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Past Analysis
ECOWAS and Intrastate Conflict Mediation in West Africa: The Case of Cote d’Ivoire
Dramane Ouattara
October 04, 2016
"If we all make a small effort, not necessarily on a daily basis but at least on a weekly basis to be nicer to our environment, I think we can make a huge difference; difference doesn't always mean solving the conflict - but solving any conflict must start with small efforts, on a small scale, so let’s all try to do that. Life will be more pleasant, for all of us.”

Carmela Lutmar, University of Haifa- Israel -2014.

“We need to do away with the pretence that cessation of hostilities amount to peace. A firm foundation for sustainable peace cannot be land unless and until full comprehension and mastery of the conflict has been realized. This requires more than mere conjectures or intelligent guesses as to their fundamental causes.”

Adedeji, A. (ed) 1999. Comprehending and Mastering African Conflicts. The Search for Sustainable Peace and Good Governance. Zeb Books ltd London 1999 pp9.


Transitions from conflict are among life’s most perilous journeys. Once societies have unraveled into violence and neighbors are preying on each other, trust is destroyed and the confidence to build is a community undermined. How can we move ahead?

Shifting geo-political realities, vigorous international mediation, growing war fatigue among the suffering people, and the realization on the part of warring parties that their objectives cannot be achieved through war have led to the cessation of intrastate conflicts in many parts of the world.

In other cases, one warring party has clearly emerged victorious, thereby ending the conflict. Consequently, countries such as Angola, Cambodia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Uganda and Cote d’Ivoire are now breathing a respite from civil wars. The cessation of civil wars presents an unprecedented opportunity for these countries to rebuild their societies, institutions, economies and to embrace reforms that have been elusive in the past.

Peace accords invariably require holding free and fair mediation process with broad-based participation of each party. Moreover, mediation is supposed to settle the contentious issue of the political legitimacy of the government both inside and outside the country. More important, a responsive, representative political system is widely regarded as an effective mechanism for articulating the political aspirations of minority and other ethnic groups. Political competition based on ballots rather than bullets is also perceived to serve as an antidote to war and violence.

Mediation exists as part of the political process of concluding an armed conflict. The effectiveness of a mediation process should be judged by its contribution to the solution of the main issues facing the political system: The ending of a civil conflict and the establishment of a state authority under democratic control all over the country such as the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) mediation in Ivorian conflict. Mediation is not always successful, many time it fails and accentuated the conflict in the country like the UN mediation in Syria where the UN–Arab League envoy Kofi Annan failed and resigned from Syrian Conflict Mediation in 2012.

But many times such efforts succeed and bring peace, stability and economic growth in the country like the case in Cote d’Ivoire where the mediation where undertaken by the ECOWAS in 2007, where Blaise Compaoré President of the Republic of Burkina Faso, ECOWAS mediator in the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire succeed with the Ouagadougou Peace Accord and settled the disputes between the belligerents.

Therefore, this paper attempts to answer the following research question: Under which conditions did ECOWAS mediation succeed in the Ivorian conflict resolution process?

Literature review

The United Nations Charter made provision in its Chapter VIII (Articles 52-54) for a role of (sub-) regional agencies in matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security and by extension conflict management. Among other things, regional bodies are to make every effort to achieve pacific settlement of local disputes (Article 52 [2]). But it was not until the 1990s, following the publication of Boutros Boutros Ghali’s An Agenda for Peace (1992) that this responsibility has been taken seriously.

The literature on regional involvement in the management of conflicts, particularly intervention in intrastate conflicts, highlights the potential, but more so the inherent contradictions, in such an endeavour. Northedge and Donelan (1971:245) justify regional intervention on the ground that states in a particular region are better acquainted with the problems and characteristics of the area and better able to understand the motives and pressures which impel the conflicting parties; and therefore, are in a better position to know the kind of settlement which stands a better chance of being viable. However, they argue, if there are no well-established means for resolving disputes within the regional organisation (as was the case of ECOWAS) a party may find itself shut off from hearing at the global level.

Meyers (1974: 345-373) also opines that the mere existence of similarities of interests, problems and loyalties are not sufficient to guarantee success if the conflict management capacity of the regional organisation is weak.

Amoo (1993: 247) paints a bleaker picture. In his view, ‘in any particular conflict situation that attracts regional intervention, member-states invariably have their own separate and often conflicting agendas’ (Ibid). As a result, conflict dynamics and mediatory processes become more complex and intractable particularly when ‘member-states in pursuit of incompatible goals proffer moral and military support to parties in conflict’ (Ibid).

Salim (1990: 175-190) admits that regional mediation in internal conflicts is a sensitive issue since it touches on matters of national sovereignty. He sees credibility as the essence of any mediation effort but this cannot be acquired all at once. To be credible, regional organizations, like other third parties, must have demonstrated over time, the necessary political skills in their involvement in other conflict situations and they must have had an impeccable record of impartiality to be able to command the confidence of the parties to the conflict. Would ECOWAS have the time and experience before it entered Liberia?

Salim (Ibid) further concedes that some internal conflicts are so complicated that they do not lend themselves to easy resolution regardless of the credentials and efforts of the mediators. This is especially so in cases where the personalities involved see the resolution of a given conflict linked to their political future; or when the conflict involves so deep emotional feelings that it becomes an exercise in futility to try to advance reasoned arguments. It should be interesting to see how these factors impinge on the ability of ECOWAS to broker peace in the West African sub-region.

David (1997: 552-570) highlights the contradictory effects that outside intervention may have on internal conflicts. While it might halt wars that the belligerents cannot stop on their own, outside intervention might make things worse by relieving the combatants of responsibility for settling their own disputes. Whereas regional organizations might be the key to ending some internal conflicts, they might prove incapable of producing peace in others. These apparent contradictions arise partly because the main actors in such wars range from government-directed armies to roving bands of youth; and partly because, internal conflicts themselves are diverse, including: insurrections, insurgencies, terrorist campaigns and mass slaughters. Clearly, success in mediating internal conflicts would depend to a large extent on the mediators’ understanding of the genesis and dynamics of each crisis.

Zartman (1995:3) takes the peculiar problems of resolving internal conflicts further, contending that while internal conflicts are most difficult to negotiate, negotiations are a better option for resolving such conflicts than military victory. In his view, a military defeat of the rebellion often drives the cause underground only to emerge at a later date; while victory for the rebellion may ‘carry with it the mirror image of the previous exclusions, triggering new repressions and exclusions’.

The intensity of internal conflicts prevents the parties from either communicating with each other or thinking of a mutually attractive solution; and this is where mediation by a third party becomes crucial. Yet mediation is difficult in a civil war context, because the parties, for different reasons, are reluctant to accept third party intervention. For the incumbent, the mediator necessarily interferes in its domestic affairs and also recognizes the rebellion. On their part, the rebels are suspicious that the interveners would support the incumbent government and prevent the rebellion from running its course (Zartman 1995:121).

Stedman (1997: 570) is far less charitable in his assessment of regional efforts at halting internal wars. He argues that such efforts often end up prolonging the wars because ‘they transform wars that would have ended quickly with one side winning into protracted stalemates’ (Ibid). He viewed the Liberian crisis, for example, through those lenses and concluded that ECOWAS’ intervention only prevented Taylor acquiring power in 1990.

The fact that each conflict is different, and the process to mediate one conflict successfully can be different from another one, this paper attempts to analyse the mediation efforts of ECOWAS as regional organization in the peace process in the conflict which started in Cote d’Ivoire in the year 2002 after the failure a” military Coup d’Etat” against the former President Laurent Gbagbo.

Key Concepts

Intrastate conflict

Conflict is in fact a crisis which signifies a breakdown in the normal pattern of behavior. It involves a collision of incompatible positions resulting from a failure to regulate, reconcile and harmonize differences.

The literature defines intrastate conflict as armed sustained combat between groups within state boundaries. The intrastate conflict in the literature is broken into ethnically, religiously, and ideologically based groups with the first refer to as ethno nationalists or ethno class. Ethnically based conflicts involve groups that are organized in defense of their religious beliefs. Ideological based conflicts involve groups contesting the dominant political or economic ideology. Small, David Singer(1982) .


Mediation is defines as any” intermediary activity…. Undertaken by a third party with the primarily intention of achieving some compromise settlement of the issue at stake between the parties. Christ Mitchell (1981:287). Mediation involves the intervention of an acceptable, impartial and neutral third party who has no authoritative decision making power to assist contending parties in voluntarily reaching their own mutually acceptable settlement. Christopher Moore (1986:6). Mediation is a voluntary process which can be undertake by an individual person, an international organization, or a state. Effective mediation is dependent on not only the mediator knowledge and skills regarding conflict and conflict resolution but also their prestige and authority, originality of ideas access to resources and ability to act unobtrusively.

ECOWAS Mediation in Ivorian Conflict

The context of Mediation: Brief background of the Ivorian Conflict

Before this conflict, Cote d'Ivoire had been a much more stable country. Despite having some 60 ethno-language groups and 25% of the population made up of immigrants, it managed to maintain economic growth and political stability for more than 30 years after independence. While a policy of “Ivoirité" - which sought to redefine who constitutes “true Ivoirians” - had increased social tension during the mid-1990s, the economy was showing signs of improvements after a devaluation package in 1994.

On September 19, 2002, military troops originating from the North, mutinied and attacked major cities throughout the country, claiming control over the northern region (which represent 60% of the territory) and establishing Bouake (the second largest city in Cote d'Ivoire) as its base. During 2003-2004, violence escalated. Massacres of civilians took place especially in the South West and many presumed northerners in Abidjan neighborhoods were arrested and killed (McGovern 2011). The North was currently occupied by the rebel movement, the “Mouvement Patriotique de Cote d’Ivoire (MPCI)”, later known as Forces Nouvelles De Cote d’Ivoire/ New Forces (FN), set up its headquarters in Bouake in the Northern Cote d’Ivoire and remobilized for an attack on the South. With the Government in the South with Abidjan it Capital. However, French troops intervened and halted this southward march.

While most fighting ended in 2004, the country was effectively split between north and south by a confidence zone" - set up by international peace keeping forces - between the rebels and government forces (United Nations 2009). The reconciliation process was not abided by and elections originally set for 2005 were pushed back several times until late 2010. The 2005-2010 was described as a “no war, no peace" situation characterized by uncertainty, severe disruptions of services and widespread small armed conflicts (McGovern 2011).

ECOWAS was very swift to condemn the mutiny in Cote d’Ivoire and offer its support to the democratically elected President Laurent Gbagbo, which is to show the commitment of the organization to ensure democratic practice and at the same time to be committed for peace and security in the West African region.

The Process of ECOWAS Mediation: An African Solution to an African Problem

Like most African conflicts, the Ivorian crisis has witnessed a plethora of international and internal negotiation processes aimed at arresting the conflict and shepherding peace. This section concentrates on ECOWAS mediation efforts to reach international and regional accords in order to solve the Ivorian conflict.

As the fighting erupted, ECOWAS and France took a proactive posture to end the conflict. Peace talks were hastily held in Accra, Lomé, and Paris. During the January 2003 Paris Conference, the belligerents signed the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement on the 24 January 2003, which is basically the framework upon which other negotiations attempt are contingent upon.

The Head of States and Government Summit and the Accra Accords

An extraordinary summit of ECOWAS Head of State and Government was convened in Accra (Ghana) on 29 September 2002. The summit named the Head of States and Government of Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Togo to constitute a High Level Contact Group to negotiate a peaceful end to the Conflict. The Group began its mediation efforts by meeting with President Gbagbo and the leaders of the MPCI in early October 2002. The group succeeds in early November with the Togolese President Eyadema as a facilitator of the peace process.

Under this Agreement, both parties reaffirmed their commitment to the ceasefire, refrain recruiting and using mercenaries, and children, respect human rights and preserve the territorial integrity of the country. The Government also agreed to submit to parliament a draft amnesty law involving the freeing of jailed members of the military, and the return and reintegration of soldiers in exile, etc.

ECOWAS on its part pledged the deployment of a buffer force from Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, and Togo to monitor the ceasefire, a role that was being played interim basis by French troops (ECOWAS Report, 16-22 December 2002:8-10).

These initial successes soon floundered because of the entrenched positions of the opponent sides, the inability of ECOWAS to speedily redeploy troops and the perceived rivalry been ECOWAS Chairman Wade of Senegal and Chief Eyadema. Thus, like in previous ECOWAS initiatives, intransigence on the part of the warring factions and lack of commitment and intra-community rivalry would protract the peace process (ECOWAS Report16--22 December 2002:8-10). It was under such circumstances that the French government took the wind at of ECOWAS sail and negotiates the Linas- Marcoussis Accord in January 2003.

Though Marcoussis Agreement offered a workable framework for moving towards peace and reconciliation in Cote d’Ivoire. Subsequent events have also proved that the French and ECOWAS initiatives were complementary. It was through the mediatory efforts of ECOWAS Chairman President John Kuffor of Ghana that the rough edges of the Marcoussis agreement were smoothened to ensure its implementation from March 2003. An ECOWAS force (ECOFORCE) with troops from Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, and Togo were in Cote d’Ivoire working side by side with French troops to maintain Peace and security (Alexander K.D. Frempong, 8-11 December 2003).

The Ouagadougou Peace Agreement- Direct talks: Path to Peace

Many elements contributed to the direct talks to take between belligerents, in this section we highlight the key ones.

Internal Dynamics

The Ouagadougou Agreement under the mediation of ECOWAS (with Blaise Compaore has facilitator) was hatched within this quagmire. Since its signing in March 2007 by the FPI government and FN, security has greatly improved and durable peace is in sight, despite implementation delays. The agreement was preceded by two key developments which altered the political calculus in Côte d’Ivoire. On one side there was a clear sense of war fatigue (after 5 years of belligerencies) among the masses and realization by the elite that outright military victory was elusive. On the other side the national public opinion as for peace put on both the rebels group and also the government a pressure. Those realities were echoed in conciliatory remarks by Laurent Gbagbo (President) and Soro Guillaume (leader of the MPCI rebel Movement).

The ECOWAS Mediator

In addition to the internal dynamics, there were shifts in the attitude of President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, who has been suspected of supporting the rebels. Blaise Compaore understood that peace in Côte d’Ivoire would ensure the flow of remittances to Burkina Faso and repair his tarnished image as a supporter of warlords. The combination of sense of vulnerability, war fatigue, lack of a clear path to military victory, and the shifting position of Burkina Faso provided fertile ground for compromise.

The Need for Direct Talks Between Belligerents

The Ouagadougou Peace Agreement was predicated on assumed mutual trust among the belligerents and the ECOWAS facilitator (Blaise compaore), a spirit of dialogue, and parity between the government and Force Nouvelles. This tacit understanding between Gbagbo and Soro was buttressed in the code of conduct provisions and generous amnesty covering offences relating to national security committed since 17 September 2000.The Ouagadougou Peace Agreement departed from the peace formula devised in the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement and marked a monumental shift in the peace process. In contrast to all the other agreements, the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement was spearheaded by Ivorians. As the agreement noted, Gbagbo personally asked President Compaore in January 2007 to facilitate direct talks between his government and the FN. Ayangafac Chrysantus (2007).

The Understanding of the Core Issue of the Conflict by the Belligerents

From the start, the belligerents acknowledged that ‘the identification of the Ivorian and foreign populations living in Côte d’Ivoire is a major concern. The absence of a clear and standard identity document and of individual administrative documents attesting to the identity and nationality of persons is a source of conflict.’ By recognizing this bare fact, Ivorian leaders demonstrated profound understanding and appreciation of the cause of the war. Most remarkably, the belligerents agreed that the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement should directly address the underlying citizenship issue. The Ouagadougou, Agreement therefore provided a mechanism for resolving the conflict over citizenship that was reasonable and consistent with Ivorian law.

The Outcome of the ECOWAS Mediation: The Achievements of the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement

The Ouagadougou Peace accords addressed different important point which was on the view of the both parties indispensable for the resolution of the conflict.

The Military and Confident Zone Issues

The Ouagadougou Peace Agreement under the mediation of The ECOWAS addressed the military issues that stalled the previous agreements and provided a mechanism for continuous dialogue. The belligerents agreed to restructure the two armed forces and set up an Integrated Command Structure under the joint command of the chief of staff of FANCI and chief of staff of FAFN. The integrated command was charged with disarming and reintegrating combatants, ensuring free movement of people and goods, and providing security. They agreed to remove the zones of confidence manned by French and UN peacekeepers, facilitate free movement across the country, and redeploy the administration in the north.

The Citizenship Issue

To resolve the citizenship issue, the protagonists agreed to provide credentials to all Ivorians who did not have proper documents and establish a reliable identification system. The Ouagadougou Peace Agreement provided a mechanism for resolving the conflict over citizenship that was reasonable and consistent with Ivorian law.

Monitoring of the Peace Agreement

The Peace agreement created two high-level bodies, the Permanent Consultation Framework (PCF) and the Evaluation and Monitoring Committee (EMC), to facilitate the continuation of direct talks. The PCF, comprised of Gbagbo, Soro, Ouattara, Bédié, and Compaore, is the organ of supervision and permanent dialogue. The EMC, which monitors implementation of the agreement, is comprised of the facilitator and three representatives each for the government and FN. The two parties could jointly extend membership to other Ivorian political forces. The facilitator could also invite observers and members of the international community. This framework for continuous dialogue has proved invaluable in adjusting the implementation schedule and keeping the agreement on track.

The Critical Peace Deal and the Ouagadougou Agreement

One critical element of the peace deal, not mentioned in the text of Ouagadougou Agreement, was the power-sharing arrangement between Gbagbo and Soro. Gbagbo nominated Soro to be Prime Minister shortly after signing the agreement. This arrangement not only satisfied the political egos of the two leaders, but also gave them considerable influence over the political future of the country. Gbagbo saved his presidency and gained a strong platform from which to launch another presidential bid. As a powerful Prime Minister, Soro has a strong position to shape the implementation of the agreement and deliver to northerners their citizenship documents. For Soro, this could be a vindication of the rebellion and a path to becoming a hero in the north (Ayangafac Chrysantus 2007).

ECOWAS was able to establish some kind of fragile peace in the country, and this mediation effort contributed to ensuring security and opened the way for the “free” and “trustworthy” election which took place in October 2010.

Analysis of the ECOWAS Mediation Success in Ivorian Conflict

Many observers perceive the ECOWAS mediation and the peace accords which started in Accra and end in Ouagadougou as a victory for insurgency grounded in the logic of war in Ivorian’s conflict. Different elements at different level played a key role in the success of this conflict resolution process.

On the National Level

First, the Rebels groups got a NATIONAL AMNISTY vote by the National Parliament which gives them incentives and a willing to engage in the ECOWAS mediation Process.

Second, on the national, there was a commitment to peace from both sides due to the war fatigue. There was trust between different parties and also a power sharing agreement between Gbagbo Laurent (President) and Soro Guillaume (Rebels Leader). The Agreement was also support by the civil society; the political opposition and the population in the country. A high level of Permanent Consultation Framework (PCF) which includes the two belligerents’ leaders, the most important political parties’ leaders and the mediator was created to sustain the Agreements. But more important is that the political opposition was not involved in the Ouagadougou negotiation process. This ECOWAS mediation process last for five (5) years and end up with the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement which was the beginning point of peace implementation process in the country.

On the Regional Level

On the regional level, there was the assistance of the African Union (AU) to support the Peace Agreements between belligerents. Moreover, their engagement of neighboring countries to find to solution of the conflict as it had a shadow or indirect effects on them both politically and economically due to the position of Cote d’Ivoire in the region.

On the International level

First, in the international level there was the implication of a superpower which is France with the Linas - Marcoussis Agreement signed in Paris in 2002, which was a framework agreement of the Ivorian conflict resolution process lead by the ECOWAS as a mediator.

Second, there was also the intervention of the international community with United Nations as its legal body to ensure peace and security in the country with the peace keeping operations.

Others Factors

Many other factors enhance the likelihood of success of the ECOWAS mediation lead by the Blaise Compaoré (President of Burkina Faso). The cultural similarities between parties and the mediator help him to understand the conflict and the parties unloved more deeply. The geographical proximity between the two countries increased the movement of population and created historical strong ties between both countries and families, moreover Cote d’Ivoire as the highest rate of inhabitants Burkinabe’s in the region. There is also a strong economic interdependence between the two countries. The target killing of the Burkinabe’s inhabitants in Cote d’Ivoire during the conflict raised the public opinion and the pressure of the opposition parties in Burkina against the president in order to solve the conflict a mediator.


Following a conflict mediation process that began in Accra, belligerents in the Ivoirian conflict decided to resolve their differences through direct dialogue. This brought to an end a mediation process that witnessed a synergy between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) in conflict resolution. On 4 March 2007, the armed resistance militia in the north and government signed the Ouagadougou political accord as a framework for addressing the key issues in the conflict under the mediation of the ECOWAS. This Ivorian case showed that a regional organization is more likely to solve regional interstate conflict with the support of the international community and the commitment of the parties engage in conflict. Therefore, the persistence of conflict in Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, and DRC has made Afro-pessimism fashionable. Moreover, it indicates Policy-makers, academia and the international community are still grappling how to prevent, manage and resolve African conflicts with little or no success. Consequently, a major enquiry facing Africa remains how to find a lasting solution to violent conflicts on the continent. Fundamentally, this challenge imposes an urgent need for a conceptual understanding of the origins, recurrence and persistence of African conflicts.

Indeed, from a contextual and theoretical perspective, the general focus of conflict management and resolution debate has become pre-occupied with armed conflict. Though warranted because of its excruciating impact on human lives poverty and development (human security)-they tend to overlook the low profile and simmering conflict over resources and exclusion. As a consequence, conflict resolution should be addressing the structural causes of conflict rather than immediate causes which are merely a result of structural decay in the society; after all prevention is better than cure. On a policy level this calls for greater attention to early warning signals rather than waiting for conflict to explode.


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Mr. Dramane Ouattara holds a B.A in Management Sciences and a Master’s Degree in Economics at the University of Abidjan, he has also a Master of Sciences (MSc.) in Statistics from National School of Statistics and Applied Economics (Cote d’Ivoire). In 2013, Mr. Dramane Ouattara received the University of Haifa (Israel) Presidential Merit Scholarship where he completed a Master of Arts Degree (MA) in Peace and Conflict Management Studies. He is a current PhD Candidate at UPEACE (Department of Peace & Conflict Studies), his PhD topic is related to Electoral Engineering and Political Reconciliation in Post Conflict Society. In 2010, Mr. Dramane Ouattara received SPLAR Foundation (USA) Gold Medal of Honor for his contribution to Humanitarian services in West Africa. He speaks fluently both French and English, basic Spanish and Hebrew.