Lamine Cissé, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Republic of Senegal

Moderator: Dane F. Smith, Former Ambassador to Senegal

In a presentation at the Africa Program, Senegalese General Lamine Cisse delivered his view of the role of West African nations in promoting regional stability. As moderator Dane F. Smith noted in introducing General Cisse, West Africa is unique in the level of interstate cooperation aimed at conflict resolution and stabilizing the region. As one of the architects of the framework for military cooperation among members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), General Cissé argued that physical insecurity remains a major obstacle to economic growth.

From an economic perspective, West Africa relies heavily on commodity exports to Europe and America, foreign aid and loans, which leave the region continually dependent on the First World. Furthermore, only 8 of the 15 ECOWAS states share a common currency, the CFA, and these states only account for 35% of the region's GDP and 30% of the population. In order to meet these challenges, West African nations must continue to integrate economically and politically. However, while sub-regional integration can diminish external dependence and stimulate economic growth, no progress can be made without political stability and physical security. Thus the recent disturbances in Guinea-Bissau, as well as ongoing tumult in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire must be seen not only as zones of insecurity, but as major impediments to economic progress for the entire sub-region.

General Cisse cited several examples of West African initiatives to combat sub-regional insecurity, especially the regional moratorium on small arms and light weapons sales. While not mandatory, the agreement demonstrates positive will by ECOWAS leaders to cooperate in the effort to secure peace and stability. He also noted the general trend toward closer formal military cooperation; ECOWAS first signed a Non-Aggression Pact in 1978, then a Mutual Defense Pact in 1981 and is now preparing a unified military unit to intervene in both interstate and intrastate conflict.

However, according to General Cisse, it is doubtful that there will be much progress towards sub-regional economic integration in the near future. The magnitude of several crises facing West Africa makes interstate cooperation crucial, but also makes sub-regional integration unlikely in the short-term. Staggering debt payments, deteriorating terms of trade in the commodities markets (especially cotton), and instability in Cote d'Ivoire, which accounts for 43% of the GNP of the CFA zone, all are interfering with the sub-region's integrative potential.

In the question and answer period that followed, audience members focused their questions on the relationship between ECOWAS and international organizations such as the U.N., the World Bank and the IMF, as well as the United States. General Cissé argued that the U.N. served an important role in supporting regional organizations in peacebuilding efforts and in facilitating cooperation between other organization such as the World Bank and IMF. He also suggested that Western nations, including the U.S., could support ECOWAS efforts by expanding military training programs to include rank-and-file soldiers as well as officers, either directly through their militaries, or through hired trainers.

Other questions focused on Cissé's impressions of political developments in individual West African nations. Cissé cited poor governance in Guinea-Conakry and Guinea-Bissau as impeding economic growth. He praised greater collaboration between Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration efforts in Liberia and the Ivory Coast, and doubted whether bringing former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor before a war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone would be worth the chaos that would likely ensue in Liberia. He was optimistic about progress towards ending a 22-year separatist insurrection in southern Senegal, but accused the current Senegalese leadership of not having a peace plan when they came to power, setting the peace process back several years.

The full text of General Cissé's presentation will be posted to the Africa Program website shortly.

Mike Jobbins, Africa Program Assistant ext. 4158
Howard Wolpe, Director