Advancing our Institutions: Reflections on ECOWAS

14 December, 2021

Jesugo Felix Koonou

This piece of article reflects on assessing the current state of our institutions and the transformative changes that can be envisioned at both individual and institutional levels based on what we have learned throughout our educational journey at the executive MA degree at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS). We tried to cover and synthesise what we have learned during four weeks and how that can be leveraged to bring about institutional transformation.

The current essay, which is the compilation of the weekly reflections, focused on the aspects mentioned above, will address the recommendations for change, tackle the individual reflections on change, and the SWOT analysis for our institutions before submitting an improvement project.

I. Recommendations for Change in our Respective Institutions.

As director of operations at Army Headquarters, security and peace support operations constitute an important part of my current job position. I am involved in our troops’ training and deployment phases on the ground in different places on our continent to maintain or enforce peace. While joining IPSS, I was confident that the knowledge and tools I will acquire in peace and security understanding would strongly impact my work output. In addition, I hoped that the ground and conflict managing experience of the fellow students would enhance my ability to deal with conflicts in my future engagements in conflicts theatres.

So, what has changed since then?

First of all, I will confirm that I significantly improved my knowledge of conflicts and crises discussed. Of course, as soldiers, we are more concerned about the cessation of hostilities or violence, but I found out that there is a lot more. Also, there are many actors and organisations involved in conflict theatre. I got from the course a better understanding of them, their positions, interests, motivations, and these are all tools that will serve to improve my way of cooperating with them.

Besides that, I got many tools and skills. Just to mention a very few, the early warning process and functioning and the mediation and negotiation tools. Like at every step of the course, the shared experience has helped confront and challenge my knowledge. Of course, we do get trained on mediation and negotiation, and sometimes we conduct or take part in such processes on the ground, but the course has deepened my knowledge.

So, I gained knowledge for my daily work and routine. It has impacted how I write my different reports, and I’m trying to push for some changes in the way we plan and conduct training, especially peace and security-oriented training. Some recommendations are outlined to make this happen:

Benin Armed Forces and especially Benin Army should :

  • Increase the participation rate of women in peace support operations to ensure gender balance and diversity. This can be explained by the great role women play in the communities, the cost of the conflicts supported by them and the women role’s impact on the efficiency of the missions;
  • Build infrastructures or training grounds that allow soldiers to better adapt to the areas where they are projected. Right now, we just have a standard on which they are trained for all the theatres, so there is a need to diversify. There is a common motto saying: “Train as you fight and fight as you train”;
  • Widen the range of training activities for our peacekeeping units concerning the capacities required on the ground since the questions addressed by the mandate are getting larger;
  • During the pre-deployment training, strengthen contingents’ members and staff officers’ skills in protecting civilians. It starts with the improvement of their knowledge on that issue and includes preventing the threats of physical violence against civilians;
  • Improve the good practices and learned lessons sharing process through the whole cycle of peace operations in view of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the theatres of the different conflicts.

The MPSA program aligns with my professional profile. The course has prompted so many personal reflections from which I will just mention some :

  • From my learning experience, I think that effort should be put on prevention to spare lives, save money;
  • There is a crucial need to rethink the whole concept of African solutions, or African made solutions. The African continent must free itself from the culture of dependence. How will we (African) be able to control the peace and security management since we are not those putting the needed resources ?;
  • African states should be more involved in the development of peace support missions deployed on the continent and work to allow a certain match between the current mandate and the security context of the theatres;
  • Since there is always a gap between resources allocated and objectives, it is important to redefine the priorities;
  • Our national armies must be sufficiently trained and equipped to face present and future threats (integrate new forms of threats and review the training and equipment policy);

I will conclude this block with my major concern: how the early warning as an information collection tool may help improve the armed forces campaign planning process. Implementing this will bring more efficiency and effectiveness.

The above reflections are primarily general. Those I will make next will be more focused on my institution.

II. Individual reflections on what to continue, change or start afresh in our respective institutions.

My work currently covers these domains: operations planning and training. Concerning the two mentioned, the MPSA course has a significant impact on them. So the question to answer is: what to continue, change or initiate in the planning and conduct of training, especially peace support operations training?

The training cycle includes many steps: the instructors gathering, the trainees gathering, the different tests (fitness, medical, etc.) and the training itself, which is concluded by the final drill exercise with a scenario based on the situation in the deployment zone.  Troops and staff are trained before and during their deployment. At first, instructors gather for retraining. They go through the different topics of the course to update their knowledge. During the stay in training camp, United Nations experts come over to check the combat readiness of the units. In addition to that PSO, modules have been integrated into regular training conducted in our main army centres and schools. Till now, I can say that the implemented process briefly described above is pretty much ok.

Although there is still room for improvement, some changes need to be brought in. At first, the way we select the contingent members, they come from many different units, so the contingent lacks homogeneity. On this aspect, progress has been made. The number of battalions targeted to select soldiers has been reduced. Still, we need to continue working on that issue because people achieve cohesiveness quickly when they are from the same workplace or work together. The time spent in training camp needs to be extended.  About the training itself, it should be enhanced and diversified.  As previously said, the trainees’ knowledge of the crisis, conflicts need to be deepened. Also, they need to be more familiar with the environment where they will be deployed by getting a better understanding of the main actors working beside them. In addition, the civilian’s protection and especially the children and women protection aspect should be enhanced. The sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) training will be intensified. Instead of being an accumulation of the “don’t”, it will try to make the trainees more responsible by focusing them on the “why to not to” or how their behaviour can affect the local population and its mission.

At the headquarters level, the synergy between operations and logistics and between army headquarters and defence headquarters should be increased. The gender balance issue or the ways to increase the rate of women participation will be discussed at the top level and framed in a strategy. Due to the cultural barriers, we don’t yet deploy them in front units or combat situations, but they need to serve in other areas. Some important decisions will be taken at the political level to boost the ongoing reform.

Logistics play a huge role in making operations more effective and efficient. The required equipment and tools should be available for the units serving in crisis zones and back home.  For example, last year, we got a position (a battalion position) in the Central Africa Republic. Still, we are failing because the equipment bought didn’t fit the United Nations conditions for this mission.

Beyond the PSO domain, it is our training system that needs to be reviewed holistically. Since prevention is the key, our units need to be prepared to prevent our territories from the spillover effect of the surrounding countries’ threats.

Lastly, what to initiate?

There is a crucial need for officers in the planning domain. Therefore, more and more staff officers will be scheduled for campaign planning training at both headquarters and battalions to get the appropriate tools.

In our units, especially the border ones and those deployed abroad, counter-terrorism modules need to be taught. They will help them to be more familiar with the current and future threats. Considering what is going on in Mali for some years, a place we send a contingent, it is necessary to complete the given training. Many people have been trained in these modules inside and also abroad. The next step is to put them in a situation to train their platoons, companies, etc.

Within my direction, I will continue to share with colleagues what I have learned at IPSS. For example, during our legislative elections crisis, I gather some colleagues and friends to work on an early warning report related to the situation. It was in May of this year, and we had done the same at IPSS some weeks before. The issues to tackle are too many, but I will need support from colleagues and seniors or superiors to start. People convinced by what I am sharing about IPSS will for sure be of great help.

That been said, I will move forward with the SWOT analysis of my institution and the scope for changes.

III. SWOT Analysis on our Institutions and scope for changes.

This block is about the SWOT analysis and scope for changes for our institutions. It was supposed to be preceded by groups’ discussions. But it happened that the created “Armed Forces” Group didn’t function. This is why I ended up joining the RECs group, so the following analysis is focused on ECOWAS instead of my institution.

3.1   ECOWAS  SWOT Analysis


  • Economic union (pooling of  resources);
  • Functions as a security union (joint efforts in the fight against terrorism, for example, / September 2019 Ouagadugu Summit Resolution);
  • Joint projects for the union (For example, Corridor Abidjan – Lagos);
  • Freedom of movement (people and goods / for example, implementation of the brown ID card);

Concerning ECOWAS Standby Force (ECOBRIG):

  • The headquarters and the Joint task Force are operational;
  • The multidisciplinary contingents are available in the different countries.



  • Lack of common currency (but the process is on the way);
  • The porosity of the borders;
  • Inequity in the repartition of Member States contributions;
  • Difficulty to contribute for some Member States;
  • Unilateral decisions made by regional powers (some Members States behave as hegemon);
  • Heavily dependent on partners (primarily for funding);
  • No common passport, common visa yet (but the process is on the way);

Concerning ECOWAS Standby Force (ECOBRIG):

  • Some Member States don’t respect the commitments made (in number of troops or capacities of contingents);
  • Lack of interoperability;
  • No common doctrine in the fight against terrorism (it makes the fight inefficient, so the threat is continuously spreading in the region);
  • The Navy Component is not well developed;
  • Lack of air assets for most of the Member States (no autonomy in air transport);
  • Rely on partners to fund the missions;
  • On the Intelligence branch, the technical assets (drones, sensors, …….) are managed by partners.



  • Common market (goods are supposed to be sold in priority to the Member States);
  • Coordination with sister RECs and African Union;
  • Dense and mostly young population (More than 50% of the region’s population are under 19 and Nigeria’s population is over 200 million);



  • Attempt to enter from countries which don’t belong to its geographic space (Morocco, Tunisia,…..);
  • The multiplicity of development and security organisations within the same region or geographic space (G5 Sahel, MNJTF Lake Chad Basin, Accra Initiative, etc..). Most of these organisations rely on the same partners for funding.


3.2   Scope  for  changes

  • Reinforce the legal/normative frameworks;
  • Capacity building (financial, human and technological);
  • Strengthen coordination with other RECs, AU, other international actors as well as internally;
  • Raise citizens’ engagement, awareness, and ownership of ECOWAS activities.

The above analysis and scope for changes give a clear and whole picture of ECOWAS. The project proposed below was supposed to consider the proposed changes to address some of the weaknesses. But it is important to mention that it is related to my institution.


IV. Planning for improvement projects.

My proposed project is organising a seminar that will gather local actors and foreign experts on PSO deployments. I am confident that it will help solve the problems faced by our deployed units and raise the reimbursement rate for my country if it succeeds.


4.1   Title / theme

The organisation of a three days seminar on Peace Support Operations (PSO).


        4.2   Background / Justification

To honour its international commitments, Benin has for several years been deploying its military units in peace support missions at the sub-regional, continental level and mainly those led by the United Nations. Participation in these missions is an important opportunity for Benin as a State and deployed personnel.

However, in recent years, significant losses have been recorded by the country. Therefore, it becomes necessary to ripen together the reflections to alleviate this situation which becomes detrimental to the State.

The planned seminar intends to bring together the main actors at the national level involved in the chain of PSOs and ECOWAS countries’ experts to address the issues by proposals and recommendations based on past experiences and success stories.


      4.3   Objectives


  • Identify the weaknesses of our deployment and sustainment system;
  • Identify the gaps between the implemented training and the given mandates;
  • Explore avenues for the country to make the maximum benefit of its participation in PSOs;
  • Formulate proposals and recommendations based on past experiences and some success stories.


4.4. Details about the Project

The organisation of this seminar is motivated by the reduction of the reimbursement rate of the PSOs and the gaps between the training and the given mandates registered by the country and its Armed Forces. Therefore, it represents an important initiative.

Four main communications will be presented, and open debates and panel discussions will follow each one:

  • Communication 1: Operational management of the PSOs;
  • Communication 2: Logistics management of missions’ theatres;
  • Communication 3: Financial management of the PSOs;
  • Communication 4: Contingents Owned Equipment (COE) and refund system.


4.5. SWOT Analysis


  • Experts gathering;
  • The quality of the participants (local actors from (Armed Forces, Defense Ministry, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Health Ministry, Finance and Economy Ministry, etc.) and experts from ECOWAS countries);
  • The high level of the discussions and the reflections;
  • The scheduled communications which will shed light on the different aspects of the PSOs (deployment, training, logistics, etc.);


Weaknesses / Difficulties

  • Limited resources (financial, logistic) which may mitigate the organisation of the seminar (its duration and number of delegates);
  • No decision-making power related to the seminar itself;
  • Lack of capacity to assure follow up of the proposals and recommendations.



  • Benefit from the PSOs success stories of the countries invited;
  • Contribute to the increase of the revenues of the PSOs.



  • Delay in the implementation of the recommendations or non-respect of the timing;
  • Not taking into account recommendations made.


  • Expected outcomes

On operational aspect

  • Improving the quality of pre-deployment (tactical and technical) training of  PSOs;
  • Establishment of a pre-deployment assessment system by the Defense Headquarters;
  • Increase rigour in the designation of the personnel to be deployed in PSOs.

On Logistics Aspect

  • Improved maintenance capabilities on deployed equipment;
  • Strengthening the capacity for transporting material resources and equipment from home to missions’ theatres;
  • Increase of funds allocated to the maintenance of equipment deployed;
  • Acquisition of new equipment for PSOs;
  • Homogenisation of equipment deployed on the different missions’ theatres (buying from the same country or the same dealer).


In all, the IPSS course represents an opportunity that can help initiate changes within our institutions besides those it has brought on our capacities. But we are aware that changes are difficult to make. In my work, we have different training types for our staff, which enter the capacities building process. So IPSS course will work alongside the other modules taken to make the expected changes come to reality. It won’t be as quick as wanted, but step by step, the situation will improve. The challenges that we are facing are too many. There are some ongoing reforms. This trend needs to be continued and strengthened to produce sustainable effects. The recommendations, reflections, and proposals may serve as a departure for a broader reflection to address all the issues. Also, the proposed project, if supported, will tackle an important aspect and will be an important step forward.

Otherwise, if the necessary changes are not made, the institution performance and achievements will be negatively impacted. We are in the business of “saving lives”, and we use to say, “sweat in training saves blood in battle”.