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.
An NGO warned this month that Sierra Leone and Liberia are at risk for a new deadly epidemic akin to the impact of the Ebola virus because of a lack of clean water and hygienic conditions in most homes.
WaterAid has reported that the two provisions were the “first line of defense” against infectious diseases, noting however they needed to be put in place before outbreaks began. In a statement, the British-based group disclosed that in Liberia, 24.5 percent of people do not have access to clean water. In Sierra Leone, this figure stands at more than 37 percent. WaterAid further added that when it comes to basic sanitation, the figures are even higher, with just over 83 percent in Liberia living without access to it and 86.7 percent of people in Sierra Leone. In the statement WaterAid’s Joe Lambongang disclosed that “the terrible suffering of the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia during the Ebola crisis is at high risk of being repeated in another disease epidemic if we do not see action to improve water, sanitation and hygiene practices in our communities, schools and healthcare facilities. It further indicated that “these basic provisions are the first line of defense against infectious diseases including Ebola,” adding, “to ask healthcare professionals to battle an epidemic without clean water, safe toilets and somewhere to wash their hands is unrealistic and needlessly puts lives at risk.” In June, Liberia confirmed that it was free of Ebola, effectively meaning that there were no known cases in West Africa of the tropical virus, which left more than 11,300 people dead in the region since late 2013. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared an end on 1 June to Ebola cases in Guinea, where it first broke out in December 2013, and in Sierra Leone on 17 March. According to Sierra Leone’s health ministry figures, 30 percent of the population dies every year of diseases that are passed on by contaminated water.
On 9 June, the latest Ebola outbreak in Liberia, the last country still affected by the deadliest flare-up in history, was declared over.
Liberia effectively passed the World Health Organization (WHO) threshold of 42 days – twice the incubation period for the virus, since the last known patient tested negative for the second time. Last week, the WHO declared an end to the latest Ebola outbreak in Guinea, however it warned that a recurrence of the virus remained a threat as previous declarations announcing the end of Ebola flare-ups in West Africa have been followed by the emergence of new cases. While in late March, the WHO declared that the Ebola outbreak no longer constituted an international emergency, new cases emerged in Liberia just two days later.
The Ebola epidemic began in Guinea in December 2013 and killed more than 11,300 people. It devastated economies and health systems in the worst affected countries in West Africa and tested the world’s capacity to respond to a global health emergency. At its peak in 2014, the Ebola outbreak sparked anxiety about a possible global pandemic and led some governments to threaten or unilaterally enforce travel bans to and from the worst-affected countries. In all, the virus affected ten countries, including the United States and Spain, with more than 28,000 cases reported – virtually all in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The WHO has drawn criticism for its delayed response to the Ebola crisis and its failure to identify the outbreak.
On Wednesday 1 June, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Guinea has reached the end of active Ebola virus transmission, in what is the second such declaration from the country at the epicenter of the world’s worst outbreak of the disease.
The proclamation was made because the person with Guinea’s last confirmed case tested negative for the second time more than 42 days ago. Guinea will now effectively enter a 90-day period of heightened surveillance in order to make sure of the identification of any new cases before they spread to others.
During the most recent outbreak, seven confirmed and three possible cases of the virus surfaced between 17 March and 6 April. At lest five people died. Another three cases were recorded in neighboring Liberia in a woman who had travelled from Guinea along with her two children. The WHO has disclosed that the flare-up seems to have occurred after a person came into contact with infected body fluid from an Ebola survivor. Since the virus remains active in certain body fluids for months, the WHO cautions that the risk of outbreaks remain, however on Tuesday, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier disclosed that the organization is confident that affected countries are prepared and can deal with flare-ups efficiently.
Guinea is believed to be where the world’s worst Ebola outbreak occurred. The outbreak initially emerged in December 2014 and would later spread to two other neighboring countries – Liberia and Sierra Leone. Guinea first declared itself free of transmission in December 2015.
On 4 May, the ministry of health reported that Liberia’s last two known Ebola patients have been discharged from hospital after recovering from the deadly disease.
According to the ministry’s press spokesman, Sorbor George, the two were discharged from the Ebola Treatment Unit in the capital city Monrovia on Friday. He disclosed that “the two have been responding to the treatment and recovered from the virus last week. But thorough check-ups had to be done, and fortunately all proved them free of the virus,” adding, “this means that Liberia is again going through” the countdown “to be declared free of Ebola.”
The deadliest period in the history of the feared tropical virus wrecked the economies and health systems of the worst-hit West African nations – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – after it emerged in December 2013. Liberia was the country that was the worst-hit by the outbreak, which has claimed 11,300 lives. The World Health Organization (WHO) has disclosed that Ebola no longer constitutes an international emergency, however the announcement of new cases in West Africa in the past few months demonstrates the difficult of managing its aftermath.