ECOWAS Intervenes in the Mali Conflict

Alassane Ouattara, president of the Ivory Coast and chairman of ECOWAS, on the organization’s next steps

16/01/2013 | 18:00 - 19:30 | DGAP Rauchstr. 17 Berlin 10787 Berlin | Invitation only


Category: West Africa, Security

Following a meeting with the German government in Berlin on Wednesday, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara spoke at the DGAP on his country’s role in the West African economic community and in resolving the conflict in neighboring Mali. The surprising advance of Islamist rebels over the past few weeks has torpedoed international plans to deal with the crisis. French intervention was the only way to stop the rebels. ECOWAS will now try to begin their planned operation this week.


“We were not at all surprised by the insurgent activity. ECOWAS countries have already been training for a possible military operation in Mali for two months,” said Ouattara. Directly after the Islamist attacks, ECOWAS decided to intervene. After only a few days, African troops are now ready for action, with up to 3,300 soldiers slated to take part. The UN Security Council gave the green light for an “African International Support Mission in Mali” (AFISMA) on December 20 with the passage of Resolution 2085.

Ouattara welcomed the quick action by French troops within this framework. He personally asked French President Hollande for help several times. It was ultimately a matter of preventing the rebels from reaching the Malian capital Bamako at all costs. The country’s poorly equipped army was unable to put up much resistance to such an advance last week.

Ouattara emphasized the conflict’s international importance: “The occupation of the northern part of the country threatens not only Mali, but all of Africa and the entire community of states.” It is in the international community’s common interest not to allow the formation of an uncontrolled haven for terrorists. But the intervention does not only aim to push back the terrorists, but rather to fully restore the integrity of the Malian state. It should also help quickly improve the humanitarian situation for the large number of refugees. And the ambitious timetable laid out by Ouattara includes plans for democratic elections to be held by June.

German Aid Requested

In light of the escalation of the situation in the country and on the occasion of President Alassane Ouattara’s visit to Germany, the German government announced its own contribution to support the Mali mission. The Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (World Hunger Aid) will receive one million euros to help improve the humanitarian situation. In addition, the Bundeswehr will assist ECOWAS with two transport airplanes to bring their troops to conflict areas.

Ouattara emphatically thanked the federal government in Berlin. The details of the operation are now being worked out. German Transall C-160 planes could pick up African troops in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast, and bring them to Bamako – or even closer to conflict areas via Mali’s other airfields. He also envisioned the possibility of other German forces joining the operation.

The European Union is also deliberating its own engagement in the conflict. Brussels is focusing on accelerating the agreed-upon strategy. The EU wants to support the Malian army with 300 military advisors, as evidenced by its approval of an operational plan for a training mission this past December. 

The Economic Community of West African States

Ouattara started dealing with the crisis in Mali directly following his inauguration as ECOWAS chairman in February 2012. A coup took place in March, which resulted in the Malian central government losing wide areas of the country to separatists and terrorists. Solving the conflict in this member state continues to be the most important priority on ECOWAS’s agenda.

Regional stabilization would serve the Community’s goal of establishing a “West African Electoral Commission” in order to review elections in member and neighbor states (as is planned in Mali), thereby strengthening democracy. Other central problems that Africans hope to tackle together are the issues of child soldiers and the consequences of immense population growth – the continent’s population is expected to double to 2 billion people by 2050. It is important to be able to offer this predominantly young section of society suitable employment opportunities.

The Community of 15 West African states, which was founded in 1975, hopes to continue their integration. The average economic growth rate of five percent is still rising. The hope is that this rising wealth will be distributed equally. Overall, Ouattara drew a picture of Africa as a continent on the rise. Even democracy and human rights are steadily improving. The logical consequence of Africa’s growing importance is appropriate representation in international organizations, including a permanent seat for Africa at the UN Security Council. “Africa will contribute to making the world a more peaceful place,” said Ouattara.