Book Review

ECOMOG, a Sub-Regional Experience in Conflict Resolution, Management and Peacekeeping in Liberia (Second Edition). Colonel Festus Aboagye (Rtd). Accra: Ulinzi Africa Resources, 2018. 540 pp: 13 pp Bibliography & References, pp 24 Index, 16/1 pp B&W/Colour photos.

Reviewed by Vladimir Antwi-Danso (PhD), Dean of Academic Affairs and Research, Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College.

It needs to be noted, in the first place that, any long war is an inexhaustible subject, especially for war historians and also those who have been part of that war. Essentially, the murky Liberian Civil War and the novel attempt by leaders of West Africa to experiment with creating a security community stimulates, perhaps more than most others, a peculiar inexhaustible interest.

It is no coincidence then that Festus titles his book: ECOMOG: A sub-Regional Experience and would want to revisit issues covered and/or found to be inadequately covered in the first edition. ECOMOG, indeed, is an inexhaustible subject! Reviewing his own book, “Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975, ”Max Hastings addresses part of why the war continues to maintain its interest. “One is still dealing with a huge amount of guesswork and guesstimates about what went on in the north,” he says, “because reliable information about what was said and done is still so hard to come by.”

In Festus’ case, ECOMOG maintains its interest because a range of contesting conjectures still abound: In what context did ECOMOG emerge? Was ECOMOG a nascent security community? Was ECOMOG a sub-Regional Peacekeeping Force or an Interventionist adventure? How is it to be explained, the transition from ECOMOG to ECOMIL and then the entry of UNMIL? And many more, all of which Festus attempts to give answers to.

Thirdly, conflict is and has been throughout history, a normal way of conducting disputes between political groups within human society. As David Weeks puts it,“conflict is an inevitable outcome of human diversity and a world without conflict is not desirable, because it would mean a world without diversity.”Africa is a diverse continent – diverse in ethnic, religious and socio-cultural terms. Contexts and causal triggers and typologies may differ. It is in this vein that a return to ECOMOG from time to time remains a stimulating intellectual enterprise.

The book has two powerful forewords by most eminent diplomats: H.E James Victor Gbeho, one of Ghana’s finest diplomats/ambassadors, one-time Member of Parliament and also a Minister for Foreign Affairs; and H.E Mohammed Ibn Chambas, an icon in Ghana’s Diplomacy and a veteran international civil servant. He was one-time Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, another as Member of Parliament, then worked as President of the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja, moved on as the Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and now is the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, and head of UNOWAS.

The Canvass
The twelve-chapter edition is woven on a canvass that brings different menus on one plate: from the causal typology of the civil war, its spill-over dynamics in Sierra-Leone, the socio-economic and political profiles of the countries, the dynamics of the wars, the fogs and intangibles in the prosecution of ECOMOG mandates; the international dimension etc., etc. Written in simple non-technical language, the book, through themes, some of which have been mentioned above, is able to assemble almost all the issues that come to the fore in times of civil wars – causes, process, mitigation (intervention), post-conflict reconstruction.

After a short contextualisation of the problem, the Author, as many a good Author would do, gives causal explanations to the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where he subjects some of the known causal theories of conflict to critical analysis. Here though, the Author was quite reluctant to engage in the difficult debates surrounding some of the theories that most authors find to belong to the realm of social psychology (e.g. Frustration-Aggression, protracted social conflict and others, thought to be from the Behaviourists’ School). Understandably so, because that was not the focus of the book!

Most interesting in this chapter is an issue that has just started engaging the attention of Integrationists: the question of a security community as an inevitable variable in the quest for building integrated economic communities. Though not the focus of the book, and perhaps unknown to the Author, this issue now lies at the base of almost all efforts at integration. He agrees though that ECOMOG symbolises the effort at a nascent ECOWAS security community (p 19).

The National profiles (structure and socio-political systems) of the two countries and the causal triggers of the wars engage the Author’s attention in four chapters (2-4 and 10) with detailed accounts of the build-up to war and intervention. The emphasis in chapters 2-4 though was more on Liberia, with an analysis of the contagion that brought about the Sierra Leone dimension, eloquently discussed in chapter 10.

Of great interest is Festus’ description of the civil war proper in Liberia – timelines and modus operandi of insurgent combatants (pp 88–91).

Peacekeeping Dilemmas
One can only describe the rest of the narratives as ‘the dilemmas of peacekeeping.’ The evolution of Peacekeeping has become a science of study in itself. The Author from the sixth chapter concentrates on issues that peacekeeping is confronted with anytime the need arises. The political processes that need to unfold before mandates and deployment follow are always problematic. Between 1990 and 1997 there were both political and military processes that laid the contours for ECOMOG’s fortunes and/or dilemmas. There were periods of progress and times of stagnation. How the ECOMOG turned into UNOMIL and to ECOMIL and then UNMIL are all discussed, with vivid analysis of the problems of peacekeeping, especially the linkage between the efforts of regional bodies and the United Nations.

The Author walks us through the cross-border insecurity that caused the eruption of the second civil war in Liberia and the entry of UNMIL, lamenting the oft-repeated mistake of conducting elections before peace is secured (p 229). The process that followed and which gave Liberia a seeming order for peace – restoration of civil authority – (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR), Security Sector Reform (SSR) and Transitional Justice, among others) have all been amplified by the Author in this second edition of the book.

Role of the Ghana Armed Forces
As a participant in the then unfolding drama, the Author could not leave out the role of the Ghanaian contingent (that is the Ghana Armed Forces – GAF) in ECOMOG’s successes and failures (pp 197–206). The Author notes that the ‘GAF was not a stranger to third-party interventions at the time of its participation in the ECOMOG operations’(p 197) and recounts the numerous engagements of the GAF in the past.

These include the UN operation in the Congo (ONUC – July 1960- June 1964); UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL –since 1978); UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC, 1992-1993) UN Observer Mission for Uganda and Rwanda (UNOMUR); and the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR -1993-96), the Author giving elaborate diverse global and domestic political situations, under which the GAF operated in these missions. For instance whereas the ONUC was guided by the Cold War international matrix, the GAF had different concerns where ECOMOG was concerned – the strategic and security underpinnings: a radical government in Ghana and the rumours that some Ghanaians, opposed to the radical government back home, were in the employ of Charles Taylor (p 201). Of concern was the fact also that Togo and the Ivory Coast were the meeting places for the would-be insurgents (Charles Taylor and his cohorts).

Also, Libya, with strong ties to Ghana, was known to be the main supplier of arms to Charles Taylor. The fact also of Nigeria ceding the command role to Ghana was equally contentious but handled diplomatically. Eventually, Nigeria had to assume the command role in dramatic circumstances – the assassination of Samuel Doe and the attendant speculations acting as a trigger. “These dynamics”, according to the Author, “shaped Ghana’s carefully crafted, but delicate political, diplomatic, and foreign policy considerations of the Liberian crisis that, in turn, influenced the military role of the Ghana Armed Forces in the ECOMOG operation” (p 203).

The Author was at his descriptive best when acknowledging the actors and players in the unfolding ECOMOG drama, from the high-ranking roles of the politicians (e.g. Victor Gbeho, Mohammed Ibn Chambas etc.) to the heroic exploits of the GHANBAT commanders and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs).

In chapter 11 we encounter a cost-benefit analysis of the ECOMOG adventure. The impact of the civil wars and of the intervention were subjected to some critical analysis. Among the issues worthy of mention is the ‘Asymmetric features of the ECOMOG operations’ – the thinly spread-out deployment as against ambushes etc. Also, well-articulated is the issue of ‘peacekeeping economy,’a term, that has become a buzz-word in peacekeeping studies (p 303).

Lasting Peace
The most positive aspect of the book is the concluding chapter, which concerned itself with the quest for lasting peace in Liberia. Here, the Author superbly examines the contemporary interconnections between the politics of peacebuilding and the politics of counterinsurgent warfare. Differing from much of the existing critical literature that emphasises problems associated with top-down orthodox stabilisation approaches, the Author explores the trajectories of counterinsurgent warfare that places ‘the local’ at the centre of intervention and works on logics of small footprints, hybridity, and complexity. Here, it is no longer primarily the state and its institutions but the population and the every day of ‘the local,’ in and of itself, which constitutes the key object for counterinsurgency interventions, and, as such, the new main battle space, in which insurgencies are to be defeated. In the context of these human-centred approaches to overcoming subversion, the Author indicates that the means and ends of peacebuilding and those of ‘everyday warfare’ are becoming increasingly blurred.

Here, the Author lays emphasis on peace-promoting strategies; the involvement of civil society, the role of the media both local and international; diplomacy; and transitional justice. This was the canvass, on which the Author was able to eloquently give the mosaic of the ‘Peace and Security Challenges’ of ECOWAS (p 365).

It seems to me that the Author has by the aforesaid contributed immensely to the peacekeeping theory and practice by challenging the known benign portrayals, through an analysis of the implementation of human-centred approaches to overcoming subversion and state implosion. He has demonstrated, instead, how the means and ends of peacebuilding and those of ‘everyday warfare’ are becoming increasingly blurred, thereby contributing to installing logics of warfare at the level of social relations.

Instead of hierarchical and direct military strategy, contemporary counterinsurgency advances military intelligence and tactics through aligning with, and drawing upon, peacebuilding policy trends advocating ‘bottom-up’ approaches and engagements with local ‘hybrid orders’.

The author seems to be saying that, through such alignment, contemporary counterinsurgency posits itself as an exercise of enabling social recovery and providing support to self-securing communities against insurgencies. That is the only way to secure a ‘lasting peace.’

One cannot but applaud the Author for coming out forcefully with this conclusion. For peacebuilding amid external intervention to have an impact, it is not just enough to be dealing with the causes of conflict passed, using some top-down approach. It is more important to engage the multiple harbingers of violence, so pervasive in the patronage-based political systems that we have in Africa, especially, and which encourage the ambitious to harness localised grievances and conditions of impoverishment and translate these into violence.

The book, ECOMOG, A sub-Regional Experience(2nd Edition), is a must-read book for every researcher in the field of Conflict, Conflict Management, Peacekeeping, and Peacebuilding. Practitioners, policy-makers, students, and internationalists will find this book a good companion.

I can only congratulate the Author and urge him on.

Book Purchase
The ECOMOG, A Sub-Regional Experience (Second Edition) is currently available at the Kingdom Bookshop, University of Ghana Legon, at GHS 150 a copy. The quoted price is subject to change without prior notification and excludes the cost of shipment/mailing.

Details on direct orders from UAR will be published shortly.

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