The Cotonou Accord is, without doubt, the most comprehensive accord signed on Liberia, and all the subsequent agreements merely clarify or amend it. Its 19 articles cover ceasefire, disarmament, demobilisation, the structure of transitional government, election modalities, repatriation of refugees and a general amnesty. It was facilitated by ECOWAS in collaboration with the United Nations and the organisation of African Unity (OAU). It was signed by IGNU, ULIMO, and the NPFL, whose military set-backs had forced their return to the negotiating table.
The Cotonou agreement marks a major watershed in ECOWAS diplomacy for a number of reasons. Firstly, it represents the end of the era in which factions signed accords merely as half-hearted or duplicitous responses to external pressure. With the Cotonou Accord, the peace process began to focus more specifically on the relationships and interests of the factions themselves, and hence acquired a much more `Liberian' character. Secondly, it heralded a new stage in the peace process in which Liberian politics came to be dominated by the armed factions. For all intents and purposes, the civil state was ushered towards retirement at Cotonou as ECOWAS sought to institute a power-sharing regime which was genuinely inclusive of all armed interests. Thirdly, while previous agreements had made ECOMOG the sole executor of the peace process, the Cotonou Accord recast the role of the force in recognition of its questionable neutrality. It stipulated first that ECOMOG be expanded to include troops from outside West Africa, and second that it operate in close association with a United Nations Observer Mission (UNOMIL). Taken together, these developments represent an unequivocal effort on the part of ECOWAS to allay the fears of the factions and to accommodate their aspirations within the peace process.
By March 1994, the Cotonou Accord appeared to be showing a degree of promise. The Council of State, the legislative assembly and the supreme court of the LNTG were all installed, and symbolic encampment and demobilisation had commenced. However, the logistics of implementation had already begun to lay bare the deficiencies of the accord.
The peace formula adopted at Cotonou disarmament - resettlement - election did not have an impressive record, having failed woefully in Angola and Cambodia. Only in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia in 1980 had the approach been successful. This was due partly to the willingness and capacity of regional powers to secure compliance from their clients, and partly because forces receiving the incoming Patriotic Front combatants had all arrived at their designated bases according to schedule. These success criteria did not hold for Liberia. On the one hand, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria would or could not wield the requisite influence over the NPFL and ULIMO. On the other, delays in the deployment of UNOMIL and the new battalions of ECOMOG derailed the timetable for the implementation of the accord. Many felt that these delays exposed the timetable as wildly unrealistic. They certainly allowed plenty of time for the emergence of new factions, including the AFL-sponsored Liberia Peace Council (LPC), and for a renewal of hostilities between the NPFL and its various enemies.
The process of implementation also highlighted a number of other major flaws in the Cotonou settlement. The first of these was that it made no provision for resolving disputes arising out of appointments to the executive of the transitional government. Such disputes stalled the establishment of the LNTG, which had been the pre-requisite for disarmament, and continued to plague the efficacy of the administration for months after its installation. They were also a primary cause of destabilising splits in both ULIMO and the NPFL. Another major shortcoming was that the Cotonou Accord failed to clarify the position and the role of the Council of State. It was unclear on whether the members nominated by the various parties would represent their own factional interests or whether, upon assuming office, they would be independent decision makers serving the needs of all Liberians. This is significant as the leaders of the warring factions had strong vested interests, particularly economic ones, in maintaining instability. Finally, considering the sheer magnitude of the task of resettlement and reconstruction, the Cotonou Accord also placed unrealistic expectations on the deeply divided LNTG. By mid-1994, it was clear that the Cotonou Accord was inoperative.