A timeline of all the times ECOWAS used military interventions in Africa.
From quelling civil wars to restoring democracy and stability, ECOWAS’s involvement has left an indelible mark on the region’s trajectory.
This article delves into seven instances where ECOWAS deployed its forces to tackle crises head-on, examining the challenges faced, the outcomes achieved, and the enduring impact on the affected nations.
1. Liberia (1990-1997) – Crowning of Charles Taylor
In the backdrop of Charles Taylor’s armed uprising against the Liberian government in 1989, the nation plunged into a harrowing civil war. The crisis prompted the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to embark on an unprecedented intervention in 1990.
At the core of this endeavor was the formation of an initial 3,000-strong ECOMOG contingent, comprising troops from Nigeria, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and additional soldiers from Mali.
While this mission achieved its objective of establishing peace, it wasn’t without controversy. Reports emerged of human rights abuses, particularly against women, perpetrated by ECOMOG personnel. The troops maintained a presence in Liberia until 1996 when the war finally subsided.
2. Sierra Leone (1997-2000) – The Freetown flip
The next chapter for ECOMOG unfolded in 1997 in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. The elected civilian government, led by Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, was overthrown by Major Johnny Paul Koroma in a military coup. In response, ECOMOG, commanded by Nigerian forces, redirected part of its personnel from Monrovia (Liberia’s capital) to recapture Freetown from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels.
In a bold offensive launched in February 1998, ECOMOG managed to topple the military regime, reinstating Kabbah as the nation’s leader and marking a victory over the RUF rebels.
3. Guinea-Bissau (1998-1999) – The referee
By November 1998, a peace pact emerged, outlining a unified government and 1999 elections. Yet, conflict resurged in May 1999, unsettling the accord. Following, an Abuja treaty detailed Senegalese and Guinean troop withdrawal, replaced by ECOMOG forces, cementing a durable peace.
4. Ivory Coast (2002-2007) – A Franco-African alliance
In 2003, after Ivorian armed forces and rebel groups reached a ceasefire agreement, ECOWAS responded by deploying troops as ECOWAS forces in Côte d’Ivoire (ECOMICI). This move aimed to complement the efforts of United Nations and French troops in the region.
5. Liberia (2003-2004) – The fall of Charles Taylor
The sequel to Liberia’s civil strife (1999-2003) prompted a regional resurgence. Charles Taylor’s debut led to power, his encore marked the exit. ECOWAS reacted by dispatching troops via ECOWAS Mission in Liberia (ECOMIL), comprising 3,500 soldiers, prominently Nigeria. ECOMIL played peacemaker, parting rival groups and aiding UNMIL’s arrival.
6. Mali (2013-2014) – Mayhem in Mali
After a 2012 coup, Mali plunged into turmoil, enabling armed factions to seize northern territories. ECOWAS led AFISMA in 2013, assisting Mali against rebels. Supported mainly by Nigeria and other West African nations, AFISMA, with a UN resolution, had an initial one-year mandate. It later evolved into UN’s MINUSMA for sustained stabilisation.
7. Gambia (2017) – Jammeh’s gamble
Dubbed “Operation Restore Democracy,” an ECOWAS operation led by Senegal dispatched troops to Banjul in 2017 to compel Yahya Jammeh to relinquish power.
Jammeh had refused to concede his electoral defeat to Adama Barrow in the 2016 election. Barrow was subsequently sworn in as president at the Gambian embassy in Dakar and sought ECOWAS’ military intervention. The troops ensured a smooth transition within a mere three days.
The mission’s name later evolved into the ECOWAS Mission in The Gambia (ECOMIG) and continued until December 2021.