will. These factors have negatively impacted on the ability of ECCAS to make a meaningful contribution to the management of conflict and promotion of human security in the Central Africa Region. While addressing issues of human security in the longer term may require member states to re-visit the notions of sovereignty and non-interference principles embedded in the ECCAS protocol, in the short term member states would do well to strengthen their structural capacity and continue efforts to implement and monitor agreements in areas such as arms trafficking, HIV/AIDS and other diseases, natural resources, food security and other cross-border agreements.

Though the history of conflict in Central Africa makes it an ambitious context in which to pursue regional co-operation, the end of civil war and waning of violent conflict in some of its key member states do provide a prime opportunity for moving forward on regional objectives. While there is, justifiably, some cynicism about the ability of ECCAS to effectively contribute to human security promotion in Central Africa the organisation has, due to limited resources and political will, arguably never had a real opportunity to work towards fulfilling its mandate. This will only become possible if ECCAS receives considerable support from the AU and the international community, and most importantly, the co-operation and active participation of its constituent members.


  1. Regional groupings in Africa were first delineated by the Economic Commission for Africa of the UN in the 1960s

  2. The RECs recognised by the AU include ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), COMESA (Common Marked for Eastern and Southern Africa), IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority for Development), EAC (East African Community), ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States), AMU (Arab Maghreb Union), CEN-SAD (Community of Sahel-Sahara States) and SADC (Southern Africa Development Community). Of these, five RECs – ECOWAS, IGAD, ECCAS, AMU and SADC – are the ‘building blocks’ of the AU’s peace and security architecture. In this paper the terms regional economic communities and regional organisations are used interchangeably.

  3. For example, of 53 countries, six have membership of one regional community, 26 are members of two, 19 are members of three, and two (DRC and Swaziland) are members of four.


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