West African states have a long history of sending their military forces to intervene in neighbouring countries, under the umbrella of a regional cooperation bloc.
Created in 1975, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) focuses mainly on resolving regional conflicts. The group has fifteen members, of which eight are francophone (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo); five are Anglophone (The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone); and two are Portuguese speaking (Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau). The organization is dominated politically and economically by regional powerhouse Nigeria.
In the case of The Gambia, where President Yahya Jammeh has refused to stand down after losing the 1 December 2016 presidential election, the bloc has thrown its support behind the new President Adama Barrow.
Here is a look at the five main foreign interventions that have been carried out since 1990:
On 11 January 2013, following a United Nations Security Council resolution, the bloc authorises the immediate deployment of an intervention force that aims to help Mali retake its Islamist-controlled north. On the same day, the French military launched Operation Serval to back the Malian army and drive back the Islamists, who are pushing south towards the capital, Bamako. The West African force comprises of 6,300 men, including 2,000 from Chad, which is not an ECOWAS member. The Chadian soldiers were on the frontline alongside French soldiers in fighting the insurgents. On 1 July 2013, the ECOWAS force is absorbed by the UN’s MINUSMA stabilization force in Mali, which is currently 13,000 strong.
West African troops deployed to Guinea-Bissau in May 2012 in order to help the political transition after one of the country’s many coups. They have since served with a mandate to protect public figures and institutions. The force consists of more than 600 police officers and paramilitary gendarmes from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal and Togo. Already in February 1999, a lightly armed ECOWAS force was deployed to the country in a bid to help resolve the crisis. The force however withdrew several months later after failing to prevent a resumption of fighting and the overthrow of the head of state.
In August 1990, ECOWAS deployed a force of several hundred men to Liberia to intervene in a civil war that had ignited eight months earlier. The ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) quickly grew to nearly 20,000 soldiers. Although it was generally described as a peacekeeping force, ECOMOG was soon called on to take more responsibilities for maintaining order. In early 1997, more than seven years after the war began, ECOMOG carried out a major disarmament operation, which effectively paved the way for multi-party elections that were held in July of that year. The last ECOMOG soldiers left Liberia in October 1999.
In August 2003, a new ECOWAS mission, known as ECOMIL, was deployed to the capital Monrovia, which had been under siege by rebels for three months. The force, which was restricted to some 3,500 soldiers, was unable to deploy across the whole of the country, resulting it in transferring its contingent to the United Nations.
ECOMOG’s Nigerian contingent drives a 1998 – 1998 military junta, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), from Freetown and reinstates President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. On 6 January 1999, the RUF invaded Freetown. IT was expelled two weeks later by ECOMOG troops. The West African intervention force, which has up to 11,000 men stationed in Sierra Leone, officially winds up its mission in May 2000 and is replace by the UN peacekeeping force, which was formed to guarantee the Lome peace accord of July 1999, which ended the civil war.
A 1,300-strong West African force is deployed in January 2003 after a military rebellion, which effectively cuts Ivory Coast in two. In 2004, the soldiers are integrated into the UN’s mission in the country.
The incumbent President, Yahya Jammeh, continues to contest the 1 December 2016 preidential election results at the Supreme Court. Th President-elect, Mr Adama Barrow, has lft the country and is currently in neighboring Senegal. The Economic Community ofWest African States (ECOWAS) has stated that it may intervene, including possible military action, if President Jammeh does not step down on the scheduled handover date of 19 January 2017. Increasing international pressure to step down has resulted in President Jammeh declaring a state of emergency on 17 January. The following day, the National Assembly announced that the president could remain in office for a further three months.
The Gambian government is divided over this issue, and in recent days a number of ministers have resigned. There have also been reports of restrictive measures being imposed, including the shutting down of opposition radio stations and politically motivated arrests.
Tensions remain high across the country and the ongoing political deadlock could lead to unrest. Due to the deteriorating political situation and potential military intervention following MS risk advises against all but essential travel to The Gambia. If you are currently in The Gambia, we advise that you should leave by commercial means if you have no essential need to remain. The potential for military intervention and civil disturbances remains high and this could result in Banjul International Airport being closed at short notice.
- Have a weeks supply of food and water as well as fuel
- Monitor travel advise and social media updates
- Avoid large crowds as they may turn violent with little notice
- Avoid discussing politically sensitive topics in public
- You should expect to see increased government forces traffic and presence if tensions increase
- If you are a visitor, remain in contact with your airline/tour operator and insurer.
- If you are visiting and staying in a hotel, identify the emergency procedures in place
MS Risk continues to closely monitor the situation in The Gambia and we will issue further bulletins as more information becomes available.
After an election weekend that was marred by confusion and occasional violence, results from Nigeria’s presidential and parliamentary elections is due to start trickling in late Monday/early Tuesday, however the opposition party has already rejected the outcome in Rivers state and has stated that the polls were “a sham and a charade,” prompting fears that violence may erupt once the results are announced.
Violence and Confusion
Saturday’s parliamentary and presidential elections were marred by technical hitches and violence linked to Boko Haram.
Voting in some parts of Nigeria was extended to Sunday after problems occurred with the new electronic card readers. President Goodluck Jonathan was amongst those whose registration to vote was delayed because of the technology, which was introduced in order to prevent fraud. His Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which opposed the card readers, called it a “huge national embarrassment,” while election commission chief Attahiru Jega disclosed that only a fraction of the 150,000 card readers being used nationwide had failed.
Boko Haram maintained its promise of disrupting the elections, attacking several polling stations in northeastern Nigeria, which prompted officials to declare a curfew in Bauchi state after fighting erupted between troops and the insurgents.
- 29 March – In the wake of troops fighting Boko Haram fighters outside of Bauchi city, the state capital of Bauchi, authorities have imposed an indefinite lockdown on three areas. On the ground sources have reported that late Sunday, soldiers, supported by two fighter jets, intercepted the militants who were in 20 pick-up trucks at Dungulbe village, which is located seven kilometres (four miles) from the state capital. The troops engaged them in fierce fighting, with a military officer in the city disclosing “the fighter jets are pounding the enemy position while ground troops are engaging them… The operation is still on-going but the terrorists have suffered serious losses and are in disarray.” Residents reported that the insurgents arrived in Dungulbe at around 10:00 am (0900 GMT) and set up camp in preparation for an invasion of the city. The militants are believed to have come through the town of Alkaleri, which is 60 kilometres (37 miles) away, where they carried out a dawn raid on Saturday. A spokesman for the Bacuhi state governor disclosed that an indefinite, round-the-clock curfew had been imposed on three areas, Bauchi, Kirfi and Alkaleri, because of the fighting, stating that it was imposed in order to “…enable security agencies to restore normalcy in the affected areas… By this curfew, residents of the three affected local governments are to remain in their homes until further notice.” The main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate for the Bauchi state governorship, Mohammed Abullahi Abubakar, has blamed the curfew on his political opponents, claiming “the curfew was only an attempt by the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) to tinker with the results of the elections.”
- 28 March – At least seven people were killed in separate attacks in the northeastern Nigerian state of Gombe on Saturday, with suspected Boko Haram militants opening fire on voters at polling stations. The first attacks took place in the neighbouring villages of Birin Bolawa and Birin Fulani in the Nafada district of Gombe, which has been repeatedly targeted by the militant group. According to an election official, “we could hear the gunmen shouting, ‘Didn’t we warn you about staying away from (the) election?’” The election official disclosed that the masked gunmen arrived in Birin Bolawa in a pickup truck at around 8:30 AM (0730 GMT), shortly after accreditation for Saturday’s presidential elections had begun. One voter was shot dead while many civilians fled in panic. On the ground sources have disclosed that the gunmen had set fire to all the election materials. The second attack occurred at about 9:15AM. At about 11:30 AM, gunmen stormed the town of Dukku, 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the state capital Gombe. Residents reported that the gunmen shot randomly as voters queued up at polling stations. At least three people, including a state assembly lawmaker, were killed in the attack. Last month, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau warned in a video message that the militants would disrupt Saturday’s general elections, which they have called “un-Islamic.” Officials have disclosed that there were twenty-eight Boko Haram attacks in the three weeks after the delay was announced, compared with eighteen that occurred in the three weeks beforehand, effectively representing an increase of 56 percent.
- Police officials disclosed Saturday morning that an explosion struck a polling station at a primary school in the city of Awka. The attack, which occurred Saturday morning, claimed no casualties. According to Uche Eze, police spokesman for Anambra state, of which Awka is the capital, “no lives were lost and none injured. The police bomb squad has moved in.” The state of Anambra has often been affected by political thuggery around election time.
- Gunmen shot dead a Nigerian soldier in an ambush that occurred in the southern oil hub of Port Harcourt on Saturday. According to Brigadier-General K.A. Essien confirmed the attack however military officials have not released any further details pertaining to the incident.
- On Saturday, a bomb exploded at a polling station in a primary school in the northeastern city of Enugu. The attack occurred hours before the polling station opened. Enugu police spokesman Stephen Lar confirmed that attack, disclosing, “no life was lost but there were blood stains on the vehicle that conveyed the bomb showing the occupant may have been injured.”
- Suspected Boko Haram gunmen attacked public buildings and security checkpoints in the northeastern town of Alkaleri. According to on the ground sources, a police station, the office of the paramilitary Nigeria Security and Civil Defense force and the local electoral commission premises were all burned to the ground.
- An official disclosed Saturday that suspected Boko Haram gunmen beheaded twenty-three people and set fire to homes in Buratai, northeastern Nigeria, on the eve of the country’s general elections. According to Mohammed Adamu, who represents the town, which is located 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Borno’s capital Maiduguri, “there was an attack on Buratai late Friday by gunmen suspected to be insurgents…They beheaded 23 people and set homes on fire,” adding “at least half the village has been burnt.” At least thirty-two people were injured in the attack. While further details pertaining to the incident were not immediately available, the attack is consistent with Boko Haram’s past strikes in the area.
While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) initially indicated that the first results from 120,000 polling stations nationwide would be available Sunday evening, officials have since pushed this back, with the results now not expected to be released until either late Monday or early Tuesday. Sources have disclosed that turnout amongst the 56.7 million registered voters appears to have been high.
As millions of Nigerians wait for the results, tensions remain high and fears are growing that violence, which already erupted in some parts of the country on Sunday, may spread.
Thousands of supporters of the main opposition party demonstrated on Sunday in the state of Rivers, with many calling for the cancellation of elections locally over alleged irregularities. This prompted local police to fire warning shots in a bid to disperse the crowd. One group stoned a car they though was carrying the ballots. Demonstrators supporting the All Progressives Congress (APC) converged on the local offices of the INEC in the state capital, Port Harcourt. According to River state governorship candidate Dakuku Peterside, “we are here to register our protest that there was no election in Rivers state yesterday (Saturday).” Mr Peterside alleges that APC supporters across the southern state were “disenfranchised by INEC, working in connivance with (the) PDP.” He alleges that results sheets, which in Nigerian elections are given at every polling station to both the local electoral commission and party representatives after the count, were not provided and that instead “INEC in collaboration with (the) Peoples Democratic Party hijacked the materials and were filling them in private homes for the PDP.” Mr Peterside has called for the presidential and parliamentary elections to be re-held in the state. Protests continued on Monday, prompting police to use tear gas to disperse the demonstration, which was carried out by at least 100 female APC protesters. INEC chairman Attahiru Jega has disclosed that he is investigating the complaints. The southern state is seen as a key battleground for the presidential election.
In an increasing sign that the opposition will likely challenge the results, the APC governor of the southern Imo state, Rochas Okorocha, denounced the conduct of the election in his region, accusing the military of meddling in the result. Meanwhile in Bauchi state, hundreds of youths gathered outside the INEC office shouting APC slogans and shouting that they would protect their vote from rigging. The military fired warning shots to disperse the crowds.
Despite some violence and technical difficulties, on Monday, the African Union (AU) praised the conduct of Nigeria’s general election however officials have urged the political parties to resolve any disputes in court. In its preliminary findings, the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) disclosed that the vote was “conducted in a peaceful atmosphere within the framework that satisfactorily meets the continental and regional principles of democratic elections.” Regional bloc ECOWAS also urged Nigerians to accept the results.
The United Nations Secretary General also congratulated Nigeria for holding a “largely peaceful and orderly” ballot, however Ban Ki-moon called on citizens to “maintain a peaceful atmosphere and to exercise patients.” The Secretary also condemned attacks carried out by Boko Haram and other militants who attempted to disrupt the presidential and parliamentary polls.
On Monday, a second round of peace talks between the Malian government and separatist militias will begin in Algiers. The talks are aimed at ending a conflict that has continued over this past year despite the country’s efforts to return to a democracy. The two groups signed an interim agreement in June last year, which effectively paved the way for nationwide elections, however since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected to power, negotiations have stalled and northern Mali has seen a spike in violence by Islamist and separatist militants.
According to sources, the talks will be based on a “roadmap” that was agreed to by the different sides in July. The talks will be overseen by a “college of mediators,” which includes Algeria, the African Union (AU) and the 15-member regional bloc ECOWAS. A “college of facilitators” will be made up of delegates from France, Niger, Nigeria and the European Union. While former Prime Minister Modibo Keita, who is the president’s envoy at the talks, has disclosed “this time in Algiers, participants will get to the bottom of their problems and, it is to be hoped, come to an agreement,” Mali’s Prime Minister Moussa Mara has suggested that despite the government willing to make concessions, a “red line” has been set, noting that Mali’s territorial integrity and secular status will not be up for discussion. While there currently is no set deadline, negotiations between the Malian government and separatist militias are expected to last weeks with the claim for special legal status expected to be the main sticking point.
In the weeks prior to these talks, rival factions amongst the rebels, including members of the MNLA, HCUA, the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA), the coalition of the People of Azawad, which is a sub-division of the MNLA, along with a vigilante movement in the region, met in Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou, in order to sign a broad policy agreement that effectively ensures they will speak with one voice in Algiers. According to sources, the signatories of the document are requesting “special legal status” for their homeland in northern Mali, adding that they want official recognition of the “legitimacy of the struggle of Azawad/northern Mali for 50 years to enjoy a special status in line with the geographical, economic, social, cultural and security realities.” Although these armed groups once fought each other in northern Mali, it now appears that they are increasingly willing to unite together in order to achieve their goals and to negotiate with the Malian government.
In May of this year, clashes erupted between the Malian army and a coalition of rebels from the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), resulting in at least fifty soldiers being killed in the region of Kidal. Although a ceasefire, which was achieved by Mauritanian leader and AU chief Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, has since been in place, the Malian government has expressed alarm over the “concentrations of armed groups” that are present in the desert region.
Strict Measures Implemented in Liberia
In a bid to halt the continuing spread of the deadly virus, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ordered the closure of most of Liberia’s border crossings and has ordered strict quarantines for those communities affected by the Ebola outbreak. The latest measures come just one month after the Liberian President warned that anyone caught hiding suspected Ebola patients would be prosecuted.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has announced the closure of most of Liberia’s land borders adding that stringent medical checks are being increased at those airports and major trade routes that will remain open. A statement released by the government indicated, “all borders of Liberia will be closed with the exception of major entry points,” adding that all these entry points will have preventive and testing centres. Three major border crossings, a provincial airport and Monrovia’s international airport are exempted from the closures. The government has also banned public gatherings of any kind, including events and demonstrations. Authorities have not disclosed how the long these closures will remain in place.
The announcement, which occurred late Sunday, came just one day after the Liberian President formed a new taskforce charged with containing the disease that has already killed 129 in the country and more than 670 in the West African region. According to a statement released by the President’s office, the special Ebola task force will ensure that “communities that are seriously affected will be quarantined and travels in and out of such communities restricted.” The new orders include strict observation at the international airport of all outgoing and incoming passengers, who are now liable for inspection and testing. All government facilities and public places will also install public access for washing of hands while all hotels, restaurants, and film centres are to play a five-minute information clip on Ebola awareness and prevention.
While Guinea has borne the brunt of the outbreak, in recent weeks, Liberia has seen a sharp rise in Ebola cases and deaths. Amongst those killed by the deadly virus is prominent Liberian doctor Samuel Brisbane, who died this past weekend after a three-week battle with the virus. Two American aid workers have also fallen ill. Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian charity, confirmed Sunday that its physician Kent Brantly was in stable condition and had been isolated at the group’s Ebola treatment centre at the ELWA hospital in Liberia’s capital Monrovia. The charity further disclosed that Nancy Writtebol, a missionary with the SIM Christian charity that runs that hospital, is also in stable condition. Ms Writtebol had been working as a hygienist responsible for detoxifying protective suits worn by those entering and exiting Ebola isolation centres. Dr Brantly is the medical director of the Samaritan’s Purse Ebola case management centre in Liberia, where the agency is continuing to work with Liberian and international health officials in a bid to contain the outbreak. He began working with the group’s Liberia team in October and since June, he has been focusing on Ebola patients.
Ebola Virus Spreads to Nigeria with first Confirmed Death in Lagos
On Friday, officials in Nigeria disclosed that the Ebola virus has caused the death of a Liberian national who died while in quarantine in Lagos. The announcement confirms that the worst-ever outbreak of the virus has now spread to Africa’s most populous country, which is already battling a deadly militant insurgency in the north.
Nigeria’s Health Minister Onyebuch Chukwu told journalists that “thorough medical tests” had confirmed “the virus of Ebola” as the cause of death. The 40-year-old Liberian national, who died overnight, had worked for the Liberian government and had travelled to Nigeria from Monrovia by air via Togo’s capital Lome. According to the Liberian government, the man’s final destination had been the southern city of Calabar, where he was scheduled to attend a meeting organized by the west African bloc ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States).
While fears are growing that the Ebola virus may rapidly spread in the populous city of Lagos, Nigeria’s Health Minister has attempted to calm local citizens, noting that upon the man’s arrival, he was transported directly to hospital, noting that the patient “avoided contact with the general public and that there was no time for him to mingle in Lagos.” According to Chukwu, “all the passengers that the patient came in contact with have been traced and are being investigated,” insisting that health officials have made direct contact with everyone on board the flight and are now monitoring their conditions. The patient had been flying on Togo-based ASKY Airlines.
In the wake of the first Ebola death in Nigeria, the country’s largest airline, Arik Air, has suspended all flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone. The company has disclosed that the decision to halt flights is a precautionary measure. A statement released by the airline, which operates routes across West Africa, indicated “we feel especially compelled to take the business decision to immediately suspend flight services into the two Ebola affected countries due to our interest in the well-being of Nigerians,” adding “we humbly suggest that as a first step, all inbound flights into Nigeria which originate from any of the Ebola affected countries, be immediately suspended.”
Nigeria has put all its entry points on red alert after confirming that a Liberian man died of Ebola after arriving at Lagos airport on Tuesday.
First Ebola Death Confirmed in Freetown
Meanwhile in Sierra Leone, a woman suffering from the first confirmed case of Ebola in the country’s capital city died Saturday after her parents forcibly took her from hospital. According to a statement released by the health ministry, Saudatu Koroma, a 32-year-old trainee hairdresser, was admitted to a clinic on July 23 had tested positive for the disease adding “her farther and mother forcibly took her away from the hospital” just two days after she was admitted.
While her disappearance prompted authorities in Freetown to broadcast a nationwide television and radio alert, which eventually persuaded her to return for treatment, Koroma died on Saturday while on her way to an Ebola treatment centre in the country’s east. According to an official, Koroma “…was severely dehydrated and weak and could hardly speak,” adding, “blood samples taken from both the father and mother are now being tested.” The house where Ms Koroma had lived in, in the eastern area of Freetown, has been quarantined over the past twenty-one days.
Sierra Leone’s health ministry confirmed Monday that an Ebola treatment centre has been established at Lakka Hospital, with health staff trained to handle the disease. Surveillance has also been increased throughout the country, with people now being requested to report all suspected cases to local health authorities.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of July 20, the number of Ebola cases recorded in the months-long epidemic stood at 1,093. This includes more than 660 deaths.