Contesting relations, ordering by and of space

Despite considerable efforts of actors at ECOWAS and the AU to engage other regional and international actors strategically, seeking to mobilize material and political support for their interventions and to position themselves vis-à-vis others, these relations have been and continue to be very much contested. In this, conflict intervention has included moments when such contestation becomes particularly intense and visible. In the following, I argue that contestation has occurred when and where different agendas and political projects have intersected. Moreover, I argue that conflictive interactions, guided by particular spatial imaginations (Chapter 5), have also directly related to the ordering by space - using ‘space’ as an argument - and of space - aiming to establish a specific spatial order.

To explain that argument in more detail and to substantiate it empirically, this section analyzes the complex interaction among the different ROs intervening in Guinea-Bissau. In particular, it highlights three constellations of actors and spatial objectives or arguments: (i) efforts by ECOWAS and CPLP actors to spatially de/legitimize their respective interventions; (ii) the contestation and negotiation of the spatial organization of APSA around the concept of ‘subsidiarity’ between ECOWAS and AU actors; and (iii) the role of EU actors in formatting and ordering space in West/Africa.

Important to note at this point is that - although employing a different terminology and not all pursuing a central interest in ‘space’ - some aspects of the following have also been observed by other scholars studying different examples. For example, reflecting on subsequent regional and international peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic, Welz (2016) analyzes the complex interactions between the Economic Community of Central African States, the AU and EU, shifting back and forth between cooperation and competition. Explicitly adopting a spatial perspective, Döring (2018) has studied the intense negotiations and contestations among ECOWAS, AU and EU actors (and others) surrounding interventions in response to the 2012 coup d’état in Mali, in particular the deployment of military forces through different competing frameworks (see also Döring 2019). Less concerned with space, instead focusing on contested political orders, Witt (2020) has studied the competitive interactions of actors at the South African Development Community, the Indian Ocean Commission, the AU and the EU to return Madagascar to constitutional order following the coup d’état in 2009.

In this context, the following analysis pursues the double objective of contributing a new empirical example to that literature as well as a new analytical and theoretical perspective that allows making sense of complex intervention settings, pointing to the central importance of ‘space’ therein.

Spatial delegitimization of conflict intervention

A key strategy of different intervening regional actors in West Africa has been to construct the legitimacy of their intervention in spatial terms or to delegitimize interventions by others spatially. Most obviously, this has related to spatial imaginations linked to specific security concerns (see Chapter 5), resulting in the securitization of specific spaces (e.g., ‘Guinea-Bissau’, ‘West Africa’, the ‘Sahel’). However, it has also played an important role in the contestation and negotiation of relations between different intervening actors. In the example of Guinea-Bissau, the interaction between representatives of ECOWAS and the CPLP provides a particularly illustrative example of this strategy.

In 1998, two years after its creation, the CPLP (and specifically the foreign ministers of Portugal and Angola) started to engage in the war in Guinea-Bissau. At this point, actors at the CPLP were looking for a raison d’etre and sought to raise the organization’s international profile. Peacebuilding in Guinea-Bissau presented itself as an opportunity to do so (MacQueen 2003). However, after what appeared as initial success, ECOWAS actors quickly reacted to the involvement of the CPLP, increasingly pushing it aside and eventually deploying a military peacekeeping mission (i.e., ECOMOG III) (MacQueen 2003).28 Ever since that time, actors at ECOWAS and the CPLP have variably competed or cooperated to varying degrees during the various crises in Guinea-Bissau.29 Most visibly, this resulted in the process leading to the signing of the ECOWAS-CPLP-Guinea-Bissau DSSR Road Map in 2009/10. Since that time, both have tried to bring a technical-military mission into the country, against the strong opposition of the national armed forces (e.g., Herpolsheimer 2014, 53-4; see also ARB 2010).

Although the governments of Portugal and Brazil, in this context, are the more obvious actors, especially in more recent times, the Angolan government has also capitalized on imaginations of a ‘Lusophone space’ trying to gain a foothold in Guinea-Bissau, and West Africa more widely.30 In early 2011, the Angolan government deployed a military-technical mission (MISSANG) officially to support national SSR efforts. However, there have been various speculations about the unofficial reasons behind that mission, creating serious tensions, and eventually leading to the withdrawal of the mission two months after the coup in April 2012.31 Legally, the deployment of MISSANG was based on bilateral agreements between the governments of Angola and Guinea-Bissau. Interestingly, the Angolans nevertheless framed their mission in spatial terms. Whether to get approval or just to inform them, when Angolan state representatives turned to the AU PSC, they justified MISSANG as a ‘CPLP mission’, with the objective to help a fellow member of the Lusophone region.32

The mission was not well received, neither by the military of Guinea-Bissau nor by several West African heads of state. In particular, the presidents of Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal saw the Angolan involvement as a direct interference in their ‘own’ space, affecting their national and regional interests (ICG 2012; Kohl 2013). Just to give a brief indication: the Nigerian leadership saw its regional hegemonic aspirations threatened. President Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire still remembered that the Angolans had supported his opponent, then-President Gbagbo, in the violent clashes following the 2010 elections (cf. ICG 2012; Kohl 2013). Last, the Senegalese government, on the one hand, was concerned over the implications for its fight to end conflict in the Casamance. On the other, it opposed Angolan business activities around bauxite mining, aiming to build a deep-water port in Guinea-Bissau’s Buba and a railway linking it to Bamako. These infrastructure projects would have posed a direct threat to Senegalese economic interests, potentially disrupting, changing and thus re-spatializing sub-regional economic flows and power relations (e.g., diverting trade from the port of Dakar)?3

What is interesting is how West African heads of state and foreign ministers framed their response to the ‘external intrusion’ by the Angolans, coming ‘all the way’ from Southern Africa and projecting their power way beyond their ‘own’ regional space?4 First, they framed their response in regional terms, mobilizing ‘ECOWAS’, before they turned to the African Union, arguing that ‘CPLP’ was not part of ‘APSA’. Since APSA had to be applied, it was for ECOWAS to deal with the situation in Guinea-Bissau and, consequently, the Angolan mission had to leave. Eventually, AU actors concurred with that position and Angolan troops had to withdraw?5 The ECOWAS Authority quickly sent in ECOMIB to replace MISSANG, with troops from Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo, and without waiting for approval or a mandate either from the AU Peace and Security Council or from the UN Security Council. While this move meant to manage conflict in Guinea-Bissau, it also aimed to pre-empt a more multilateral CPLP deployment, under consideration at the time (IRIN 2012; Security Council Report 2012b).

These considerations show how different actors, on the one hand, have imagined what they believe to be their space of influence and have taken action to assert it. On the other, it shows how they have used spatial references to enable and justify their actions, and to pursue specific interests and agendas.

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