Rethinking Civil Society Regionalism in Africa
: Critical Reflections on West Africa

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

From the 1990s onward, there have been dynamic changes in regional integration in West Africa. These changes were different from those anticipated in the framework of the Treaty of Lagos that established the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in May 1975. ECOWAS revised its treaty in 1993 and expanded its governance organs to include the ECOWAS Court of Justice and ECOWAS Parliament and a provision that encourages ECOWAS citizens to promote integration-related activities in the region. It was also in this period that ECOWAS had to engage in peacekeeping and responded to civil wars and violent conflicts within its Mano River Region. While some of these issues have commanded attention in the wider literature, the regional dynamics of civil society organisations in West Africa is one key neglected aspect of these changes that have been overlooked in the mainstream literature. Whether one looks at these dynamics from regional security, regional integration, or regionalism discourses generally, civil society movements at the regional levels also manifested in these post-Cold War or post-1990s phenomena of regionalisms in West Africa and are currently begging for serious attention. It is from this perspective that this project interrogates the extent to which regional civil society organisations have evolved to act in regionalist activities in West Africa.

The main activities which this thesis examines are two prominent areas that are championed by two leading civil society organisations in West Africa. The first is the quest for civil society democratic participation in regional integration championed by the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF). The second area is civil society involvement in regionalism of peacebuilding in West Africa championed by the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP). While the study was preliminarily informed by observations, it also critically engaged the wider regionalism literature through which a New Regionalism Approach was discovered. Although the New Regionalism Approach recognises civil society as an actor, it lacks a clear framework that specifies civil society actorship on the regional level. Moving beyond the functional typology of civil society actors as ‘partner’, ‘legitimiser’, ‘counter-hegemonic’ and ‘manipulator’, this thesis develops four analytical concepts used to understand the extent to which WACSOF and WANEP have evolved as actors within their respective areas in regional integration in West Africa.

Methodologically, the study employs qualitative techniques. It combines both primary and secondary data that provides a historical context that affirms the centrality of the agency of the West African people in the pre-colonial movement of Pan-Africanism and its manifestation in the regional institutions in Africa such as ECOWAS. The lessons from the evolution of the two case studies draw attention to WANEP as being regionally active and has contributed to reshaping regionalism of peacebuilding in West Africa. WACSOF, on the other hand, has striven over the years to emerge as a regionally active and credible civil society voice in regional integration in West Africa. However, WACSOF has been bedevilled by identity crises with a weak capacity in the region. This has led to an ongoing call to revive WACSOF to take its rightful place in West Africa. While WANEP and WACSOF have evolved as regional civil society actors in their own rights, one cannot overlook the role of regional identities of the two organisations and how they were formed to appreciate their respective standing presently in the region.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorCameron Ross (Supervisor) & Kurt Mills (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Regional civil society
  • Comparative regionalism
  • Africa
  • ECOWAS
  • West Africa
  • Peacebuilding
  • Regional governance
  • Human Security
  • Democratic participation
  • Critical Approach
  • Regional identity
  • Reflectivist Constructivism

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