ACCRA, Ghana – A forum of National Security Advisors of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is underway in Accra to strategise and devise appropriate responses to existing and emerging security threats in the West African Sub-region.
The two-day forum follows an endorsement by the ECOWAS Authority of Head of States and Governments at its 60th Ordinary Session in Accra for the creation of a permanent Forum of West African National Security Advisors to enhance the optimisation of synergies among the various security, defence and intelligence agencies across the ECOWAS region.
It is on the theme: “Enhancing Rapid and Appropriate Regional Responses to Emerging Security Threat in West Africa: Bridging the Gaps between Early Warning and Early Response.”
The forum, being attended by eleven National Security Advisors out of the 12 active members of ECOWAS, would facilitate swift and appropriate responses to the existing and emerging threats within the sub-region.
The ECOWAS Forum of National Security Advisors serves as an advisory body to the Mediation and Security Council on issues of regional security in line with the 1999 Protocol establishing the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, management, Peacekeeping, and Security.
The Forum will examine models of regional cooperation and coordination in security and intelligence among ECOWAS countries in response to cross-border crimes, including terrorism.
It comes on the back of recent coup d'Ètats in the West African Sub-Region and increasing terrorist and violent extremist attacks, with the potential of undermining the regional integration process.
In the span of 18 months, three successful coups have been recorded with one attempted but failed military takeover.
Mr Dominic Nitiwul, Minister for Defence, speaking at the opening ceremony of the forum, said West Africa faced a complex array of security challenges, including violent extremism and terrorism, transnational organised crime, maritime security threats, cybersecurity risk and public health emergencies affecting the well-being and survival of citizens, societies, and states.
He said the activities of Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates had become pervasive in the Region, adding that the security situation in the sub-region had gradually deteriorated within the past years with terrorist activities causing enormous havoc within the sub-region.
“Many lives have been lost. Millions of people are internally displaced, schools are closed, markets and health facilities have become inaccessible to many people, particularly in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger,” he said.
Even more worrisome, the Defence Minister said, was the recent spate of military coups in three countries in the Region and another failed one, and that it was perilous to the shared values of freedom, democracy and rule of law, and the vision of free and open society.
“We have no choice whatsoever, but to embark on concerted action to reverse this gloomy situation,” he stressed.
Mr Nitiwul called on the ECOWAS advisory body to develop appropriate strategies, which would support existing mechanisms to improve the security of the sub-region.
He observed that anticipating those threats and promoting an integrated and comprehensive agenda to make the regional body more adaptive and responsive had become increasingly critical, necessitating a discussion on the role of the ECOWAS Forum of national Security advisors within ECOWAS Peace and Security Architecture and its relation to regional and security structure.
General Francis Boniface Behanzin Awagbe, an ECOWAS Security Representative, assured of the commitment of the sub-regional body to dealing with the emerging regional security threats facing member states of ECOWAS and West Africa.
He said steps were being taken to respond to the security threats and their implications for regional security and stability and admitted that the lack of coordination, sharing of intelligence remained a major challenge in the fight against terrorism.
Present at the opening of the forum were Madam Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration; Brigadier General Emmanuel Okyere (Rtd), Ghana's National Security Advisor; Vice Admiral Seth Amoama, Chief of Defence Staff; Dr Luka Biong Deng Kuol, Dean of Academic Affairs, National Defense University, Washington, DC, among other security chiefs and experts from the sub-region.
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